Your HVAC market sheet metal supplier operates on razor-thin margins. The result is an ultra-competitive environment and this intense pressure to earn a profit can lead to less-than-ethical selling behavior by some suppliers.

For contractors buying sheet metal products for ductwork fabrication projects, this can mean getting less than what you pay for or sub-specification materials. Either can actually end up increasing your project cost or damaging your reputation, eventually costing you future business.

The savviest of sheet metal works contractors know how to protect themselves, but that knowledge doesn’t always get passed along. In an effort to ensure a level playing field for the many honest suppliers out there and to encourage honest, ethical business between sheet metal products suppliers and sheet metal works contractors, here is what contractors should pay attention to so they can be sure the transactions and selling practices are fair for everyone.



First and most obviously, not all contractors have the capability to weigh steel coils. Dishonest sellers may try to take advantage of that by not giving you the full weight you paid for. But another, less obvious method is by providing a thicker gauge than you requested. Since you pay by actual weight, a thicker gauge doesn’t mean you get more, it just means each sheet you cut will weigh more. A thicker gauge just speeds up your buying cycle.

The dollar difference can be significant. A 10,000-pound, 60-inch-wide coil at 24-gauge min decimal will yield approximately 2,077 linear feet (10,387 square feet) of material. If that same 10,000-pound, 60-inch-wide coil actually ships as 23-gauge min decimal — a mere three-thousandths of an inch thicker — it will have only 1,843 linear feet (9,215 square feet). The contractor now has less material to make ductwork from.

It’s a big enough problem that steel distributor and Heating, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International member Majestic Steel in Cleveland created a free mobile application that calculates the yield from any coil.

“All you need is a micrometer, tape measure and the app Unravel,” says Tim Quinn, an account manager for the company. “By inputting the dimensions into the app, it calculates the amount of steel and puts it in terms that make sense. It will even calculate the coil weight. After all, price means nothing if you’re being cheated.”

Be sure to weigh the coil on a certified scale. Use a micrometer to check the gauge and don’t accept anything thicker than your spec. Look for the mobile app Unravel from Majestic Steel USA.



The amount of zinc coating, which is what galvanizes steel, is a significant enough portion of the cost to make it a target.

Not all metal has the coating weight stenciled on it. Because it’s difficult to confirm the thickness of the zinc, some sellers will flat-out lie about it.

Arthur Franklin of HARDI wholesaler Aaron & Co., has experienced it firsthand.

“I’ve seen competitors supply G (galvanized)-30 as G-90,” he says. “When we quote honest G-90 we are at a competitive disadvantage and the customer is not getting the product specified and required.”


Bundles and pallets

Have you ever wondered if that bundle of 105 sheets really has 105 sheets? Maybe it doesn’t. It’s not unheard of for buyers to get shortchanged a few sheets. The difference in height is almost imperceptible so the solution is as simple as counting them. It may take some time, but you don’t have to do it every time. Just often enough to know you can trust your vendor.

The pressure to earn a profit is very real. And because the steel market is not regulated, it is your responsibility to verify the product. By checking the product you receive, you’re not only protecting yourself, you’re protecting the many distributors who do maintain their integrity even under that pressure – and those are the people you’ll want to build your long-term business relationships with. In the long run, this improves the health of the industry.

Mike Coughlin is HARDI’s digital communications and public relations coordinator. This article was written on behalf of HARDI’s sheet metal committee.