Trouble Brewing Because of 2×4 Dimensions

2x4 Dimensions

Actual 2×4 Dimensions Cost Lowe’s $1.6 Million and Raise Questions

Legal Precedent – sure there has been some good things that have come out of it, but a California Superior Court judge just set a dangerous one about 2×4 dimensions. Anyone that has been around construction for more than say, 24 hours, knows that the actual 2×4 dimensions are not 2 inches by 4 inches. They’re actually closer to 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches.

This is because the original log was cut to what many people think the 2×4 dimensions should be as a rough cut. The sawmill then takes a planer to it to smooth out the board and give it a finish cut. The result is that typically between a 1/4″ and 1/2″ is lost on both the length and width. In these modern times when computer control and automation is much more reliable, we’ve pretty much settled in to 1.5 x 3.5 as our standard 2×4 dimensions.

That may be changing thanks to Judge Paul M.Haakenson’s ruling following a complaint from the Marion County, California district attorney’s office.


District Attorney 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 case was settled and cost Lowe’s $1.47 million in civil penalties and investigative costs. $150,000 will also have to be paid to fund further consumer protection-related activities including quality control and price verification programs conducted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Division of Measurement Standards. Lowe’s is also required to come into compliance with truth in advertising considerations.

Apparently, the understanding in the construction industry of how dimensional lumber is created and sold is no longer good enough. I wonder when they’re going to start taking Webster’s dictionary to court over including words that “aren’t proper English” or suing municipalities for including chemicals other than just H2O in the water supply.

I have several questions. What about Home Depot? What about local mom and pop lumber yards? Why isn’t every lumber retailer in that county also being prosecuted?

In my mind, this sets a very dangerous precedent on several levels. First, it appears that the prosecutor was allowed to pinpoint a specific company that was selling according to understood standards that all retailers use. Also, it looks like a cash grab to fund their own programs. Worst of all, this sets the precedent for every single company selling lumber to come under scrutiny and be heavily fined by any district attorney across the country.

It would be one thing if a law had been passed and Lowe’s had failed to comply. This, however, seems like governmental bullying in a very public forum. While I attempt to keep most of my comments to myself and to refrain from using language that is completely inappropriate, you can read the Marion County Press Release here.

Editor’s Note: This story is continuing to evolve as more information becomes available. It is now reported that the 1.5 x 3.5 inch standard set by the NIST for 2 x 4 lumber is still okay to use and advertise in California. Lowe’s stores were accused of selling lumber that measured less than the standard, which is why they alone were targeted. 

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