Tempest in a two by four

At Lowes.com, dimensional lumber is described both ways -- nominal and actual.

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.”


- 11:00 AM
mgbmail@citlink.net says

Love the "shame on California for stooping this low" - Check the history of how the 2 x 4 (originally 2" x 4") starting shrinking. In the 1920's industry leaders had to step in and set a standard size before 2 x 4's became the size of pencils. You shrink it, you call it accurately. Shame on the lumber industry for stooping so low... first!

- 1:34 PM
jeff meyer says

Obviously the Marin County DA has never picked up a hammer in his life. Only in California...

- 6:45 PM
joe in the forest says

If you believe that this action is going to stop in the State of California, I urge you to think about this again. The States to the East and individuals are reading about this and are seeing dollars dancing in their heads. But let's be honest we had a similar situation in 2008 with panel products - as noted in the article - and the industry had to make the change. You thought we could have figured it would get to lumber - I'm surprised it took this long. While $1.6 million is nothing to a corporation with sales like Lowes, such a judgement for a small to mid size retailer would be enough to knock them right out of business. I'm surprised with this ruling that the State hasn't gone back and asked for action on every thickness and width of wood products. If there is action coming it will be for past errors ... if ... if we are smart enough to immediately (like now) go into our computer systems and change the description of every board, dimensional lumber and small squares and timbers to have a line giving the actual nominal sizes. Don't forget to do the same for pressure treated lumber products as well. Yes this will take time and time is money but if you don't and the courts come a calling, you will only have yourself to blame.

- 7:53 PM
garyneuma@comcast.net says

Why not include to the description "PTP" 2x4 PTP = prior to planning. That should give them something to ponder.

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