Sign up for the monthly newsletter, special offers and announcements!
Lexi: Hello, everyone. Welcome to our new podcast series. My name is Lexi Edwards and I will be your host today with Cornerstone Building Brands. With me today, I have Tyler Roose with American Building Components.
Tyler: Hi, Lexi. How are you today?
Lexi: I'm doing well. Yourself?
Tyler: Doing well. Thank you.
Lexi: All right. Tyler is our Director of Sales Development at ABC and today, he's going to be giving us some information on metal panel gauges. Tyler, I guess the first thing we need to get out of the way is what is a metal panel gauge and what does it mean?
Tyler: A metal panel gauge is a measure of thickness. When talking about a metal panel, the thickness applies to both panels and trim items. It can be measured with a tool we call a "micrometer." Typically, in the metal panel world, metal roof and wall panels, the panel skins themselves range anywhere from 20-gauge all the way up to 29-gauge and even lighter.
Tyler: Now, one misconception is typically when you go bigger in number, you think that means thicker, but the way gauges work as far as the thickness measurement is as the number decreases, the actual thickness measurement increases. For instance, 26-gauge is actually thicker or heavier than what a 29-gauge panel would be.
Tyler: The other primary difference between panels and trim, especially in the light gauge steel world is there's different levels of hardness as well, or what we call "tensile strength." Typically, the products that we make the trim out of have a softer, less dense tensile strength, if you will. What that allows for is the bending and shaping of trims. It allows you to put a hem on the material without cracking the trim and things like that.
Lexi: Does that mean that the gauge of a metal trim piece could be different than the same gauge of a metal panel?
Tyler: Yeah, it definitely can. You don't see it a whole lot. Typically, on a residential project, if you have 29-gauge panel, you're going to have 29-gauge trim as well, but certainly, we offer multiple options in our product line. You can mix-and-match trims that have larger reveals of a flat area, say, maybe a door jamb trim or a fascia trim, things like that. You could certainly make those in a heavier gauge to make them more rigid, prevent them from oil canning and things like that. I'm sure we'll talk more about that as we go through the podcast here, but yeah, definitely, we can mix-and-match as far as what's available in our color palette for all the different gauges and product lines.
Lexi: Okay. You said that it's a measurement of thickness. Is that measurement something that's industry-wide or is that company-based?
Tyler: It is industry-wide. There's different tolerance levels. When you talk about thickness, for instance, 29-gauge is going to range anywhere from a 0.014 decimal thickness all the way up to a 0.015. You'll see different companies within the industry having different tolerances in place and requiring different thicknesses within that range or within that spectrum when they order material from the mill.
Tyler: The other thing you'll see specified a lot of times is the difference between minimum thickness and what we call "nominal thickness." "Minimal" means basically that that decimal thickness cannot be below the threshold of whatever is specified. If we say it's a minimum 0.015 decimal thickness, that's what you're going to get in the product. If a nominal thickness is specified, there's a certain percentage plus or minus from that thickness what it could be, plus or minus two or 3%, something like that.
Tyler: That's one thing that we promote. We don't want to skimp on thickness, so we promote everything basically as a minimum thickness so we know what we're getting when we buy the material from the mills.
Lexi: Got it. Okay. Let's get into the actual specifics. Would it be fair to say that you would expect to pay more for thicker panels?
Tyler: Yeah, generally, that's going to be the case. When we buy steel, it's usually by hundredweight, which is basically a true unit of measure. In general, the thicker the steel, the more it's going to weigh and the price is going to go up.
Tyler: Now, there's other things that go into consideration there as far as stock colors versus non-stock colors. We slit a lot of our material depending on what the coverage and what we call the "blank width" of the panel is as far as what the formed panel width of coil is actually being run out of. Sometimes, you have waste out of the master coil, things like that that can impact the price of the finished good panel, but in general, yeah, the thicker the material for standard colors, similar paint systems, the price going to be higher.
Lexi: Okay. Then what do you get in exchange for that higher price? I mean, you said that they are stronger, but what does that really mean in terms of a building?
Tyler: The thicker the gauge, the stronger the panel's going to be. That comes into play in several factors. There's a lot of, I guess, prerequisites or criteria that goes into it, like what are you attaching the panel to? Is it a roof or a wall panel? Metal building, a wood building? There's a lot of criteria, right? In general terms, the thicker the gauge of metal, the more impact-resistant it's going to be. The more structurally sound it's going to be, things like that.
Tyler: For roof panels in particular, and wall panels, for that matter, there may be certain code requirements, there may be specification requirements. That's in large part due to local building code, geographical and atmospheric conditions: Is it a hail-susceptible area? Is it an earthquake-susceptible area? Is it a hurricane area? Things like that. There's a lot to consider.
Tyler: The panel type plays a large part in that as well. A lot of our roofing panels, especially the standing seam panels, have a rather large area in the flat of the pan that doesn't have a lot of ribs or breaks to it. In general terms, the greater the flat area of the panel, the heavier the gauge needs to be to keep the strength and integrity in that product and keep it from oil canning and showing signs of expansion and contraction and those sorts of things.
Tyler: Same thing with our wall panels. We sell several architectural wall panels that have a flat surface on them. There's some other things you can do besides the thickness of the material to control oil canning and things like that, such as embossing and adding minor ribs, pencil ribs, that sort of thing. In general terms, in that case, you're always going to see heavier panel gauges recommended and specified.
Lexi: Okay. Earlier, you mentioned building codes. I know that building codes usually vary based off of their region. Does that mean that the metal panel gauge that you recommend for one customer in one area of the country could be different depending on where they live or where the project is?
Tyler: It certainly does. Oftentimes, that recommendation doesn't come directly from us. That's going to come as a requirement from a structural engineer or the local permitting offices, that sort of thing. It'll be shown in the specs and it'll be talked about way before we get involved as far as quoting or making recommendations on the project.
Tyler: Now, in the metal building world where we serve as the estimator, as the detailer, and as the engineer, our estimating programs will tell us what is required given the primary structure that's being used and then what we're attaching to that structure. Yep.
Lexi: Okay. So, we talked about the cost and we talked about building codes and strength. What about durability? Do higher or sorry, lower gauge, thicker panels usually last longer?
Tyler: That's a good question.
Lexi: Threw you for a loop there.
Tyler: That's right. For the most part in general terms, again, yeah, you can say yes. If there's going to be an issue with degradation of the panel, such as rust or corrosion, failure of paint systems, a lot of times, there's something going on in the atmospheric conditions or there's some failure in the paint, if there's ever going to be a warranty issue or a rust issue down the road.
Tyler: Like I said earlier, as far as impact and wind uplift, certainly, a heavier gauge panel is going to perform better against those conditions. Things like corrosion and rust and moisture and paint failures, those are really independent of what the thickness of the panel provides.
Lexi: Okay, so a 29-gauge panel wouldn't degrade faster or any worse than a 22 or a 24-gauge?
Tyler: In general terms, no, it would not because a lot of those issues are going to start at the surface and either way, work their way through the core of the panel. Yep.
Lexi: Okay. Now, I'm going to go for a stretch here. Do thicker gauges require fewer supports?
Tyler: Yes, definitely. Again, depending on panel type, some of our panels are what we consider structural and some are not, but yes, in general terms, it would.
Tyler: There's other factors there as well, such as our insulated metal panels that we sell. Now, those have two steel skins filled with polyurethane foam, so a product like that which has additional properties to it is able to span even further, but yeah, in general terms, especially roof and wall panels on a metal building, you may be able to eliminate some of your structural needs by going to a heavier gauge panel.
Lexi: Okay. What does the difference in metal panel gauge mean for installation time or any other kind of installation processes?
Tyler: Well, the biggest thing is there may not be a huge savings in the upfront cost of labor, those sorts of things. Some of the issues we talked about earlier as far as oil canning and just general performance and durability of the panel over time, your life cycle savings for going in and having to replace panels to touch them up, whatever it may be, you're going to save on maintenance and repair costs down the road.
Lexi: Could a lighter gauge or a thicker material be more forgiving of installation errors? Or is that something that you see across all?
Tyler: I would say that's pretty consistent. The one difference you may see is you may have to pre-drill some holes to get the screws started as you attach them, things like that, but in general, the installation process is going to be fairly similar.
Lexi: So we've talked a lot about the benefits of stronger, heavier panel material. When do you see is the perfect opportunity to use a lighter gauge metal panel?
Tyler: Yeah, that's a great question. It's one that we see quite a bit within the ABC realm and our customers. One thing that has been consistent, I'd say, over the last six to eight years especially is our customers want options, right? There's a lot of different project types, a lot of different "enclosure needs," I'll call it, a lot of different end uses of buildings out there in our market and for our customers. What we've always tried to do is give variety, give different price points, especially within what I'll call the "light gauge market" as we talk 29 and 26-gauge materials is we actually have varying warranty options within the 29-gauge product line on our exposed fastener system. We offer a good, better, best warranty selection.
Tyler: As I said earlier, there's slight differences, even within the 29-gauge range of thickness from 0.014 to a 0.015 where we're offering different thicknesses and as a result of that, a slightly different price point. We offer our premium 29-gauge exposed fastener system that we have for many, many years now. It's the top of the line in the 29-gauge world. It's a minimum 0.015 thickness with a premium paint system.
Tyler: Then we also offer what we call our "select 40," which still has a 40-year paint warranty with a slightly thinner material and slightly thinner metal substrate, which we specify as a 0.0142 thickness. Then we also even offer a couple of products lighter, such as our commodity 30-gauge, which is even a step down from the 29-gauge that a lot of customers use on interior walls and ceilings in post-frame construction and barns and livestock confinement and things like that.
Tyler: Really, what we've tried to do, because there is a great disparity of products out in the marketplace and different price points, is give our customers options depending on what the end use of the structure they're putting our material on is and what price point that customer is willing to pay.
Lexi: Earlier, I believe you had referenced mixing-and-matching panel gauges. Are you meaning mixing-and-matching panel gauges for the metal panel themselves or is that more common with the metal panels and the trim?
Tyler: It's common in both. Probably, the most common thing we see is in the post-frame building market, a lot of customers will do a 26-gauge roof panel, both for impact resistance and uplift resistance. Then they'll do a 29-gauge wall panel because the wall panels are more indirect exposure to those elements, if you will. You see that quite frequently.
Tyler: Then like I said earlier, on some of the trim items, areas that have wider flat spaces on the trim, such as your fascia and your corners and your overhead door trim, things like that, you'll see a lot of customers use 26-gauge on those items, too, just to make it a little stronger. As you attach them with the screws, if you happen to overdrive a screw, it may not dimple that area quite as bad. As people run into the building or hit the building or whatever, it may be a little bit stronger and more resistant to that, things of that nature.
Lexi: Let's talk a little bit more about the technical side of it. You said that metal panel gauges are determined by micrometers?
Tyler: That's the tool that's used to actually measure the decimal thickness of the panel itself. We're talking in relative terms of a rather thin piece of material, right? What that tool does is it basically has clamps on each side that show a digital reading, so as you compress it to measure the thickness of the panel, it has a digital reading that shows what the actual material decimal thickness is.
Lexi: So if someone had that tool, is it possible for them to measure it themselves?
Tyler: Yeah, yep. Absolutely. They're available online. A lot of contractors carry them, a lot of our lumberyard partner customers have them, check the material and make sure it's within tolerance, make sure it's what they're expecting, things like that. We use them frequently to compare competitor material, things like that. Yep, they're available online, a lot of construction catalogs, things like that. Very easy to use.
Lexi: Is there anything else that you want our listeners to know about metal panel gauges?
Tyler: Well, we're always open for feedback, so if there's something in our product line that you need to help your business, feel free to reach out to our customer service team, to our team of district sales managers out in the field as they work with you. I feel like that's one thing that sets ABC apart and sets Cornerstone apart is our wide product offering, but we're always looking to improve and innovate, so if there's anything else out there that we can help your business with, or if you have questions as far as when and where to use a certain product, or questions if something's available in our product line that may be able to help, please, don't be shy to reach out.
Lexi: Great. Thank you so much for letting us pick your brain today, Tyler.
Tyler: Yeah, thanks. I enjoyed it. I hope it's beneficial and everybody was able to learn something today. Thank you.
Metal Minutes podcast shares insights from metal construction subject matter experts deep dive into trending industry topics. Learn from industry leaders with knowledge relevant to many different project types. This podcast episode was created by Cornerstone Building Brands, ABC's parent company.
Thanks for listening to our episode! For more information visit our blog or visit our podcast page for similar topics.
Want to become a Metal Insider? Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive industry news and updates.
Read our original blog post to learn more about the topic and resources available.