The way the lumber industry sees it, everyone knows a 2x4 is actually a bit smaller than two inches by four inches. But the way California sees it, failure to provide the actual accurate dimensions might cost you.
Reacting to a report that Lowe’s was ordered to pay a $1.6 million settlement in a California case alleging the inaccurate description of structural building products, several LBM industry voices around the country contacted by HCN said they were unaware of similar regulatory zeal in their regions – and glad of it.
The actual size of what is commonly described as a 2x4 is, of course, 1.5” x 3.5”. According to West Coast Lumber & Building Material Association executive director Ken Dunham, the rules of California call for clarity in that regard.
“You know that California is where we have to be protected from ourselves,” said Dunham. “The state doesn’t think we are smart enough to know the actual size of a 2x4.”
As part of its recent settlement, Mooresville, North Carolina-based Lowe’s has taken steps to adjust its descriptions of its dimensional lumber in about 100 of its California stores. The company’s web site already lists the nominal and actual measurements of dimensional lumber.
Lowe’s isn’t the only web site to include both descriptions. At Menards.com, the 2”x2”x3’ red cedar lumber product is further described as (1.5” x 1.5” x 3’) in a “description and dimension” box.
At Homedepot.com, and many other web sites where lumber is sold, 2x4s are simply described as 2x4s.
The WCLBMA’s Dunham says the issue of dimensions came up in 2008 when regulators targeted plywood thickness. The association organized eight seminars across the state, working with the state’s Division of Measurement Standards. “This is about the first time it has come up since then,” Dunham said.
In reference to the Lowe’s settlement, Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian stated: "Consumers should expect when making product purchases that retailers are providing accurate information, especially when misinformation could adversely affect building projects that more often than not rely on precise measurements.”
The District Attorney's office later added that nominal descriptions are valid, as long as the actual dimensions meet the appropriate standards.
Around the LBM industry, a common refrain when it comes to California rules and regulations is that it’s safe to expect the unexpected.
“Nothing in California surprises me,” said John Steinman, VP purchasing at Erlanger, Kentucky-based Forge Lumber. “The layperson may not know, but I think anyone who has used a 2x4 – even a DIYer -- knows it’s not net 2x4. I never heard of it causing any issue for anyone.”
A post appearing on Homechannelnews.com from a user tagged “Rlatham” was more emphatic: “Every single mill that produces 2x lumber sells this way and every distributor, retailer, builder, architect knows exactly what a 2x is.” The post added: “Shame on California for stooping this low.”