Court demands clear specification of a "2x4"

A Superior Court in Marin County California ordered Lowe’s, a nation-wide retailer and distributor of building products, to pay a $1.6 million settlement over a lawsuit alleging the inaccurate description of structural dimensional building products. Lowe's promoted lumber as 2x4 even though the wood measured less than 1.5 x 3.5 inches, the dimensional criteria established by industry standards. Click to see Order

The judge ordered that Lowe's state dimensions as follows:
  • "Common descriptions" must be followed by actual dimensions and labeled as such. For instance, a 2x4 must be followed with a disclaimer that the wood is actually 1.5-inches by 3.5-inches and include a phrase equal or similar to "actual dimensions."
  • "Popular or common product description," like the word 2x4, must be "clearly described as 'popular name,' 'popular description,' or 'commonly called.'"
  • Dimension descriptions are required to use the "inch-pound unit," meaning they must include abbreviations such as "in., ft., or yd.," and can't use symbols like ' or '' to denote measurements.
 These guidelines are compatible with good construction specification practices; measurements and criteria of any kind are only meaningful when the criteria is defined.  To say that a piece of wood is a 2x4 is an incomplete specification unless I reference NIST Voluntary Public Standard 20-10 - American Softwood Lumber Standards or another standard.

While the Superior Court's decision is applicable only in California retail trade, it puts building product manufacturers on notice that their sales literature, invoices, and product labels need to meet truth in advertising standards. In fact, the Court states that the retailer is can rely on manufacturer's claims.