Hazardous building materials

building materials
Grounding building components (infographic from lightning.org)

It’s not unusual that new building materials are produced to make construction and system installations easier, less expensive, and/or safer.  However, once in a while, it’s found that the component may fail or can become dangerous as it ages or if installed improperly.  Examples of such materials include FRT plywood, polybutylene pipe, Chinese drywall, and most recently CSST.

Fire Retardant Treatment (FRT) plywood was identified in the 1990’s as a potential problem when used as roofing sheathing.  FRT sheathing was supposed to help limit fire damage by containing a fire.  Some FRT plywood used in roofs during the mid to late 1980’s and early 1990’s was found to become defective over time and deteriorate, subjecting the roof to possibly fail.  Although FRT wood is commonly used in roofing building materials, wood joists and other building materials may have also been treated with FRT chemicals and were also identified to possibly have latent problems over time.

Another building component used during the 1980’s and 1990’s that had problems was supposed to make plumbing applications easy to install and less expensive than copper.  Many homes built in the 1980’s and early 1990’s had plumbing with polybutylene (PB) pipes.  The plastic PB pipe was found to be susceptible to leaking and bursting.  The fallout resulted in a class action settlement to assist home owners replace pipes and reimburse for any damages from failed pipe.

During the housing expansion during the mid 2000’s, many builders opted to use imported drywall because it was abundant and cheaper than domestic drywall.  The use of imported drywall kept costs down and did not impede building schedules when supplies ran low.  However, as the decade wore on, it was found that some imported drywall from China became toxic when exposed in certain environments.  Homeowners complained that the imported drywall caused respiratory ailments, oxidized jewelry, and even corroded pipes.  Most complaints originated from hot and humid climates, such as Florida, but also occurred in other areas of the country.  The complaints peaked in 2008 and resulted in congressional hearings.

More recently, Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST) was identified to have the potential to be a hazard if not installed properly.  CSST is flexible stainless-steel tubing used in natural gas applications.  According to CSST Safety (csstsafety.com), CSST was first used in Japan in the 1980’s and introduced in the US in 1990.  The benefits of CSST include speed, ease, and cost of installation, compared to black iron gas pipes.  CSST is supposed to resist leaking because fewer joints are needed for installation (most gas leaks are observed at black pipe joints).  As of 2012, it is estimated that seven million homes have CSST.  It was found that power surges due to lightning strikes may cause CSST to puncture, which can cause a fire.

The standards of practice for Maryland home inspectors (mdahi.org/Maryland-Standards-of-Practice) require inspectors to “describe” the presence of CSST in a home, with the recommendation that “the bonding of the CSST be reviewed by a licensed master electrician.”  Washington Gas (washingtongas.com) recommends that you inspect CSST in your home to ensure that it is properly bonded and grounded.  “Bonding is provided primarily to prevent a possible electric shock to people who come in contact with the gas piping and other metal objects connected to the grounding system. Proper bonding and grounding reduce the risk of damage and fire from a lightning strike.”

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2018.

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

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