Most materials used to build or remodel homes are made in the United States, but the building boom and Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma caused building material shortages. That's when some builders started buying up Chinese-made drywall.
Knauf brand drywall is now at the center of several lawsuits alleging that it emits gases that harm household systems and may be dangerous to your health.
The Fulks family of Cape Coral, Fla., stay outside as much as possible. They say as soon as they moved into their brand-new house in 2006, Bonnie, Richard, and even the family dog, developed coughs.
"I'm getting some nosebleeds. I'm getting some headaches when the heat is coming on and the doors are closed up," Bonnie Fulks said.
The Fulkses noticed a rotten egg smell during their final walk-through of the house, but say they were told it was normal for a new house.
Four months in, the Fulkses say metal in their home started turning black --from bathroom fixtures, to Bonnie Fulks' jewelry, to the knives in the kitchen drawers. After six months, the air-conditioning unit broke — its copper wires covered in a black soot.
Drywall Problem: 'This Is Massive'
Turns out, every wall in the Fulks' 3,000-square-foot house was built with Knauf brand drywall manufactured in China. Testing by a builder, the Fulkses say, has shown the drywall emits sulfur gases that corrode electrical and plumbing components.
Attorney Jeremy Alters has filed one of at least three class-action lawsuits.
"This is massive. This will probably be the largest home defect case in American history," Alters said.
Plaintiffs' attorneys estimate enough Chinese drywall entered U.S. ports during the housing boom of 2004 to 2006 to build at least 50,000 homes.
Florida residents discovered the sulfur problem first because high humidity forced the gas from the walls.
As many as 40 other states may be affected as well, including Arizona, California, Alabama, Nevada and Louisiana.
"I think ultimately you will be talking about tens of thousands of homes that will have to be completely redone or demolished," Alters said.
Knauf, a German company with plants in China, was not available for comment, but in the past has strongly denied the drywall has any impact on human health.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been investigating the case for a month. "We are taking the matter very seriously," commission spokesman Joe Martyak said.
As for the Fulkses, if they try to sell their house they have to disclose the drywall problem and that may make their dream home virtually worthless .
What You Can Do
If you had a house built between 2004 and 2007, and you want to know if Chinese drywall was used, here's what you can do:
Remove some of your light-switch plates and look to see whether the wires inside are covered with black soot. If so, that's a sign of trouble.
You can also remove the panel on your air-conditioning unit and see whether the coils inside are black. A greenish tinge is normal, but black is a sign of trouble.
Black soot on the plugs of your washer and dryer is an indicator as well.
Finally, look for an unfinished spot in your basement or attic where you can see the brand name of your drywall. Some families were so concerned they cut a hole in their wall to find out.
Knauf says it is only responsible for 20 percent of the Chinese drywall imported into the United States, so even if you don't see this name, if you see or smell other symptoms you still may have a problem.
Major home improvement chains like Home Depot say they never sold Chinese drywall. It seems it was only sold in bulk to builders.
Many people who have been affected are looking at their homeowner's insurance policy. But insurance usually doesn't cover product defects
If you live in Florida, you can find information on the Florida Department of Health web site.
For more information visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site.