Preventing Roof Damage from Rusted Fasteners

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.


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.


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.


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.

Fastener Compatibility with Metal Roof and Wall Panels

The installation of a new metal roof or wall panel on a residential home, business or commercial building takes care, precision and—of course—the right tools. Regardless of the structure, you’ll likely find that choosing the correct mechanical fastener plays a key role in the long-term performance, durability and efficacy of the project.

Many metal roof and wall panels, in fact, rely upon the use of quality mechanical fasteners to secure components to a structure. In order to guarantee a resilient and weather-tight attachment, it behooves the user to select an appropriately compatible fastener type for the specific metal construction, thereby ensuring expected benefits, such as energy efficiency, extended life cycle, and even lowering insurance bills for the owner. In other words, once the decision has been made to use metal building materials for your roof or wall project, the next step is figuring out how to hold it all together.

Know Your Fastener Options

Before selecting fasteners for the project, it is important for the designer or installer to understand the various materials and options available. Typically, this involves the following considerations:

  • What type of material and coating is appropriate?
  • What type of head do I need? Does it need to be painted?
  • Do I need a washer? If so, what material should I use?
  • Should I use self-tapping or self-drilling screws?
  • What thread count should I specify?
  • How long does the fastener need to be?
Many Types of Fasteners
The MCA provides a summary of the different types of fasteners in their technical bulletin, Fastener Compatibility with Profiled Metal Roof and Wall Panels.

Select a Fastener on the Basis of Material

Most fasteners are made from coated metal but both the type of metal and coating must be chosen on the basis of the materials the fastener is bringing together. Galvanic action between dissimilar metals can cause premature fastener failure and lead to leakage. Even stainless steel screws will corrode severely under the right (or actually wrong) conditions. In extreme exposure, sometimes the best option is to use galvanized screws and plan on replacing them at a later date with a larger screw once the zinc has been depleted.

Considerations for Self-Drilling Screws

Self-drilling screws have a drill bit built in and don’t require a pre-drilled hole. Although self-drillers save the installer the step of drilling a hole, they are not always a good idea. The available space between the back of the hole and the next physical restriction must be at least as big as the bit itself or the threads will not engage. Also, drilling a hole allows a quick inspection to ensure the hole is in the correct location and plies are aligned and parallel. Generally, self-drillers are used when going through thin gauge steel into thicker gauge steel and self-tappers are used when fastening two thin gauge plies.


Fasteners may be used with or without washers. While plastic washers help prevent leaks, they are not required on purely structural connections. When using washers, it is important to visually inspect the screw after installation to be sure they are properly compressed and not kinked. Exposed plastics generally degrade when exposed to ultraviolet light. Furthermore, use of neoprene washers may be prevented by restricted material lists, or “red lists.” Fastener heads themselves may be made of different materials than the rest of the screw, long-life ZAC heads being the most common example.

Fastener Profiles

Fasteners have different profiles. Flat or “pancake” screws are used when low profile installation is necessary and may have Philips, hex, or Torx sockets. Which socket to use is usually an installer’s preference based on accessibility restrictions. Another common feature is an over-sized dome beneath the head to encompass a larger washer. Also called shoulder screws, these screws are useful when thermal movement might distort the holes.

Colored Fasteners for Metal Roofs
Fasteners can also be colored to match the roof or wall panel.

Thread Count per Inch

Thread count per inch, or TPI, must also be considered. Most commonly, fasteners are installed through the thinner ply first and grip in the thicker ply, pulling the plies together. Therefore, TPI selection is usually driven by the thickness of the thicker ply. Generally, the TPI is close to the gauge of the metal for gauge steel and higher for plate and sheet.


The fastener must also be long enough to fully engage all plies of material, plus the length of the drill bit in the case of self-drillers. Generally, this is rounded up to the next half or quarter inch. However, the longer the screw, the more torsional strain is produced during driving and in the case of very long fasteners, this can break the fastener or introduce wobble, leading to poor installation. Therefore, stainless steel with over-sized washers is often used for long screws for added strength and protection.

For More Information on Fastener Compatibility

To learn more about fasteners and their compatibility with different types of metal roof or wall panels, check out Metal Construction Association’s recently published technical bulletin, Fastener Compatibility with Profiled Metal Roof and Wall Panels.

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