Steel Building Framing Corrosion: Know the Causes, Find Solutions

Steel framing is common in industrial, warehouse and commercial buildings, but it’s susceptibility to corrosion can become an issue if not properly maintained. Corrosion reduces the strength of the framing and can put it at risk for collapse.

Common Causes of Corrosion

Water exposure is a primary cause of corrosion in steel building framing, but it’s not the only culprit. There are many ways steel buildings can be exposed to corrosion, including:

  • Water infiltration through a leaking wall, floor or roof finish that may be covering steel framing.
  • Condensation.
  • Overspray from vehicle wash bays.
  • Road salt mixed into snow piled against door jambs and other steel column bases exposed to the elements during cold winter months.
  • Presence of certain gases inside buildings such as wastewater treatment facilities and chemical production facilities.
  • Salt in sea water and chloride ions in the atmosphere surrounding exposed steel framing in coastal regions.

 What To Look For

Steel framing corrosion may be difficult to spot if framing is concealed, such as that above suspended ceiling systems. Look for water spots and rust stains on ceiling tiles and other finishes that conceal framing as a sign that further investigation, including removing the finish to expose the framing to view, may be warranted.

Corrosion on framing exposed to view is commonly recognized by rust staining and flaking paint. In addition to repairing corrosion, it is important to fix any source problems that may have caused the corrosion, such as a leaking wall, floor or roof finish.

Pro-Active Protection/Mitigation

Steel building framing should be coated with an appropriate paint system whenever possible to keep corrosion sources from contacting the steel. It is important to maintain the paint system, especially when it’s directly exposed to the elements or frequently exposed to moisture such as in vehicle wash bays. High-performance epoxy paint systems offer enhanced corrosion protection versus traditional paint products. Galvanizing the steel framing is another option to help keep framing from corroding. Use of galvanized or stainless steel fasteners could also be considered.

As a structural engineer, I am able to visually survey your steel building framing for signs of corrosion, conduct a sensitivity analysis of corroded framing to determine if the corrosion is severe enough to warrant repairs, and offer necessary solutions.

Is your steel building framing at risk of collapse due to corrosion? Are you looking for options to repair corroded framing? Contact me today for more information.

Nick Schneider, P.E. is a structural engineer and project manager at IIW. He has nearly 12 years of experience designing both industrial and commercial facilities. He also is highly experienced in the evaluation of existing structures to determine structural reinforcing requirements for building additions, truck dock additions, and other proposed modifications to existing structures.