IN DEPTH: Fasteners
THINK FASTENERS ARE JUST A COMMODITY? THINK AGAIN.
Manufacturers continue to innovate, and many fasteners offer an array of unique features that address the latest building trends, the newest materials, and, of course, ever-changing codes. Savvy dealers who can appreciate and understand what makes different nails and screws unique can stand out from competitors while helping their customers build better and faster.
In fact, with so many fasteners on the market, it’s more essential than ever for dealers to understand the products they offer and to communicate which are best suited for each application.
Just as building materials—from decking to framing—have continued to shift and grow, so have the options for the fasteners and hardware that go along with them. “With the constant changing of products and materials, you have to keep up with the fastener needs,” says Scott Marshall, hardlines manager for Grabber. “You can’t always pull a fastener off the shelf and say, ‘This is going to work.’”
“New building materials continue to drive the development of fasteners,” explains Larry Crossley, vice president of sales at Starborn Industries. “For example, the increasing popularity of metal joists for use with composite decking has spurred the development of innovative fastening solutions, like our Deckfast Metal Screw.”
Indeed, decking is a prime example. An installer’s choice in fastener can have a big impact on the aesthetics of the finished surface. The proliferation of capstock decking products a few years ago, for instance, called for screws that reduce mushrooming— but not necessarily the mushroom-reducing screws that are popular with traditional composites; for best results, follow recommendations from the manufacturers you represent.
“Regardless of the brand of decking you’ve chosen to sell, it’s critical that… you’re selling the proper screws to go along with those decking products,” says David Elenbaum, vice president of sales and marketing for composite manufacturer Green Bay Decking and owner of DeckStore, Simpsonville, S.C. “Understand what screws you should use for it and why.”
“Every deck board is a little different,” he says, noting that Green Bay is combatting this with its own screws. “We’re going to ask our dealers to stock those screws to go with the decking.”
Green Bay isn’t alone. “More and more building material manufacturers are specifying the use of particular fasteners in their installation guidelines, like PVC and composite decking companies that recommend our Cap-Tor xd screws and Deckfast Fascia System,” says Crossley. “We regularly work with building material manufacturers to help them develop fastening instructions and specifications. This makes things a lot easier for both dealers and builders alike.”
The need carries across all types of materials, and manufacturers are continually innovating to keep up with what’s new.
One material that continues to require attention is pressure-treated lumber. As many dealers may remember, when CCA treatments were phased out in the mid-2000s, some of the replacement treatments, such as ACQ, tended to be more corrosive, and fastener manufacturers had to adjust their coatings. New treatments continue to emerge, and it’s important for dealers to understand which fasteners are best suited for and can be used with each new product as they bring them on board.
“The current requirements for all fasteners used in pressure treated lumber includes passing AC257 testing,” says Craig Christiansen, marketing manager for GRK Fasteners. “This testing is conducted in 0.40 ACQ Ground Contact Lumber.”
For exterior applications in coastal areas, stainless steel is still the go-to— and for the most part required—fastener to avoid corrosion from salt spray. “Architects, specifiers, builders, and even homeowners are increasingly requiring the use of Grade 316 stainless steel fasteners in coastal areas (and other environments where corrosion is a concern),” says Crossley. “While we’ve always recommended the use of Grade 316 stainless, the level of knowledge in the field concerning stainless steel fasteners has really increased dramatically in the past several years.” In June GRK launched a 316 stainless steel structural screw for decking that meets the most stringent building code requirements.
No matter the material, innovation abounds. Industry consolidation has enabled companies to increase product development resources and spend more on R&D, says Clark Allen, market segment manager for fasteners for Simpson Strong-Tie. “For example, we introduced several different screws last year with a special SawTooth tip that has lower torque and eliminates the need for pre-drilling. Features such as this, as well as integral washer heads, enable faster, easier installation from one side instead of two and allow for much lower installed cost.”
The low-torque tip design is easier on both the user and the equipment. Among the Strong-Tie fasteners featuring it are the new SDWS Framing Screws. The load-rated screw can be used for a range of applications.
Increasing versatility is resonating with remodelers, handymen, and DIYers who want a load-rated screw they can use for more tasks. Many remodelers also are switching to using impact drivers, which are small, light, and fast.
“With all the lower-torque [fastener] features, it brings the opportunity to use cordless technology,” Allen says. “Cordless technology is getting better all the time, but when you couple it with a low-torque design in the fastener, it’s a legitimate proposition: With the new low-torque features of our fasteners, you can drive 500 to 600 screws on a battery charge, allowing you to put down a deck surface without the hassle of electrical cords.”
Along with the tip, thread design continues to advance. For example, Strong-Tie’s WSV subfloor screw has an aggressive thread that generates 25% less torque during installation. The screws, versus nailing, also have the potential to improve long-term performance, Allen says. “The important thing for these guys is to do the job right the first time and not have to go back, to not have to spend time and effort and money fixing a squeak on the back end.”
At the same time, the industry has seen new players, says Crossley. “There is real competition in fastener categories that were previously dominated by one or two companies, including more options for color-matched screws and plug fastening systems for PVC trim and decking,” he says. “This has opened up the market to new ideas and technologies, and given dealers a real choice in how to best serve their customers.”
All of this innovation means greater efficiency and, ultimately, better homes, even if it means a higher upfront price tag. “Even if you pay a little more for full-featured fasteners, you’re going to save money in the long run due to lower installed cost,” Allen says.
“If you go with a reputable company that cares about quality and making the best fastener for the application, you’re going to pay a bit more,” but it will function for that usage, says Marshall. “When a screw is made for a specific application, you put your engineering into it to make sure it works properly.”
The focus on quality is in keeping with another building trend: durable, resilient structures. “Developers and builders want their projects to last,” says Law Winchester, national sales manager for Intercorp. “They are developing ways to combat corrosion and deterioration over time. Fasteners must also deal with this trend; they must have protective coatings that can support these new designs. Intercorp is regularly expanding our product offering with a variety of corrosion-resistant choices.”
Winchester says Intercorp is also seeing requests for longer screws that accommodate heavier-duty materials and energy-efficient construction.
The quality push also pertains to aesthetics, which is driving increased use of color-matched fasteners in several applications and has cemented hidden fasteners as a go-to choice for high-end decks. “There was a big migration from screws to hidden fasteners five years ago,” says Elenbaum. “It’s the status quo today to use hidden fasteners.”
“With our Ipe Clip hidden deck fastener, we’re seeing great growth again this year,” says Roderick Kabel, marketing director for DeckWise, The Ipe Clip Fastener Co. “We’re seeing many builders go toward the higher-level hidden deck fastener market.”
Kabel says deck builders are embracing the cleaner look hidden deck fasteners provide, as well as some of the higher-end features specific to his company’s products, such as a stainless steel insert, injection molding, and UV resistance. “When a homeowner spends the money on Brazilian ipe or tigerwood or other exotic hardwoods, they’re already laying down a chunk of money. To get the best outcome for a long-lasting deck, I think the bottom line is using a fastener that will protect their investment.”
The company is applying that same performance to other areas of the hardwood deck with new products such as WiseWrap JoistTape and LedgerTape, a bitumen joist flashing tape that protects against moisture and rot, and a hardwood deck restoration kit. “We’re really looking at trying to capture every kind of deck building need someone might want to use for a hardwood deck,” Kabel says.
For the kitchen, GRK recently introduced a line of cabinet screws powder- coated with white to meet current trends for white cabinetry. The screws also blend into interiors for use with popular glass-front cabinets.
With the sheer number of fastener options available, it’s essential for dealer sales teams to stay knowledgeable about what they carry. Familiarity is key to moving fasteners beyond a commodity and an afterthought into a mentality in which they play an integral role in a safe and beautifully finished home.
“The dealers need to reach out to manufacturers and understand the true value of what the end user wants,” says Christiansen. “Sixty percent of end users are willing to pay a premium. There is a large portion of end users/remodelers that value performance in a fastener and are willing to pay for that performance. It’s a dual responsibility to ensure we communicate what the value is in our fasteners and for the dealer to reach out and make sure they understand that and then make sure they pass that along to the end user.”
This includes understanding what fasteners pair best with materials, including wood framing, cabinetry, roofing, drywall, and decking. Failing to do so could lead to callbacks, voided warranties, and product failures. “It is important for dealers to recognize that fasteners are an integral component of any building system, and choosing the right fastener is critical to ensure the quality and longevity of any project,” says Crossley.
“[Dealers] can really help their customers by being informed about changes and new applications for fastening,” says Winchester. “[Provide] the customer with choices and knowledge so they can make an informed purchase on the right product for the job. Changes are happening fast; sometimes builders and contractors don’t have the information on the latest fastening solutions.
“First of course is [for dealers] to educate themselves about the ongoing changes in the fastener industry,” Winchester continues. “Partner with vendors and suppliers that are at the forefront of the industry. Invite questions and be knowledgeable about fastening solutions and options or have the resources to find out. Then they must advertise and train sales staff to let their customers know that their company can supply the fastener requirements along with all the other building materials they may be supplying.”
Winchester says Intercorp continues to increase its marketing budget to drive sales of products to the end user and contractor, and they facilitate introductions with distributors that carry their brand.
At GRK, “we’re big into demos,” Christiansen says, noting that the company’s reps are very active working with distributors that reach out to dealers. “We try to do [demos] as much as possible to show dealers how to demonstrate our product. And we’ll do them at the dealer to show the end user the value of our product and where to use it.”
Starborn recently launched its own program to provide in-store demonstrations at key dealer outlets.
“We try to get in front of salespeople to go over the features and benefits so that the counter people can sell,” adds Jim Miller, president and CEO of Screw Products. “They can help the builder understand the different applications and what works with what.”
Along with an extensive array of training materials and resources, Simpson Strong-Tie launched a screw substitution calculator that provides Strong-Tie alternatives to NDS fasteners. The company also has made its packaging user-friendly, including pictures of applications and load data. “It gives the user all they need to know on the package,” Allen says.
In addition, Allen adds, end users are looking for more convenient packaging— they don’t want to have to buy a bucket for a small job. In response, Strong-Tie has started individually flagging structural fasteners.
Intercorp also is shifting its packaging. “Historically we have provided our products only in bulk packaging—25- to 50-pound quarter-keg boxes. But what we are finding is that dealers want to compete with the big box stores but need the smaller packaging options that go with it,” says Winchester. “Intercorp now offers 90% of its catalog items in either a 5- or 1-pound option. This is ideal for visual marketing that leads to other products as well as the convenience of buying products in increments that fit the job.”
Shifts such as this are indicative of a larger effort on the part of manufacturers to stay up on trends so that they’re ready with the right fastener to meet any changing need or requirement. For example, Starborn has seen growing demand for rooftop decks in urban areas. “Rooftop decks require unique fastening methods, so we’ve responded by developing fasteners specifically for use with PVC, composite, and hardwood decking installed on rooftop sleeper systems,” says Crossley.
In the coming years, expect to see continued advancements in technology. “We’re constantly trying to work with end users in the field to understand what it is they need out of a fastener and what they need for certain applications,” says Christiansen. “…We let them guide us on that.”