Five months into the CCA phase-out and most contractors have switched from CCA lumber to pressure treated lumber alternatives. But for many installers, the change hasn't been as simple as just switching wood. Some of the new treated lumber products are more corrosive than CCA, which means installers also have had to adjust their fastener and connector use to ensure that the metals do not rust or corrode.

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Copper azole and ACQ lumber (shown left photo, copper azole 4x4 on left, ACQ 2x6 on right) look similar to CCA, so it's important to read the end tags and verify deliveries with your supplier.

The switchover from CCA for most residential use officially began on Jan. 1, when the lumber industry's voluntary phase-out began. At that point, treatment manufacturers ceased production, although remaining inventories can still be stocked, sold, and installed until supplies run out. Contractors across the country are switching from the treated lumber mainstay to new alternative treated products for decks, sill plates, and other applications.

The most common alternative treatment is ACQ (alkaline copper quat), which is manufactured by Osmose under the NatureWood brand name and by Chemical Specialties under the name Preserve. Copper azole is another available treatment, and is sold by Arch Wood Protection under the Wolmanized Natural Select brand name.

But while the new lumber has proven as effective against bugs and decay as CCA, testing shows that ACQ and copper azole are more corrosive than CCA, raising concerns about how fasteners and hardware will hold up over time. If you don't know whether your suppliers have switched over and you're using standard fasteners, go outside and check right now.

Special Treatment

Before the official phase-out began, lumber treaters, fastener manufacturers, and other industry groups began ramping up efforts to educate installers, dealers, and the rest of the industry on the appropriate fasteners and hardware for the new materials. Generally, treatment manufacturers are recommending a minimum of stainless steel fasteners or hot-dipped galvanized fasteners that meet ASTM A153 standards and connectors that meet ASTM A653 Class G185 sheet or better, as well as fasteners tested and recommended by individual fastener manufacturers. Last month, Arch Wood Protection updated its recommendations for sill plates, and now says, "While galvanized fasteners are preferable, the use of non-galvanized nails of sizes and types approved by the Model Code is acceptable when attaching joists, studs, or other framing to Wolmanized Natural Select sill plate, provided the wood will remain dry in service, protected from weather and water."

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The CCA phase-out began Jan. 1, but lumberyards can still stock it until inventory runs out.

Most of the information coming from fastener manufacturers are similar, hot-dipped galvanized or stainless steel, but there is more variation from brand to brand and each company has recommendations specific to their own products. Some fastener makers are still wary of the potential for degradation and are pointing contractors toward stainless steel; others have developed product lines specifically for the new lumber. To be sure, consult with your fastener supplier before switching to the new treatment.

"You're getting a product that has different chemicals that consumers are comfortable with, but it is a new thing. The treaters have to be more careful in the treating and builders have to be a little more careful in how they use this stuff," says Huck DeVenzio, manager of marketing communications for Arch Wood Protection. "If you follow our recommendations, you shouldn't have any problems."

But with all the discussion over the fasteners, these changes are actually not "new" at all. The recommendations for ACQ and copper azole are the same that treatment manufacturers were advising for CCA, says Al Heberer, national marketing manager for Osmose. The difference now is that contractors who weren't abiding by the guidelines definitely need to follow them now. "If every contractor was using what we recommended for CCA, there would have been no issue whatsoever because they would have been using hot-dipped or stainless steel," he says "...In this initial phase, the builder has to be careful to know what he's got, and make sure that the box of fasteners he's getting says, 'Approved for use with ACQ.'"

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Even though many dealers are educating customers, make sure you know what you're getting.

In addition, since 2000, the International Residential Code has stated that pressure-treated products must be fastened with stainless steel, hot-dipped galvanized, silicon bronze, or copper fasteners, with the exception of 1/2-inch diameter or greater steel bolts.

Greg Hutchison, a building official for Cañon City, Colo., says that he has been handing out information on the regulations and enforcing them since his district adopted the 2000 IRC in 2002. Sometimes it can be hard to verify that the proper fasteners are being used, he says, but now that the transition has been made to ACQ, they'll be keeping an eye out for proper fasteners even more.

Borate-treated lumber is another treated alternative that's been gaining popularity since the phase-out began because it's less expensive than ACQ and copper azole. In addition, borates are less corrosive and may not require contractors to change fasteners, unless regulated by codes or recommended by manufacturers, so they are becoming a good choice for sill plates. According to Tarun Bhatia, business improvement manager for Borax, manufacturers can file evaluation reports that create exceptions to the code to allow standard fasteners for use with their borate-treated products. Borates (available under the SillBor name from Arch and Advance Guard from Osmose, among other products) are limited to applications where they will not be exposed to weather and water.

Switch Up

Whether you're already using the right fasteners or you need to make the switch, the first step is to know what wood you're getting from your suppliers. Some proactive lumber dealers are posting signs and handing out information, but others may not be emphasizing the gravity of the situation enough. ACQ- and CCA-treated lumber products look almost identical, so make sure you know if your suppliers have made the switch. If you're unsure, ask your lumber dealer or check the label on the wood.

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SillBor from Arch Wood Protection can be used for sill plates and other non-exposed applications.

Michael Davis, owner of Framing Square in Albuquerque, N.M., has been following the situation very closely, so when his lumber dealer casually mentioned that an incoming delivery contained ACQ, Davis knew he had to get new fasteners to his crews fast. But he didn't have any pneumatic galvanized nails, so his piece crews had to hand nail–and automatically charged him 7 cents more per square foot. "If I hadn't known about it already, I would have said, 'Oh, a different kind of [treated lumber]. OK, fine, thanks, talk to you later.' And we would have been building something that potentially could have fallen apart," Davis says.

Davis is still researching a permanent plan for how to replace CCA, including using borates, but for now is installing ACQ with the double-galvanized gun nails recommended by his area fastener supplier.

Contractors around the country are making similar adjustments, with solutions that vary from switching fasteners to specing new wood.

For Ken Shifflett, the problem is amplified because his company, Ace Carpentry in Manassas, Va., serves as a builder, a framing contractor, and a deck and porch builder, which means three separate strategies. As a builder, Shifflett is using borates for his sill plates. For decks, the company is using copper azole and double-dipped galvanized nails for deck joists and posts and composite planks for the decking. As a framing contractor, Shifflett must adjust to what the builder is supplying, usually ACQ. His installers are using galvanized double-dipped nails in the ACQ, starting from the slab all the way up to the underside of the first deck plywood, including all of the basement walls; sill plates are attached with galvanized cut nails and Teco nails to foundation straps. "From a logistics and coordination point of view, it's a pain in the butt," Shifflett says. "You have to monitor that stuff all the time."

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Trus Joist's TimberStrand LSL engineered sill plates are treated with borates.

In addition to ensuring that you are using the right fasteners, also be aware that there are a number of other no-nos with treated lumber products. The Southern Pine Council warns that installers should not use standard carbon-steel or aluminum in direct contact with pressure treated wood. Simpson Strong-Tie also reminds installers not to mix hot-dipped galvanized and stainless steel fasteners and connectors.

Joe Di Medio of Di Medio Lime, a cinder block manufacturer and lumber supplier in Camden, N.J., says his company is boosting its supply of copper flashing in response to the changes.

Rather than switching to copper flashing, Tom Cifelli, vice president of purchasing for All-tech, a carpentry contracting company in Jamesburg, N.J., has changed the wood products he uses for decks, switching to cedar or redwood ledger boards. The company was already using hot-dipped galvanized nails for pressure treated lumber, but did adjust its hangers to meet the new recommendations. "We've been preparing our company since last summer, trying to answer any possible questions or concerns that will be occurring ahead of time," he says. For sill plates, Cifelli switched to Trus Joist's TimberStrand LSL, an engineered, borate-treated sill plate.

Another area to be aware of is choosing the right fasteners for driving through multiple types of metal, says Joe Lincourt, vice president of copper flashing maker York Mfg. Lincourt recommends that installers confused by metal reaction first consult the galvanic scale, which can help determine which metals will react more with each other based on where they fall on the scale. For example, copper and aluminum are far apart on the scale, and therefore are more likely to react. "The first thing they have to know is, 'Do I or do I not have a problem,'" Lincourt says. "The galvanic scale will tell you if you have a problem and you need to go find an answer."

If you have an aluminum sliding door, copper flashing, and ACQ lumber, for instance, you have a potential problem. York offers a copper flashing product with a paper facing to serve as a buffer between the aluminum and the copper. From there, you can consult your fastener supplier to find out what kind of coated fastener will work in all three materials simultaneously.

Rising Costs

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If you're not sure what type of wood you have, check with your supplier and look for an end tag. The back of the tag should have a quality mark similar to the one above that identifies its treatment content.

Along with logistical issues, builders are facing cost increases as a result of the changes, with higher price tags on the lumber (with the exception of borates) versus CCA, higher fastener costs, and, if you've got production crews using two types of nails, a higher price on labor. "First of all, the fasteners we're buying ? are probably in the range of four times as expensive as what we're normally used to," says Davis. "? We do a lot of piece work. We're seeing an increase in our piece costs because the piece workers can't go as fast because they've got to change fasteners and change tools."

And cost is one more reason to make sure you're educating your customers, because it could cost you a bid. "I know a little bit more about it than a lot of people, and I'm aware of it. And so I'm including the correct materials and procedures in my quotes," Davis says. "But, actually I think it's probably hurting me a little bit in some regard because people look at some of these quotes and say 'Gee, you're higher than this guy. What's the problem?'"

Keeping Tabs

The treated lumber issue remains something you need to keep up on because it will continue to change, both as chemical formulations adjust and as fastener requirements become more defined by manufacturers and in building codes. You should continue to check with your suppliers for changes. In addition, most of the manufacturers and related associations have updated information on their Web sites (see "Resources sidebar").

And most importantly, pass the information on to your crews. Monitor them and make sure they're using the right fasteners for the right applications.

"It's a headache a lot of people don't even know they've got yet," says Davis. "It's going to be amazing down the road six months from now when builders wake up and realize they've built their last 20 or 30 houses with ACQ and they don't know whether or not the right fasteners were used. There's going to be some sleepless nights."