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General Corrosion Risks

updated 5/23/17

Simpson Strong-Tie connectors, anchors and fasteners feature a wide range of materials and coatings designed to meet specific performance criteria. It is important to select a material and/or coating that is suitable for the intended application and environment based upon factors such as corrosion resistance and mechanical properties of the material. For more information on selecting connectors, anchors and fasteners based upon corrosion resistance, please see General Corrosion Risks, Guidelines for Selecting the Proper Materials and Coatings, Materials and Coatings Available – Connectors, and Materials and Coatings Available – Fasteners for more information on selecting products based on corrosion resistance.

Understanding the Corrosion Issue

Many environments and materials can cause corrosion including ocean salt air, fire-retardants, fumes, fertilizers, preservative-treated wood, de-icing salts, dissimilar metals and more. Metal connectors, fasteners, and anchors could corrode and lose load-carrying capacity when installed in corrosive environments or when installed in contact with corrosive materials.

The many variables present in a building environment make it impossible to accurately predict if, or when, corrosion will begin or reach a critical level. This relative uncertainty makes it crucial that specifiers and users are knowledgeable of the potential risks and select a product suitable for the intended use. It is also prudent that regular maintenance and periodic inspections are performed especially for outdoor applications.

It is common to see some corrosion in outdoor applications. Even stainless steel can corrode. The presence of some corrosion does not mean that load capacity has been affected or that failure is imminent. If significant corrosion is apparent or suspected, then the wood, fasteners, anchors, and connectors should be inspected by a qualified engineer or qualified inspector. Replacement of affected components may be appropriate.

Some wood-preservative chemicals and fire retardant chemicals and retentions pose increased corrosion potential and are more corrosive to steel connectors and fasteners than others. Testing by Simpson Strong‑Tie has shown that ACQ-Type D is more corrosive than Copper Azole Type C, Micronized Copper Azole, and CCA-C. At the same time, others have shown that the inorganic boron treatment chemicals, specifically SBX-DOT, is less corrosive than CCA-C.

Due to the many different chemical treatment formulations, chemical retention levels, moisture conditions and regional formulation variants, selection of fasteners has become a complex task. We have attempted to provide basic knowledge on the subject here, but it is important to fully educate yourself by reviewing our technical bulletins on the topic (www.strongtie.com/info) and also by reviewing information, literature and evaluation reports published by others.

Galvanic Corrosion

Galvanic corrosion occurs when two electrochemically dissimilar metals contact each other in the presence of an electrolyte (such as water) that acts as a conductive path for metal ions to move from the more anodic to the more cathodic metal. In the galvanic couple, the more anodic metal will corrode preferentially. The Galvanic Series of Metals table provides a qualitative guide to the potential for two metals to interact galvanically. Metals in the same group (see table) have similar electrochemical potentials. The farther the metals are apart on the table, the greater the difference in electrochemical potential, and the more rapidly galvanic corrosion will occur. Corrosion also increases with increasing conductivity of the electrolyte.

Good detailing practice, including the following, can help reduce the possibility of galvanic corrosion of fasteners:

  • Use fasteners and metals with similar electrochemical properties
  • Separate dissimilar metals with insulating materials
  • Ensure that the fastener is the cathode when dissimilar metals are present
  • Prevent exposure to and pooling of electrolytes

Hydrogen-Assisted Stress-Corrosion Cracking

Some hardened fasteners may experience premature failure if exposed to moisture as a result of hydrogen-assisted stress-corrosion cracking. These fasteners are recommended specifically for use in dry, interior locations.

Treatment Use Categories and Exposure Conditions

The American Wood Protection Association (AWPA) identifies 12 Use Category designations (UC) for wood treatment chemicals that are based on protection of the wood material; the Use Categories are based on service conditions and environments and agents of deterioration. At the same time, the building codes require specific corrosion resistance for fasteners, anchors, and connectors that are in contact with chemically treated wood, and the corrosion resistance is independent of the service environments and treatments that are the basis of the AWPA Use Categories. From the building code perspective, fastener and anchor corrosion resistance is provided by hot-dip galvanization applied following ASTM A153, Class D or a corrosion resistant base metal, such as stainless steel, silicon bronze or copper regardless of exposure. Connectors in contact with perservative treated wood require a minimum of ASTM A653, Type G185 zinc-coated galvanized steel, or equivalent.

Some exceptions are provided in the International Code Council's (ICC) International Residential Code (IRC) for mechanical galvanization applied to screws. The International Building Code (IBC) has exceptions for plain carbon steel fasteners, anchors, nuts and washers in SBX/DOT and zinc borate preservative-treated wood in interior, dry conditions.

The International Code Council — Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) implemented AC257 as a method to evaluate alternate corrosion resistance mechanisms for fasteners used in wood construction where hot-dip galvanization (ASTM A153, Class D) is used as the benchmark performance. Under AC257, fastener corrosion resistance is qualified for one or more of four exposure conditions: (1) treated wood in dry-service with no salt exposure; (2) clean wood in a salt air, dry-service environment; (3) treated wood in a wet-service condition with no salt exposure; (4) general use with no limitations including salt exposure.

Simpson Strong-Tie General Recommendations

Simpson Strong‑Tie has evaluated the AWPA Use Categories (AWPA U1-13) and the ICC-ES, AC257 Exposure Conditions and developed from that evaluation a set of Corrosion Resistance Recommendations. These recommendations address the coating systems and materials used by Simpson Strong‑Tie for fastener products.

Dry-service (or damp-service) environments lead to wood moisture contents less than or equal to 19%. The corrosion potential, even in chemically treated wood, is reduced in these conditions. These conditions are typical of AWPA UC1 and UC2 for wood treatment and AC257 Exposure Condition 1. See the Corrosion Resistance Classification Table for the Simpson Strong‑Tie assessment of corrosion needs in these conditions. The AC257 Exposure Condition 2 reflects the presence of air-borne salt in a dry-service environment and corrosion hazard to exposed metal surfaces; it does not include effects of treatment chemicals.

Outdoor environments are generally more corrosive to steel either because the moisture exposure is elevated (greater than 19%) and/or the treatment chemical retention level is higher than for interior service. The AWPA classifies exterior above ground treatments as Use Categories UC3 (A and B) depending on moisture run-off; and for ground-contact levels of protection, it has Use Categories UC4 (A-C). ICC-ES considers the exterior exposure to be limited by the type of chemicals and retention level of the chemicals in the qualification testing and whether the exposure includes salt exposure. In general, The AC257 Exposure Condition 3 includes AWPA Use Categories UC1 (interior dry) to UC4A (exterior ground contact, general use).

Types 316/305/304 stainless steel, copper, silicon bronze and hot-dip galvanized (Class-C) are the most effective protection against corrosion risk, where Type 316 is the best choice for salt marine and chloride containing environments regardless of treatment chemicals or wood species. If you choose to use hot-dip galvanized (Class-D), mechanically galvanized (C3, N2000, or Class 55), galvanized (G85), double-barrier or Quik Guard coated fasteners, anchors or connectors on outdoor projects (e.g., a deck), you should periodically inspect the fasteners or have a professional inspection performed, and regular maintenance is a good practice. See the Corrosion Resistance Classifications Table for the Simpson Strong‑Tie assessment of the corrosion resistance associated with materials and coatings and an appropriate level of corrosion resistance for various environments.

Due to the many variables involved, Simpson Strong‑Tie cannot provide estimates of service life of connectors, anchors, and fasteners. We suggest that all users and specifiers obtain recommendations on corrosion from the treated wood supplier or for the type of wood used. As long as Simpson Strong‑Tie recommendations are followed, Simpson Strong‑Tie stands behind its product performance and our standard warranty applies.

Simpson Strong‑Tie does not recommend painting stainless steel fasteners or hardware. The reason behind this recommendation is that sometimes painting can facilitate corrosion. Stainless steel is “stainless” because it forms a protective chromium oxide film on the surface by passive oxidation with air. The paint film on the stainless steel surface may be imperfect or it can be injured during service, and in either case the metal may be exposed. Microscopic-sized film imperfections and scratches facilitate collection of dirt and water that can be stagnant and degrade or block the passive formation of the protective chromium oxide film. When this happens, crevice corrosion can initiate. Crevice corrosion eventually becomes visible as a brown stain or as red rust. This is the reason that painting usually does not improve corrosion resistance of stainless steel.

Simpson Strong-Tie Concrete Embedded Products in Hawaii

Simpson Strong-Tie is aware of problems regarding concrete spalling and corrosion around the perimeter of some homes in the State of Hawaii, related to certain concrete embedded products made by multiple manufacturers, including Simpson Strong-Tie. The specific Simpson Strong-Tie products include STHD/LSTHD strap-tie holdowns and MAS/MASA mudsill anchors. We have investigated these products extensively and do not believe any defect in their design or manufacture is the cause of the problems. Information gathered to date indicates it is a minority of strap-tie holdowns and mudsill anchors that are experiencing the corrosion problem. Nonetheless, Simpson Strong-Tie takes these instances seriously and is investigating the cause of corrosion with these embedded products.

At this time, we have not yet been able to determine a definitive underlying cause for the corrosion on these homes. In general, we have identified a number of factors that may cause corrosion in the embedded products, including: mis-installation, the local environment, and construction practices and materials. In some instances, non-Simpson Strong-Tie metal products in contact with the foundation, such as bottom tracks and reinforcing bar, are also experiencing corrosion. For additional information on corrosion and corrosion resistance of Simpson Strong-Tie products, please go to strongtie.com/corrosioninformation.

Until better guidance can be provided to the Hawaii construction industry about how to avoid corrosion of strap-tie holdowns and mudsill anchors, Simpson Strong-Tie recommends builders work closely with their specifiers and corrosion experts to make sure they understand the corrosion issues that may present themselves on any given project. Our company, along with other manufacturers, offers alternative interior products which have not experienced spalling or corrosion issues. It may be more appropriate to use those products until a more definitive answer is available for the corrosion issues with the STHD/LSTHD strap-tie holdowns, and MAS/MASA mudsill anchors in Hawaii.

If you have additional questions or need further assistance regarding this matter, please contact our Hawaii representative at (808) 479-1216 or the Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering department at (800) 999-5099.