Not everyone realizes that the dimensions you see on lumber at your favorite home improvement store aren’t entirely accurate. A 2×4 isn’t really two inches by four inches but is actually just a bit less in either way. They’re all the same, but they’re just not what some people not familiar with lumber might think.
This is an industry standard. People who work construction know that a 2×4 is actually one and one-half inches by three and five-eighths inches. That’s how it’s been for as long as most people working with the stuff can remember. The same is true of 4x4s, which are not actually four inches by four inches.
Now, home improvement chains Home Depot and Menards are being sued over it.
Two home improvements stores are accused of deceiving the buyers of four-by-four boards, the big brother to the ubiquitous two-by-four.
The alleged deception: Menards and Home Depot (HD) market and sell the hefty lumber as four-by-fours without specifying that the boards actually measure 3½ inches by 3½ inches.
The lawsuits against the retailers would-be class actions, filed within five days of each other in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois. Attorneys from the same Chicago law firm represent the plaintiffs in both cases. Each suit seeks more than $5 million.
“Defendant has received significant profits from its false marketing and sale of its dimensional lumber products,” the action against Menards contends.
“Defendant’s representations as to the dimension of these products were false and misleading,” the suit against Home Depot alleges.
The chains defend this by saying that the descriptions are a nominal dimension and it’s common knowledge. Further, they note that these are consistent with government-approved industry standards.
Lumber has been standardized since the 1920s, and these particular standards have been in place since 1964 according to a government history on the subject. Further, the vast majority of dimensional lumber sold at stores like these are sold either to contractors or people who are at least familiar with the difference between what a board is called and what its actual dimensions are.
That doesn’t matter to the attorneys representing the clients.
However, Turin and his clients dispute that the differences between nominal descriptions and actual dimensions are common knowledge.
“It’s difficult to say that for a reasonable consumer, when they walk into a store and they see a label that says four-by-four, that that’s simply — quote unquote — a trade name,” Turin said in an interview.
Turin goes on to argue that his clients aren’t saying the lumber didn’t meet the standards, but that there was nothing to tell them it was a nominal measurement.
Frankly, if it had, we’d still be here and Turin would be lamenting that there was no clarification of what “nominal” dimensions meant in this context. Especially since at least some Menards stores do say it’s a nominal dimension.
Lumber isn’t the only place someone unfamiliar with the standards can get confused. Imagine my surprise when I needed a 1 1/4″ drill bit to bore a hole for a piece of 3/4″ pipe…and it turned out to be really snug. Will that be the next lawsuit?
Turin claims the home improvement chains “cause substantial injury to consumers” with their product descriptions, but then outlines what happened. People bought a product they knew nothing about (but thought they did) then acted like they got screwed in the process.
Unfortunately, Home Depot and Menards didn’t create the standard. They’re just trying to sell products that comply with it.