Until now, inspectors looking for tainted Chinese drywall had to tear apart houses to detect the problem. But now man's best friend can help sniff out the problem, minimizing damage to the home.
Anthony Gimenez of Professional Building Inspectors in Manatee County teamed up last year with the Von Asgard K9 Center in Myakka City to form the K9 Detection Service. Since dogs were already being used to find explosives and narcotics, Gimenez suspected they could be trained to detect drywall problems.
"I was looking for a non-destructive, cost-effective method to help our clients determine whether they have Chinese drywall or not," Gimenez said.
To show what the dogs can do, trainer Jeremiah Comes and a German Shepherd named Shadow visited a Sun City Center home already known to have the contaminated drywall.
Shadow sniffed along the walls, tail wagging. Suddenly, he sat and waited for his reward, a signal that he has found what he's looking for. Comes said the scent is strongest in electrical outlets.
"The sockets have fresh cut drywall inside of it and that's the best place for my dog to stick his nose in and smell the odor," Comes said.
Comes trains his dogs with toys permeated with the scent of compounds found in Chinese drywall. In Shadow's case, detecting defective drywall has become an obsession.
"That's all he does. I can't even play ball with him anymore, all the wants is to find drywall," Comes laughed.
Gimenez said using dogs eliminates the need to tear a house apart just to find contamination.
"Not all the walls in the homes are built with Chinese drywall," Gimenez said.
The home's owner, Millie Ballard, said four separate inspectors confirmed the faulty drywall. But not all cases are as clear cut and Ballard said that's where the doggie-detection approach might have an edge.
"I think the people who've been told the homes are negative for toxic drywall, the dogs might find a few boards or sheets of drywall in other parts of their homes," Ballard said.
K9 Detection Services charges $390 per Chinese drywall inspection. By comparison, to do a visual inspection and tear down drywall costs about $1,500, Gimenez said. Sending samples to a lab can cost up to $3,000.
So far the company has seven dogs in service with several more in training. Gimenez is expecting a busy year ahead.
"I think it's much bigger than we all realize. It seems to continue to grow, and we're continually finding new developments that have it," he said.
To learn more about Chinese drywall sniffing dogs, watch News Channel 8 tonight at 11.