Corrosion Resistance Classification

This week we’re blogging about corrosion, and we’re not talking about rusting of the soul — we’re talking about oxidation of steel.

In 2014, we reviewed our corrosion protection recommendations for new catalog publications. In doing so, we realized that we could facilitate selection of hardware and fasteners if our Corrosion Resistance Classifications for treated wood were linked to common design conditions described in the codes. We made some revisions to our Corrosion Resistance Classifications during that exercise. This blog post talks about those changes and some current related activity in the wood treatment industry.

The common design conditions for corrosion-resistant wood construction include the wood materials with associated treatments and the environmental corrosion agents. The American Wood Protection Association (AWPA), which is an ANSI-accredited consensus standards organization, publishes the code-referenced standard, AWPA U1-15 Use Category System: User Specifications for Treated Wood.

When you specify treated wood, this is the standard that defines the appropriate treatment chemicals and chemical retentions depending on the exposure condition and bio-hazard, which the AWPA has summarized into a Use Category (UC) system. Figure 1 is a clip from the AWPA web site that gives a glimpse at the UC system. As the UC rating increases from UC1 to UC5, the chemical retention increases because the bio-hazard is increasing. Corrosion hazards are directly related to the combination of treatment chemical, treatment chemical retention and use environment.

Figure 1. Summary of AWPA Use Category System (http://www.awpa.com/standards/U1excerpt.pdf)

Figure 1. Summary of AWPA Use Category System http://www.awpa.com/standards/U1excerpt.pdf

The AWPA UC system does not include environmental corrosion agents. As a result, we had to separately integrate those with treatment chemical effects as we developed the corrosion resistance classifications.

Finally, one more evaluation system had to be addressed: the exposure conditions of ICC-ES AC257 — Corrosion Resistant Fasteners and Evaluation of Corrosion Effects of Wood Treatment Chemicals. In the end, we developed Corrosion Resistance Classifications that considered the AWPA Use Categories, environmental corrosion agents and the ICC-ES AC257 exposure conditions.

Some of you may be thinking that we have not mentioned another aspect of corrosion — galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion results when metals with dissimilar electrical potentials are placed in contact in the presence of an electrolyte (water). We’ll take up galvanic corrosion in a subsequent blog post.

Our basic Corrosion Resistance Classification table is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Corrosion Resistance Classifications (from C-F-2014, p. 15, or strongtie.com)

Figure 2. Corrosion Resistance Classifications (from C-F-2014, p. 15, or strongtie.com)

The ratings shown in the table — Low, Medium, High and Severe — refer to the corrosion resistance of Simpson Strong-Tie coating systems and base metals. An example of a coating system that is rated “Low” is paint or electro-galvanized zinc. An example of a material rated for “Severe” corrosion conditions is Type 316 stainless steel.

To use the Corrosion Resistance Classifications table, find the Environment, then move to the correct column in the Material to Be Fastened section; identify a rating. Then look in the companion table labeled “Corrosion Resistance Recommendations” to identify a coating or base metal that is appropriate for your project. Be sure to read the table notes to the Corrosion Resistance Classifications for exceptions and limitations. We implemented this system to simplify product selection. Let’s take a look at each aspect that contributes to the Corrosion Resistance Classifications table.

Environment                                                                                      

The environment captures the moisture, atmospheric conditions and other elements that affect corrosion rate. “Dry Service” usually means an interior space with low moisture content or dampness. No liquid water is present in this sort of environment. The absence of moisture limits the electrochemical reaction needed to produce what we see as corrosion. “Wet Service” usually means exterior exposure and involves liquid water as direct exposure or condensation and wood moisture contents that can exceed air-dry conditions and may be temporary or persist for prolonged periods. We incorporated environmental agents with the “Elevated Service and Ocean/Waterfront” conditions. These environmental agents include fumes, acid rain, airborne salinity, etc. The “Uncertain Environment” was included for the Designer who does not know the corrosive conditions in service.

Material Being Fastened

Here we distinguish between clean materials and wood treated with chemicals — wood preservatives or fire-retardant chemicals (FRT). Untreated softwoods used for framing are generally not significantly corrosive. This does not include cedars and redwood, which are a special case. Cedars tend to be corrosive and particularly prone to staining when fastened with carbon steel hardware and fasteners. As a result, our recommendations for untreated softwoods are generally a function of the environment — moisture, weather exposure and corrosion agents such as salt spray, sulfur or fertilizer fumes and acid rain are all examples.

Some treatment chemicals do not significantly increase the corrosion hazard. These are the SBX-DOT treatment chemicals (inorganic boron and borate treatments). These are not typically used in exterior environments or for high-moisture conditions. The preservatives are not chemically bound to the wood and they can leach out under exposure to liquid moisture, which would leave the wood unprotected.  The corrosion hazard attendant to these chemicals is similar to that of untreated wood and the codes permit the use of bare carbon steel in contact with wood treated with these chemicals (IBC2015, Section 2304.10.5.1 and IRC2015, Section R317.3.1 (exception 3)).

Most of the waterborne chemicals in common use contribute to an elevated corrosion hazard. Some of the common wood treatment chemicals include formulations of alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ), copper azole (CA), ammoniacal copper zinc arsenate (ACZA) and micronized copper azole (MCA). The AWPA UC system defines the exposure conditions for each Use Category as well as the chemical retention required to prevent a decay failure. The MCA formulations are alternatives to those specified in the code-referenced standard through the evaluation report process and are not standardized by the AWPA. The evaluation report process for wood preservatives requires the submission of evidence in compliance with ICC-ES AC326 — Proprietary Wood Preservative Systems Common Requirements for Treatment Process, Test Methods and Performance.

We realize that UC4A is a general-use ground-contact condition, and further, it is the maximum necessary specification for treated wood in many building applications. The Simpson Strong-Tie Corrosion Resistance Classifications recognize that the corrosion hazard of treatment chemical retentions for UC4A in Wet Service is a “Medium” corrosion condition (with the exception of ACZA, which is rated “High” in Wet Service). This means that carbon steel products with sufficient corrosion resistance (e.g., ZMAX, double barrier coating, etc.) can be used in these conditions assuming no other corrosion-causing agents are present.

On the other hand, the moisture conditions and treatment chemical retentions are elevated in UC4B and UC4C, and there is also a potential for salt exposure, which further escalates the corrosion hazard. In these conditions, stainless steel is generally recommended for connectors and fasteners as the best material for mitigating the corrosion risk.

The last column in the Corrosion Resistance Classifications table is devoted to FRT wood. Fire-retardant treatment chemicals are proprietary and are deemed to meet the requirements of the codes through the evaluation report process (ICC-ES AC66 — Acceptance Criteria for Fire-Retardant-Treated Wood). We cannot evaluate the corrosion resistance of hardware to all of the FRT formulations.  However, we have reviewed most of the FRT evaluation reports for corrosion information. The corrosion effects of FRT chemicals, like preservative treatment chemicals, are minimized in dry-service conditions because the electrochemical reaction cannot progress or is slowed without an electrolyte. The Corrosion Resistance Classifications reflect that information. The Designer should always follow the FRT evaluation reports in addition to considering our recommendations.

It is important to note that the Corrosion Resistance Classifications are not associated with specific applications. Rather, the ratings are based on the integrated effects of the environment and the wood treatment where the chemical retentions given in the AWPA Use Category system play an important role in the ratings. This makes it relatively straightforward to select hardware that is adequate for a design environment.

Changes to the AWPA U1 Standard and Effects on Corrosion Resistance Classifications

As noted here and in the online JLC article, wood preservative chemicals can achieve compliance with the codes by either of two methods:

  1. The product is a generic product (e.g., ACQ-D or CA-B) and is listed in the AWPA U1 standard; or
  2. The product has an evaluation report obtained by submitting evidence in accordance with ICC-ES AC326 — Proprietary Wood Preservative Systems Common Requirements for Treatment Process, Test Methods and Performance.

You may be aware that the AWPA is revising its code-referenced standard, AWPA U1-15, Use Category System: User Specification for Treated Wood. The consensus process is ongoing and is not complete. However, AWPA member chemical companies (Viance, Koppers, and Arch) have placed information in the market.  In parallel with the AWPA, ICC-ES has modified AC326 to reflect the changes ongoing in the AWPA U1 standard. Simpson Strong-Tie has been in contact with the AWPA, other industry associations and industry professionals to understand the potential effects on metal hardware of the AWPA U1 and ICC-ES AC326 revisions.

The proposed revisions to the AWPA U1 standard modify the definitions for UC3A, UC3B, UC4A, UC4B and UC4C. The most important revisions are to UC3B and UC4A. The new definition for applications in UC3B suggests that beams and joists in decks and docks may have bio-hazards that exceed the UC3B assumptions, while the new UC4A definition will include above-ground applications with ground- contact hazards. The revised AWPA U1 standard will be published in the May–June 2016 time frame; AWPA U1-16 will be included in the 2018 codes.

The revision to ICC-ES AC326 also modifies the definitions for UC3B, UC4A and UC4B. ICC-ES AC326 has an implementation date of July 2016, which will cause some changes to specifications this summer.  Micronized copper azole (MCA) formulations are the most common treatment chemicals that will be affected by this action.

Revisions to the Use Category definitions are being driven by two issues:

  1. Wood treated for UC3 is sometimes used in near-ground applications where the bio-hazard is more like UC4.
  2. Under-treatment compromises the margin of safety to bio-hazards, which can lead to decay failures.

Rather than revisit the retention specifications in AWPA U1 standard, the AWPA is modifying the definitions for the Use Categories that are involved, and that language has been carried into ICC-ES AC326 to ensure that the two systems are consistent with each other. The result of changes to the Use Category definitions will likely cause some specifications to change from UC3B to UC4A or from UC4A to UC4B. The main effects will likely be to specifications in eastern and southern states, where there may be more chemical in the wood to meet retention specifications.

The Simpson Strong-Tie Corrosion Resistance Classifications make specific reference to the corrosive levels of environmental conditions and the chemical treatment and retentions of the AWPA Use Categories, not to applications. As a result, the AWPA U1 revisions and the parallel changes to ICC-ES AC326 will not necessitate a change in our corrosion recommendations, because the chemical retentions for each Use Category have not changed. However, your hardware specifications could change for typical applications depending on the Use Category of the treated wood in your project. Our information suggests that this issue is still not settled within the industry, and we will pass along information as we learn it.

Simpson Strong-Tie is currently preparing new catalogs for the coming year and will be updating the corrosion information in those publications and our website. We’re interested in your experience with our Corrosion Resistance Classifications and whether you have suggestions for how we might make the content more useful to you.

One thought on “Corrosion Resistance Classification

  1. Thanks for the work you have done in shedding light on the recent AWPA Standard changes. The way in which these changes have been written has left room for the chemical manufactures to create individual marketing messages based on their individual interpretations.

    The resulting confusion when you cut to the chase is an industry faced with making the choice to go the use of ground contact for or above ground contact materials for framing and possible surface areas of the decks and other outdoor structures.

    We believe your are spot on in that this issue will continue and the industry will see further changes spicificly in the language of these changes during the coming months.

    Improving building materials and practices is the end goal, we commend the work of the AWPA, the ICC and other governing bodies that work hard on these industry improvements. Change is never easy, building safer decks, with increased performance in the materials used is wonderful advancement

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