Home Depot sued for advertising 3.5 x 3.5 lumber as 4 x 4

Did you know 4″ x 4″ lumber is never 4″ x 4″, but measuring 3.5″ x 3.5″?

Are You Being Cheated When You Buy Lumber at Home Depot?

Menards and Home Depot stand accused of deceiving the lumber-buying public, specifically, buyers of 4″ x 4″ boards, the big brother to the ubiquitous 2″ x 4″.

Class action suits filed last week in federal court charging Home Depot and Menard’s selling lumber that is “falsely advertised and labeled as having product dimensions that were not the actual dimensions of the products sold.”

Plaintiffs in the case against Menard’s were shocked, shocked, we tell you, to discover that a 4×4 purchased at the store actually measured 3.5″ × 3.5″ and not the “advertised” measurement of 4″ × 4″. The plaintiffs — so far just two residents of Illinois — seek damages, restitution and injunctive relief from Menard’s “for selling products that did not conform to the representations it made to customers.”

Menard’s responded to the lawsuit in March and Home Depot responded earlier this month, both pointing out that the lumber sold in their stores meets federal standards for both dimension and advertising.

Wood Dimension Chart

This chart shows the nominal (in name only) and corresponding actual (real) dimensions of common wood sizes.
If you find reading plans confusing, or have trouble identifying the exact dimensions of wood at a lumberyard or home center, read on. Most lumber is sold in “nominal” (in name only) sizes such as 1×3, 2×4 and 4×4. But these sizes are not the actual dimensions of the wood. The chart below shows the actual dimensions of lumber when it is dry (when wet, it will be slightly larger).

In its response, Home Depot schooled the plaintiffs:

Plaintiff’s attempt to turn this accepted lumber naming convention into a class action lawsuit should be rejected. To do otherwise would ignore nearly a century of standardization and disturb an entire industry’s reliance on these lumber names. Home Depot did not breach any warranty or violate any law by using standard industry nomenclature to describe the single piece of lumber Plaintiff purchased.

Home Depot also noted:

That lumber is referred to by its nominal size is not specialized knowledge limited to the lumber industry. Casual handymen, weekend do-it-yourselfers, and anyone who has ever handled, measured, sawed, or nailed a 2×4 knows that it is called a 2×4 though it does not measure precisely 2 inches by 4 inches.

Even if defendants win, it’s a little difficult to see what damage they have suffered. If one planned to replace an existing 4×4, a piece of lumber that actually measured 4 inches by 4 inches would be too big and would require either that all similar pieces be replaced as well or that the do-it-yourselfer buy an expensive planer to bring the one piece of lumber down to 3.5 × 3.5.

Each lawsuit is seeking $5 million (for the entire class, not just the named plaintiffs) plus other penalties, and both Menard’s and Home Depot have requested the court to dismiss the complaints against the stores. That squares with our opinion.

Lumber Sizes and Measurement

Framing lumber is identified by the height and width of the board. The measurements used, however, may make you think you are getting cheated! A 2×4 board is actually only 1 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches.

The way this comes about is that when lumber is cut from the logs, it is considered “rough cut.” The wood is still green and wet. Once the wood dries, it shrinks. Then, after it is dried, the wood is planed to smooth the surface and make the wood a uniform size. Once planed, the wood is considered “finished.”

Thus, the nominal size of the lumber you purchase is different from the actual size. Usually, there is 1/2 inch difference in measurements over 2 inches and 1/4 inch in measurements less than 2 inches.

When the ” (inch) symbol is used is lumber measurements it indicates that you are referring to the actual size. This symbol is omitted when referring to the nominal size.


While we agree the “nominal lumber names (dimensions)” are generally known to the trade. We feel this does pose a problem to the public consumers, the DIY-ers.

Years ago, we have personally experienced blunder in measurement thinking a 4 x 4 is 4 inches wide – resulting in shortages, inconvenience, and over budgeting. For example, if you are buying lumbers to build a relatively lenghty fence, and not knowing the actual width of the lumber is actually shorter by 1/2 inch each, you will end up with materials shortage, not to meantion the hassle of last minute change in plan/design.

We think retailers like Home Depot should mark this clearly on the lumber: “Actual measurement: 3.5 x 3.5″”. They are after all dealing mostly with consumers, not just tradeperson per se.

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