New Home Buyers Battle Formaldehyde Problem From Weyerhaeuser Joists

Feb 5, 2018 | Blog

For many Americans, there’s no prouder moment than the day they move into their newly constructed dream home. Unfortunately, for some house buyers in Colorado and several other states, that dream has turned into a nightmare — and something they once took for granted, the prospect of feeling safe and healthy in their own domicile, has become a burning issue.

Also a wheezing, eye-watering, coughing, throat-irritating issue.

The source of their complaints has to do with floor joists manufactured by the Weyerhaeuser Company. The joists are coated with a formaldehyde-based resin, which was intended to aid in fire prevention. But buyers say the potent chemicals in the coating aren’t safe; some have either declined to take possession of homes built with the joists or have moved out, claiming adverse effects and long-term health risks from exposure to the materials.

Based in Seattle, Weyerhaeuser is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of wood products, reporting more than $6.3 billion in sales in 2016. In a statement issued last July, Weyerhauser announced that the affected joists  could be found in approximately 2200 houses, in various stages of construction and erected by different builders, in “limited markets.” (The joists have reportedly turned up in new construction in at least five states, including hundreds of homes in Colorado.) The company said the problem, which it characterized as an odor issue, is confined to I-joists manufactured after December 1, 2016, and marketed under the Flak Jacket name; it does not affect any of its other products. I-joists are lightweight, “I”-shaped engineered wood products used in a wide array of  residential floor and roof framing projects.

Production of Flak Jacket joists has been stopped. The statement noted that the company is “working proactively with its customers to address the situation and will cover the cost to either remediate or replace affected joists.”

The company also offered an apology from its president and CEO, Doyle R. Simons: “We deeply regret the disruption and inconvenience this situation has caused. Out top priority is to take care of our customers and their customers. We are absolutely committed to doing the right thing and resolving this situation as quickly as possible.”

Attorneys for affected homeowners say the dispute is about more than a noxious odor — and that the corrective actions proposed by Weyerhauser are inadequate. Formaldehyde is “known to be a human carcinogen,” according to the United States National Toxicology Program. Although it’s used frequently in the production of various industrial resins, in sufficient concentrations it can pose a serious risk to air quality. “Off-gassing” from the Flak Jacket joists has been blamed for irritated eyes, coughing, and breathing difficulties.

The Flak Jacket joists were developed in response to changes in the fire protection requirements of the International Residential Code in 2012. The company changed the formula for the resin coating in 2016 but represented that the levels of formaldehyde emissions from the joists was “below the significant risk level” and offered a lifetime warranty. The company reported $9 million in sales of the joists with the revised coating before halting production.

Many of the affected homeowners were first officially informed of the gassing issue last summer. One notice issued by Weyerhaeuser advised residents to limit basement access to no more than five minutes at a time, and no more than thirty minutes in a day. But in some instances the joists have been found not just in unfinished basements but on other levels as well.

Some buyers, alarmed by the smell and the possible health risks, have declined to complete a sales contract or moved out, saying their new homes are uninhabitable. They have described a pickle-like odor in their homes and reported experiencing headaches, nausea, watery eyes, coughing, dizziness, and other symptoms of formaldehyde exposure. Weyerhaeuser has told customers that it’s their call whether to seek “temporary housing” while remediation occurs.

Weyerhaeuser has proposed various “solutions” to the problem, including painting over the joists to reduce the gassing. Opponents of that procedure maintain that the special paint hasn’t been sufficiently tested for effectiveness or durability and won’t eliminate the need to monitor the air quality. Another option is to replace the joists, but the company warranty limits replacement costs to three times the original purchase price of the joist; given how much additional remediation might be required to replace joists in fully finished homes, as well as questions of structural integrity and resale value after that process is completed, the true cost of fixing the problem could be much higher than that limit.

Weyerhaeuser initially set aside $50-$60 million for remediation costs, but the Seattle Times reported that the company has since disclosed in an SEC filing that it expects to spend between $225-$250 million on the problem. The estimated number of homes involved has risen to 2500.

Lawyers for home buyers who believe they have suffered damages as a result of the Flak Jacket product have filed several lawsuits against Weyerhaeuser, claiming breach of warranty, violation of consumer protection laws, and negligence in the development and testing of the product. Class-action lawsuits have been filed in several states, including Colorado, New Jersey, and Delaware.

If you own or reside in a home that was built after December 1, 2016, you or your family may have been exposed to off-gassing from the Flak Jacket joists. The joists can be identified by their green coating, the name “Flak Jacket,” and their production date. At issue are joists manufactured between December 1, 2016, and July 18, 2017.

If you are suffering from the effects of formaldehyde exposure, have been forced to leave your home, or have been delayed in moving into your home because of the presence of these materials, please contact the attorneys at Franklin D. Azar & Associates for a free consultation. Case evaluations are always free, and there is no fee until we collect for you. The time to file a claim is limited, so don’t delay contacting us here.