What’s Your Steel IQ?

Naked steel can be used as beautiful and dramatic art, like this sculpture, "Buddha" by Nathen Ward, at Nine|05, an Asian restaurant in Phoenix. Photo: Alli ReauVeau

When artist Alli ReauVeau talks about steel, the medium on which she paints, she gets passionate. And one look at the gorgeous artworks she creates convinces us that steel is a perfect “canvas,” indeed. But there’s much more about steel that ReauVeau admires from a construction and architectural viewpoint — and she knows whereof she speaks.

ReauVeau is co-owner, along with her husband, Alan Bendawald, of Steel IQ™, suppliers of an environmentally friendly construction product called Bare Naked Steel. ReauVeau serves as Education Specialist for the company, sharing the message that Bare Naked Steel is the best steel for construction, for architectural design, and for the planet.

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with ReauVeau by phone from her home in Phoenix, Arizona. So much about her fascinated us, beginning with the amazing art she creates on — what else? — sheets of steel. We began the interview by asking about her background. — Julia Wasson, Publisher


REAUVEAU: First and foremost, I’m an artist. I started working in pottery and clay. But with one year left in art school, my husband and I moved to Phoenix, where I was going to finish my degree. I sold my kiln, and I didn’t have an interactive medium anymore.

ReauVeau paints exquisite artworks on 29-gauge bare steel. Photo: Alli Reauveau

My husband got a job at a mill out of Mexico called Galvacer. He procured steel for roll formers — fabricators who buy steel in coil form and make things out of it. In 2005, when Galvacer’s new owners pulled out of the U.S. market, Alan started his own business.

We had a network of smaller-to-midsize manufacture fabricators that needed steel, so we entered the steel market as wholesalers. We didn’t have a storefront. We didn’t sell an end product. We sold steel in coils to the people who created panels and air conditioning vents.

That’s also how I started playing around with steel for my art, because I’d go to their scrap yards, pulling out pieces of metal to play with.

Steel is the most gracious material. I love it as an artist. We love it for everything it can do. We call it the fabric of America, because it’s like fabric: It’ll bend, it’ll mold, it’ll curve, it’ll shape. It’ll do all those things that you just can’t get, in a timely manner, any other building product to do. Maybe concrete would come in second, but even concrete comes under a lot of scrutiny because of the chemicals they use to set it up.

We came into this business very organically. It was a very good business to be in, and Alan knows everything there is to know about steel. But, in 2008, our business, like many others, hit a really big wall because the industry for housing and commercial building just died. So, we began trying to see how we could cover steel on a greener format.

In 2009, we decided to launch Steel IQ™. Steel IQ’s primary function is to dispel the myths about a bare steel product. We carry a product we call Bare Naked Steel™.

ReauVeau and Bendawald provide a manufacturing certificate to verify the origin of all Bare Naked Steel. Photo: Courtesy Steel IQ

This is steel that’s manufactured using the two things that make it greener than anything else: It’s domestic recycled scrap — so it’s your cars, your refrigerators, and other scrap. And, it’s made on site at a small, U.S. mill that doesn’t use a blast oven furnace.

BPGL: What are the problems with steel manufacturer that made you want to make steel greener?

REAUVEAU: Steel is one of the worst pollutants on an industrial level. First, you have to mine for the iron ore and the copper. The green movement says, Because metal is recyclable, it’s green. But we take it a step further.

How green steel is largely depends on where it comes from. For example, if you’re buying steel that’s mined in Brazil, and the ore is shipped to Korea and smelted with scrap, then shipped to India to be processed and, finally, brought back to the U.S. for a construction project — that steel has a huge, global footprint.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC) has a document that kind of says, Look, steel is great either way. Steel is 100 percent recycled after use. Don’t be concerned with the mill of origin. Just use steel.

But if you’re not using an American-made bare product, you’re not really hitting the mark. We don’t have a lot of control over how steel is mined and processed in China, India, Brazil, or Korea. So we have to say, if it’s not made in America, you’re not going by OSHA guidelines and you’re not looking at waste-water runoff. You’re not taking into account any of those factors, with the industrial pollution being triple that of what our buildings are.

If we don’t start looking at the huge industrial pollution, we can all put low-VOC paints in our house, and we can all try to maintain our yards with groundwater runoff. But we just don’t think it’s going to make as big a dent as changing the way steel is made.

So we started looking at what we could do as a business, how we could be more involved in a more sustainable product. We had long-since been sourcing a product called Cold Roll, or COR-10.

BPGL: How do people know the origin of their steel?

REAUVEAU: We verify the steel’s footprint with a manufacturing certificate. Based on the Metallurgic Test Report, or MTR, it tells you how much of the elements are in that steel. Any homeowner or architect needs to ask for an MTR.

The MTR will tell them the mill of origin, which is the difference between buying one steel product versus another. We’re the only ones going out on a limb saying, No. It’s not green if you buy your steel from China. It’s just not. The barging back and forth of the scrap, the non-OSHA-compliant manufacturing. The absolutely horrendous human rights violations in the steel industry.

BPGL: Where is your Cold Roll steel manufactured?

This shot shows the bar surrounding the rebar "tree." Photo: Alli ReauVeau

REAUVEAU: We have an alliance with a mill in the United States. That particular mill does not buy offshore scrap. It uses 100 percent domestic scrap and an electric arc furnace, which is different from a blast oven furnace. The electric arc furnace uses 67 percent less coal. It’s still smelting — it still has a pretty hefty carbon footprint — but it’s the best that you can get.

Those two products — Cold Roll and COR-10 — are called a bare product because they’re unpainted. A large percentage of the big companies here that sell painted steel sell imported steel. It may be painted here in the U.S., but it’s got a huge carbon footprint before it ever gets here.

BPGL: Why do you use bare steel instead of painted steel?

REAUVEAU: Galvanizing — which is what you have to do before you can paint steel — is very toxic. It uses a lot of heavy metals like zinc and lead. You dip the steel in this beautiful, silvery pond of stuff, a bath designed to create metallurgical bond between the zinc and metal alloys. Then you have to chemically treat it to make paint stick to it.

And paint doesn’t last. We’ve all driven past a rusty building where the paint has peeled off and you can see that brown steel underneath it. All steel that is on any building of any sort starts as Cold Roll. We’ve trademarked ours as COR-10, because that’s what it’s known as in the industry.

The technical metallurgic name for steel in a Cold Roll form is ASTM A1008. When they add 5 percent copper to it, it becomes an ASTM A606 Type 4, which is what COR-10 is. That 5 percent of copper has a unique effect: It prevents the steel from pitting through. And, because copper conducts moisture more efficiently, it gives the steel a more uniform rusted look, though I like to use the word oxidized versus rusted.

BPGL: I’ve heard that painting a steel roof helps with solar reflectivity. How much of a difference does it really make?

REAUVEAU: The paint industry and the Cool Roof Rating Council have lobbied very hard to obliterate bare products in the market. You’ll get a lot of verbage from the Cool Roof Rating Council on solar reflectivity of painted steel.

We challenge that. If you buy steel from Korea that’s been made with a blast oven furnace using ungodly means of manufacturing — and then you galvanize it and paint it, and put all those chemicals onto it — you end up with a pretty bright yellow roof or green roof or whatever color. But the benefit of the solar reflectivity of that paint system is like killing a single mosquito in a gigantic fly-fishing pond.

We strongly tell people, “The metal is not what saves you energy on your heating bills; it’s the insulation.” I don’t care what color paint or roof you put on your building in the metal industry, if it’s not well insulated, it’s going to conduct heat or cold. So any qualified steel installer should know to insulate that very well. And we think there’s some great stuff out on the market with the foam core. They claim to be more environmental.

You put a good, solid insulation underneath a metal roof, and you’re going to have a roof for your lifetime, and it’s going to be as energy efficient as any white roof out there. We don’t claim that bare steel has any solar reflectivity. It’s going to absorb the heat; but if it’s well insulated, it’s not going to affect your home; it will actually help.

BPGL: What are the pros and cons of bare steel?

The Rio Salado rest area in Arizona has the beautiful patina of oxidized bare-steel walls and roofing. Photo: Alli ReauVeau

REAUVEAU: Well, there’s no warranty on a bare steel product. But you have to realize that the warranty that you get on a steel roof comes from your paint company. Sometimes you’ll get a steel mill, like Steelscape, who has a proprietary product that they’ve put some aluminum in, and they do warranty that for 25 years. There are some benefits to having a warranty. We understand that from a commercial point of view.

But our roofing is 22 gauge steel. If you go to the competitors’ products, you’ll get a 23 gauge, which is thinner, even though it has a higher number. From an environmental point of view, a 22-gauge roof is going to last you anywhere from 40 to 80 years, depending on where you live.

The A606, which is what we use, is the exact same steel that they make bridges out of. They just make it in a much thicker gauge, for the huge I-beams and the structural steel.

From our point of view, it’s very common sense. Bare steel has been around for 150 years. But it hasn’t really taken off as far as a roofing product for residential use. On the Steel IQ website, we show environmental architects that have really looked at the carbon footprint of steel and are using a bare product.

BPGL: In what ways is using an electric arc furnace better than using a blast oven furnace?

REAUVEAU: If you read the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), they pretty much don’t bother worrying about a blast oven furnace versus an electric arc furnace — but that’s completely off the mark. With an electric arc furnace, you’ve got 67 percent reduction in coal use. That’s huge. And an electric arc furnace uses 40 percent less electricity than a blast oven. So, the electric arc furnace is the key to making steel in a more energy-efficient manner.

BPGL: How do bare steel and painted steel compare in a climate like you have in Phoenix?

This part of the bare-steel roof at the Rio Salado rest area is supported with columns of rock inside a steel cage. Photo: Alli ReauVeau

REAUVEAU: The first question people ask us is, Doesn’t bare steel get hot? Well, yes. It’s 120 degrees here in Phoenix sometimes. Concrete’s hot. The glass is hot. Everything gets really hot at 120 degrees. And the paint systems do not hold up in this environment. It doesn’t matter if you have a 40-year warranty on that paint; the sun will literally bake the paint off. So, in Arizona, we use a lot of bare steel. There are huge, huge projects being built with bare steel.

We also see painted steel, but especially on municipal projects. Even our telephone poles are now the A606. They’re replacing those big, ugly, silver, galvanized looking things with these big, beautiful, rustic panels — not to mention just the aesthetic beauty of it. It blends better with the natural environment, whether it is Arizona’s red oxide dirt or the mountains of Colorado. It just is a prettier product.

They use the heavy-gauge steel artistically, in sculpture, in covers for the bus stops. I’m sure if you touch that steel on a hot day in July, you’re going to hurt your hand. But they can’t use any other product, because it’s going to break down too quickly.

BPGL: Can builders use Bare Naked Steel in LEED projects?

REAUVEAU: Our steel exceeds all LEED requirements for a steel product. These are the recycled content (10-20% — ours is way higher), construction waste management (all scrap steel can be 100% recycled), and regional materials requirements.

Our pre-consumer content is 8.6, and post-consumer content is 57.8, with an average of 70.2 percent recycled content. Those are the stats when you’re looking at steel.

Because we can ship anywhere and we also have the option of shipping coil to regional manufacturers to make panels there, we can actually use a local fabricator. We’re the only steel manufacturer-based company that will do anything like that.

BPGL: Does that 70 percent recycled content make it any less strong?

REAUVEAU: No, and that is why steel is so amazing. When steel is smelted — and smelting is the process of melting it down to a liquid product — it completely goes back to its natural form. And if you think about iron working and steel making from a forge standpoint, such as when they melt steel to make swords, the more you melt steel — the more you cool it and heat it and cool it and heat it — the stronger it gets.

That’s why the American Steel Association has lobbied really hard to get steel on the footprint of any sustainable building. They’re still heavily lobbied by the paint system, so you’re not seeing a lot of bare product being specified. But the U.S. Green Building Council would never make the determination that painted steel is better than bare steel.

The base product, whether it’s painted or not painted, begins at the Hot Roll process then to Cold Roll. Both Hot Roll and Cold Roll are bare products. The one-to-three millimeter layer of acrylic-based paint that companies use is the only other protection you have from the elements. The actual strength of the steel is inherent in the steel itself.

The bare-steel roof at Rio Salado rest area in Arizona is slightly bent for a gentle curve. Photo: Alli ReauVeau

BPGL: What about protection from the elements? You don’t have salt in the air in Phoenix, but other locations do. Is bare steel safe to use on the coasts?

REAUVEAU: All painted steel is tested in independent labs in Florida, because Florida is the harshest environment for steel in the U.S.

The first thing you have to look at is that the majority of painted roofing panels begin in 29 gauge. Our steel is 22 gauge, much thicker. The other interesting thing that people don’t understand about steel is that when you use the COR-10 with that 5 percent copper content, the oxidation builds up and stops. It actually creates its own little raincoat, if you will.

There is runoff of the iron oxide in the first year as it oxidizes. We don’t want people up there painting it or spraying it. If you just have to oxidize it, you can spray it with household vinegar and salt water, and it will oxidize. But after that first year, that little coating of rust, that oxidation, actually protects the steel, I don’t care how bad the environment is.

BPGL: How long do you expect bare steel to last?

REAUVEAU: That’s hard to quantify. There isn’t really anyone that we can actually get to put their name on this — we’ve tried — to say that steel is going to last 40 years. But we were in the French Quarter last year; the steel grates on those buildings have been there a couple hundred years at least, and they’re still beautiful.

Composite roofs — asphalt roofs — they’ll claim anywhere from 20 to 40 years. It just depends on how much petroleum-based, asphalt junk you rub on them. You can’t recycle composite shingles. They end up in the landfill. As they decompose, all of that ends up in your watershed. There are some really horrible things when you’re looking at roofing materials. Steel is the very best product for recycling.

On a 22 gauge steel, the speculated lifespan — and I have to say it’s speculated, because unless we hunt around for barns and can gauge the steel that they used 100 years ago — honestly, we’re looking at a 50- to 80-year product, depending on your environment.

The biggest use of this product in a roofing arena is in mountain areas, where the rustic metal roofing is really beautiful. That’s what they like. Here in Phoenix, you see it in plate form, which is usually anywhere from 11 to 18 gauge. That’s a pretty hefty plate of steel. They use it as siding, and I can guarantee you, in our lifetime and our children’s lifetime, we will never see that siding pit through.

But when you get into a thin, 29-gauge, bare product, you might get pitting within 25 or 30 years. But let’s look at 25 to 30 years. How long is the planet going to be inhabitable? So you have a 150-year roof? We’re not even going to be breathing clean air by then. Who knows what’s going to happen if we don’t do something fast!

BPGL: When you’re working with a 22 gauge compared to a thinner gauge, do homeowners have to spend more money to support the substructure with the added weight?

REAUVEAU: No. Your load-bearing structure will support it. A 29 gauge is 0.6 pounds per square foot. And ours is 1.2 pounds per square foot. It almost doubles the weight, but it’s not so much that your regular 2 x 4 construction wouldn’t handle.

Studio B Interior Design has an oxidized bare-steel roof. Photo: Alli ReauVeau

This is a great product to retrofit right over composite roof. It’s the only roofing material that you can put down a membrane and go right over your composite roof, which means, no landfill. You don’t have to scrape off those shingles and put them in the landfill. But you have to know what you’re doing.

We’re not roofing contractors. We can’t tell them what kind of membrane, and what kind of insulation, but any roofing company should know what to do. We think that’s a large part of the market, since the retrofit market is going to be where we’re going to see a lot of LEED for homes. If they will not tear off that old roof, but actually go over it, they’re going to save a lot in the footprint.

BPGL: When you talk about 29 versus 22 gauge, is it something you can detect with the naked eye?

REAUVEAU: Because I’m an artist, I use 29 gauge because it’s lighter and easier to maneuver; you can bend it with your hands. But 22 gauge, you cannot bend with your hands. Once it’s up on a roof, you would not be able to see the difference. Our manufacturer has very heavy-duty, roll-forming machines that can process steel that thick. That’s one of the reasons we went with them.

BPGL: How does Bare Naked Steel compare in price to painted steel?

REAUVEAU: We really can meet or beat any price point on the local market, even for a painted product. Our prices are very comparable.

We would love to talk more to the architectural and design community, to show them what it can do and dispel some of the myths. This is the greenest steel we’ve found, and we know our steel.

There’s always going to be a place for painted steel. But for homeowners and people looking for environmentally and socially responsible steel product, we’re the only game in town.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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