Bad Economy: Cheap nails and screws no place to save money

RustynailsPerhaps you’ve heard that fable about how "but for a nail, a kingdom was lost."

It goes like this: But for a nail, a shoe was lost. But for a shoe, a horse was lost. But for a horse, a battle was lost. But for a battle, a war was lost. But for a war, a kingdom was lost.

After walking around a SoCal neighborhood recently and seeing the infuriating sights at the right, I’ve got my own version: But for the proper nail, a house was lost.

Here’s how it happens. You make your weekend project plans, figure out your shopping list, and head for the hardware store, big box store or lumber yard. There, you compare prices for 1-pound and 5-pound boxes of nails or screws, mystified at the choices, shocked at the price spans. You pick the cheapest, recalling how the economy is tanking.

And here’s the salient moment: You ask the employee on duty: "Are these the right nails?" Or, "Will these screws work?"

And here are the red-flag answers: "I don’t see why not." Or, "They should work."

Six months later when your fasteners have rusted or corroded, you won’t even remember that little interchange, but you and your house will be in a heap of trouble.

Here’s the Cliff Notes version on fasteners:

• Galvanized are more rust-resistant than nongalvanized.
• Hot-dipped galvanized fasteners are much more rust-resistant. (Look for the "HD" on the nail itself.)
• Double hot-dipped are even better.

But, here’s a new wrinkle: ACQ pressure-treated lumber (which is what we use now that arsenic in PT lumber has been outlawed for residential construction) calls for different rules altogether. There is copper in this wood that will react to the zinc coating on galvanized fasteners. If you are using ACQ pressure-treated wood, you need to find fasteners that are rated compatible for this wood. If the box doesn’t indicate this, contact the manufacturer. When salty ocean air is involved, pricey stainless steel fasteners may be necessary.

Read more discussions in Coastal Contractor magazine, and from a DIY guy who chose to remove 3,000 rusting nails on his new deck. And here’s a nail puller in case you find yourself in a similar fix.

Bottom line: Trying to save a few bucks on cheap, noncompatible fasteners is a bad economy.

And my disclaimer: This blog is for conversation purposes only. Do your research, make your selections and deal with the consequences accordingly.

3 Comments on Bad Economy: Cheap nails and screws no place to save money

  1. Susan

    Very insightful. This probably all applies to new construction as well, which tells me that some of these megabubbles and bloatominiums that have been thrown up in the past few years may head into trouble a few years down the road.
    At market tops they always cut corners, and when things tank and the tide goes out, you’ll see who’s been swimming sans clothing.
    From an old L.A. Times article (South Bay edition) dated July 10, 1992, called “Homeowners get cracking on a lawsuit” :
    “The owners of 49 Rancho Palos Verdes townhouses have sued the project’s developer and designers, charging that their 3-year-old homes are cracking and crumbling because of shoddy construction and poorly compacted soil.”
    “Walls, floors and roofs at the Villa Capri townhouse complex near Hawthorne Boulevard and Palos Verdes Drive West have begun to crack and buckle, owners said. Toilets and other fixtures have cracked and pulled away from walls, as have patios and balconies, the suit said.”

  2. Kathy Price-Robinson

    Thanks, Carl!

  3. Carl Heldmann

    Hi KPR,
    Being “Penny (nail) wise, dollar foolish in construction teaches one a lesson the hard way.
    Had a builder friend who had to replace an entire cedar siding job on a new house due to inferior galvanized nails.
    Better than galvanized or even Double hot-dipped galvanized are stainless steel nails or aluminum nails. They don’t cost that much more and they never rust!