Why are my Concrete Screws Failing?
That, my online friends, is an excellent question. Most fastener failures come from either improper installation or using the wrong screw for the wrong application. However, in very rare instances fasteners may be deliberately produced that fail to meet the legally required specifications. It was this sort of fraud that led to The Fastener Quality Act (FQA) of 1990, otherwise known as Public Law 101-592; since its enactment the FQA has been amended three times (Pub L. 104-113, Pub L. 105-234, and Pub L. 106-34) to further clarify and define the requirements of the original act.
I wish I weren’t writing this column. I wish it weren’t necessary. However, counterfeit products are now being used out in the market and people will die because of it.
Here at Hardware Everywhere, when you see that we’re advertising a particular brand, be it DeWalt®, Aerosmith®, Perma-Coil®, Champion®, or any other brand you can rest assured you will receive the advertised brand. There is no bait-and-switch here at Hardware Everywhere, because we’re authorized distributors and proud of the products we choose to represent. When you buy an authorized product from an authorized distributor, you are not only getting that brand, but you’re also getting that company’s backing in the very rare event you have issues and need an engineer to back you up. These major manufacturers also carry full liability insurance for their products, something many smaller distributors opt not to carry.
This article is going to be a bit Florida specific, because that’s where we at Hardware Everywhere have our main offices. But the lessons learned here can be applied anywhere a regulatory body mandates specific fastener use. (Los Angeles, for instance, has COLA seismic requirements).
For this article, we’re going to use DeWalt’s Ultracon® product because this is a real-world example. In Miami Dade County, to install any exterior window, door, or hurricane shutter, the fastener used is required by law to meet certain requirements (including a projectile test in which a cannon
shoots a 2 x 4 at the product at 125mph and the component must withstand impact.) If you submit all the multitudes of engineering paperwork and pass all of the laboratory tests, you get to use a version of the Miami-Dade County NOA logo on your product. This process can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Miami-Dade County approved products are so durable, that they are now part of not only the Miami-Dade County Building code, but also the entire state of Florida building code! Furthermore, many other coastal regions in other states have adopted these codes. When Hurricane Ian devastated the west coast of Florida in 2022, almost all of the buildings built to the new code withstood the winds; the ones built prior to the implementation of the code did not. This is absolute proof that not only are these codes needed, but they work and they save lives. Substitutions are not allowed as a matter of law! Most regulatory bodies that issue standards do not put the phrase “or equal” in their documentation because that’s a dangerously vague phrase. For example, a part may look equal – you could make (as an absurd example) an exact copy of a fastener out of plastic on a 3D printer; a plastic fastener wouldn’t work of course.
Our suspicions were first raised when a local installer asked us for a quote, and we didn’t get the order. Was that a big deal? Of course not, since no distributor gets every order they quote. It was disappointing, of course. The customer told us what he was paying, and it was way below cost; that price was simply impossible. We called DeWalt immediately and they said it was impossible because the price was so low, they couldn’t touch that price even if we bought a truckload. We insisted it was DeWalt product because that’s what our potential client told us because that’s what the receipt said, the packaging said, and his receipt from the company said.
Our salesman went and looked at the product and brought back samples. While I don’t wish to name the miscreant, the Miami Herald broke the story on 7-13-24. Ultracon® is registered trademark and using it to sell product that isn’t Ultracon® is illegal. It’s like using the name Coca-Cola® to sell Sam’s Club Cola. You can’t do it legally, ethically, or morally. At this point, our salesperson was mystified. This was clearly marked and sold as Ultracon® (and also uses the name Trimfit which is for a very specific type of Ultracon®.) The Trimfit versions of the screws come in White, Bronze, and Silver to match the window/door frame. These are colors are achieved with special fluoropolymer coatings designed to reach 1000+ hours of salt spray (anti-corrosion) test results. Standard coatings are far, far less effective. Paint (for instance) achieves under 100 hours and is not suitable for use on fasteners as a protective layer – it’s only good for decorative purposes. Looking at the picture in the Miami Herald article, you can certainly see the parts look like the real thing. Only Ultracon® doesn’t come in bags – the factory supplies either 100 count boxes or quarter kegs, but that didn’t raise a red-flag at first because a number of companies do repacking work. The thing is, when you repack, you are required to include the NOA (Notice of Acceptance) information on the repack.
With regards to the headmark, if you change to a new factory, you have to a get an all-new approval. The approval is tied to the manufacturer that makes the product. The approval process is lengthy, takes well over a year, and costs tens of thousands of dollars. The headmark identifies the manufacturer. The thing with these special fluoropolymer coatings is that they are “gloopy” –
and when they are applied to a fastener, they tend to fill in the headmark a bit, so you have to look hard. We’ve included an actual size photo so you can see how hard it would be for an inspector walking by to notice they aren’t real.
When I first saw these parts in person in July or August of 2022, I kept looking at them. I knew something wasn’t quite right, so I whipped out a magnifying glass, and that’s when I figured it out. When you have 40+ years in the industry as I do, you get a certain Spidey-Sense about certain things and mine was going off like a klaxon on a battleship.
Look at the picture see if you notice what I noticed. Oh, dear, those aren’t DeWalt headmarkings. Those headmarks are perfect squares, apparently deliberately designed to confuse an inspector or consumer, by looking similar to the DeWalt marking. A phone call to DeWalt corporate confirmed that they didn’t use such a headmark. And with some research, you can see that this isn’t a valid headmark for any approved fastener with Miami-Dade County. Oops. The only reasonable conclusion is that this was a deliberate, calculated effort to defraud the consumer.
We tried to report this to DeWalt immediately and finally, through back channels, we were able to get DeWalt’s legal team via email and educated Kofi Schulterbrandt on the situation back in August 2022. We also alerted Miami Dade’s building code compliance at the same time, but they (to be blunt) blew us off and said they had to hear it from DeWalt not us. You’d think they’d know better after Hurricane Andrew, but I guess they have short memories. Meanwhile, these screws continue to be sold (as of June 2023) and installed. That is unconscionable.
Subsequently, the screws were tested by and as the article reports, they failed spectacularly. These screws are not safe. They are not suited to purpose. They are not even coated; it was alleged that, it’s just paint. If these screws were used in your home, and a hurricane comes, you may die. DeWalt finally (January 2023) served notice on this company responsible, but so far, the screws are still being used because the people installing the screws haven’t all been told they’re getting defective, counterfeit, and unsafe product by anyone. That is criminal negligence by any reasonable definition.
Before I go on to the next point, if in the past three years you have had any exterior doors, exterior windows including impact, sliding glass doors, exterior French doors, garage doors, and/or hurricane shutter systems installed in your home in any area affected by windstorms (hurricanes) – stop reading this and go check the screws. If you see that square, your home is not protected, and your entire construction project must be re-done. Just replacing the screws won’t necessarily work as the hole degrades with installation/removal and reduces the ability of the fastening system to withstand exterior forces including hurricanes. A licensed engineer will have to analyze each and every single installation in every single affected home and every single component thereof to determine what is and isn’t safe to do. What do you need more than anything? A good lawyer to help determine who has to pay for the work. It would be prudent for all homeowners to personally check their installation.
My grandfather always said “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” – if everyone is selling a product for $5 and someone else is $2, you have to ask yourself why! Any responsible, legitimate company has to know this. When you buy from Hardware Everywhere (or any legitimate DeWalt distributor), you know you’re getting real DeWalt product that has been tested and held to a standard.
The company who sold this product out in the marketplace will ultimately, we hope, be held to account – including potential criminal charges. It wouldn’t be remiss for the principal malefactors go to jail. When someone makes a copy of a Rolex, the factory suffers financial harm, but nobody dies. This product has one primary use – and if it fails, people will die.
A review of import records shows this malefactor seems to have imported millions of these screws. One of the shipments listed shows 34 PALLETS of these screws; there are 25,000 per pallet so that’s 850,000 screws on that one single shipment. Import records are public so I’m sure you can get the full details using Google just like I did. This company continued to sell this product in June, long after the dates of both cease-and-desist letter and the letter from Miami Dade Building Compliance. More importantly, if you figure there are 20 screws in an average window. That’s 42,500 windows that were installed with that one shipment alone; screws that can FAIL during a hurricane. When someone’s window falls on their baby and kills it because of a faulty screw, what will people say when they find out this guy hasn’t been stopped. As an additional point, if you are in the car business, you cannot sell a diesel car as electric and claim ignorance. It is YOUR JOB to know the difference and to know your business. That is a point of law. All reputable distributors know their business. But not this scoundrel. In the article in the Herald, the mountebank lies about the screws (see the import records) and everything else. Why is anyone believing this guy. Representatives from DeWalt have gone undercover and repeatedly bought these screws from his company, and we know it’s still occurring.
You have to pick a reputable supplier, a supplier that can make sure you get what you’re paying for. While the companies installing this counterfeit product may not be directly at fault, there certainly could be an argument made that they should have known. It is, after all, their business to know. Now they will have to contend with building inspectors and other government officials as well as engineers, lawyers, and extraordinarily irate homeowners. Not to mention that they’re going to have to re-do all those projects at their own expense. If you think your insurance is going to cover it, think again. When negligence is involved, your policy won’t pay out. You are expected to know your own business. We know our business, so why would you buy anywhere else.