Preventing Roof Damage from Rusted Fasteners

Posted on August 10, 2018 by kbuchinger

These days, the majority of metal roofs are made from Galvalume coated steel, which typically carry a warranty against perforation due to rusting for a period of 20 years. A study on Galvalume standing seam roofs (SSR) conducted at the behest of the Metal Construction Association (MCA) showed that a properly installed Galvalume SSR can be expected to last 60 years or more.  However, the caveat is “properly installed”. One of the major issues that will drastically reduce the service life of a Galvalume-coated roof is the use of non-long-life fasteners in exposed locations.

Anytime you have an exposed fastener on a metal roof, you risk rust—the term commonly used for the corrosion and oxidation of iron and its alloys. While a little rust might not seem like a big deal, its presence can actually be a harbinger of severe damage to your metal roof panels if not caught early, or ideally, stopped before it ever has a chance to start.

The issue is most prevalent on R-panel roofs due to the use of exposed fasteners. And even with standing seam roofs, which use clips and are typically referred to as a concealed fastener roofs, there are exposed fasteners as well, most often at the eave, the end laps and at trim, such as ridge flash, rake trim, and high-eave trim.

Prevention

The best recommendation for any exposed fasteners (meaning they are exposed to the weather and other harmful elements), is that they should be long-life fasteners. When you don’t use long-life fasteners, they start rusting with exposure to moisture and, over time, the rust virus stretches down to the roof, causing severe and often irreparable damage.

Suppose you have a metal roof that is 10 to 15 years old. Depending on the environment, the roof could be in excellent shape—except for where those screws are; you can have holes right through the roof at the fastener locations. More people than ever are starting to realize they’re supposed to use a long-life fastener, in a case like this. We see a lot of roofs when we inspect them for weathertightness warranties. What often happens is a worker on the roof may have just grabbed some screws that were handy without thinking about the kind of screw or the inevitable chemistry that could potentially cause rusting. Or, you may have a situation where there is some type of accessory put on the roof by another trade, perhaps a plumber or an HVAC installer—and maybe they didn’t use long-life fasteners.

The best recommendation to mitigate this potential problem is two-fold. First, make sure roofing installers know to use a long-life fastener at every exposed location. Secondly, make sure that every other contractor working on the roof that you’re responsible for knows to use long-life fasteners with whatever they’re doing.

 

Fasteners
A long-life fastener (left) can withstand the elements and prevent rust buildup longer than other fasteners. A regular fastener (right) will begin to rust upon exposure to moisture.

What if rust does occur?

One question frequently asked is: if the fasteners do become rusty, do you have to replace all the panels? If you catch the problem before the rust virus makes its way down to the roof itself, you can just change out the screws. However, if the rust has compromised the roof, you very likely would have to change out all the panels, at the least everything that has been affected—just because of one little spot. Truthfully, if the rust is in one spot, it’s probably all over.

Another thing worth mentioning is if aluminum panels are used along with typical long-life fasteners, it could still rust, especially if the roof is exposed to salt spray (think close to the coast).  The answer in this case is to use a stainless steel screw, which are long-life fasteners (but not all long-life fasteners are stainless steel).

Be aware from the start.

It’s crucial for installers and contractors to take notice and order the right fasteners from the start so that problems can be avoided.

Also, after some wear and tear, if subsequent work is done on the roof, everyone involved should take note. For instance, you buy a building and somewhere down the road you decide to frame out a small office and add a bathroom. You’d need a water heater, so a plumber goes on the roof, puts in pipe penetration and doesn’t use long-life fasteners. The onus would be on the owner to ensure that everyone performing work on that roof—no matter when—is using long-life fasteners.

Conclusion

The best-case scenario with a metal roof is to get the right fasteners to begin with. However, if the roof is already installed, the next step is to be on the lookout for rust and if you notice it, consider that it might be because of the fastener.

If that’s the case and you catch it early—when it’s just the screws that are rusting but the rust virus hasn’t yet transferred down onto the roof, you can just change out the screws with the proper long-life fasteners. We recommend doing a roof inspection at least once a year. If you see any loose or rusty screws, replace as needed.

For more information on MBCI’s broad selection of metal roof and wall panels, contact your local MBCI representative.

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