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Galvanized Steel: A Deep Dive
The Venice Commercial Wall Mounted Gooseneck Light Fixture by Steel Lighting Co.

One of the options we have for treating our lights at Steel Lighting Co. is a process known as “Galvanized Steel.” For the most part, it’s a similar alternative to powder-coating and provides a level of protection to the steel that would not be possible if left by itself. 

But just what is “Galvanized Steel”? How does it work? What is it about galvanized steel that makes it tougher than regular steel, and how does it compare to powder-coating? 

Well, that’s precisely what we’re going to be answering in today’s blog. 

But What Does Galvanized Mean?

Simply put, galvanizing is the process of applying a protective coating, usually zinc, to steel or iron to extend its durability. Zinc, as a metal, is a very responsive material when exposed to moisture in the air and so oxidizes fairly quickly. However, this oxidized form of the zinc coating, known as chromate, is extremely durable and does not suffer the usual drawbacks associated with metal surfaces, such as rust and other corrosion forms. 

Similarly, zinc chromate is also surprisingly tough as a physical coating, making it an excellent defense against scratches and dents. Unlike traditional paint methods, galvanized steel can still stay resistant to the elements even when a small patch of the coating has been scratched off. 

This comes down to Zinc’s chemical properties, which, when surrounding a surface, can perform the task as coating as the particles of potentially hazardous elements can be fended off so long as the zinc remains electrically coupled. 

Methods of Application

The Malibu Ceiling Mounted Light Fixture and The Topanga Wall Mounted Light Fixtures in Galvanized by Steel Lighting Co

 

Traditionally, galvanization is applied through what is known as the “hot-dip” method. 

Essentially, this is when the steel or iron piece you want to be coated is literally dipped into a giant pool of molten hot zinc. Which, to be honest, sounds like the most metal thing ever, in our opinion. Once the zinc is allowed to cool, you should have a completely covered piece of steel or iron that’s ready to take on the world. 

Of course, while wonderfully simple, the hot-dip methods can be insufficient against certain types of weather, like acid-rain, for instance. This comes down simply to the consistency of the coating and the ease at which acid rain can, with time, erode the thinner sections of the material. 

As a tougher alternative, electroplating is usually the preferred method. This is achieved by running an electric current through a material to create a metal coating. The material that is put on essentially acts as a cathode that then attaches itself to the desired metal. This creates an extra tough bond that naturally forms evenly on the surface you’re looking to protect, making it far tougher when compared to the hot-dip method. 

Finally, a third method of creating galvanized steel is through a process known as Thermal diffusion or Shardizing. This process achieves the desired result by essentially tumbling Zinc powder in a large rotating drum that diffuses the zinc onto the steel or iron. If this reminds you of a giant tumble dryer, you probably have a good idea of how this works. 

As you’d expect, this method isn’t really suited to large pieces of metal and so is mostly used for applying a galvanized layer to smaller parts such as bolts, nails, and more complex shapes. 

Benefits of Galvanized

The Venice Galvanized light fixtures by Steel Lighting Co

Other than the coating’s previously mentioned protective aspects, galvanized steel has a few other benefits compared to traditional painting or powder coating techniques. 

To start, it’s relatively cheap if you’re dealing with a lot of steel. The application’s longevity and the relatively low amount of maintenance required means that galvanized steel can be beautiful from a financial standpoint. This is particularly true compared to traditional paint, which can have similar upfront costs while also taking longer to apply and require a great deal more maintenance over the years. 

Much like powder-coating, the effect of galvanized steel is much simpler to achieve and so time spent on using the method is much less than traditional painting techniques. This provides a range of benefits from being more financially viable for smaller operations and being much more environmentally friendly with a smaller amount of waste created from the process as a whole. 

Considerations

Of course, it’s not completely sunshine and rainbows for galvanized steel, with a few considerations to consider if you’re looking to embrace the technique. 

Primarily, this disadvantage comes from potential chemical changes that can occur when applied to the wrong materials. As it stands, galvanized steel is best applied to steel and iron due to their relatively low chemical activity level between the two metals when exposed to electrified zinc. 

However, other materials are not so lucky. When mixed with brass, a chemical process known as dezincification can occur, which causes the brass to weaken and dissolve, causing a host of structural issues to occur. 

When exposed to copper, galvanized steel can completely negate itself and, in actuality, speed up the process of oxidization. As a result, galvanized steel, while being a highly efficient and cost-effective method, is very dependant on the material you’ve chosen to apply it to. 

Zinc Up Your Lights

The Venice Galvanized Wall Mounted Light Fixture by Steel Lighting Co.

As a treatment for lighting fixtures, galvanized steel can be a hugely impressive option for various reasons. If you’re looking to have a light prominently outdoors, such as a porch light or a garage light, then the galvanized steel coating will provide the perfect, low-maintenance option that’ll make a steel light tougher than a $2 steak. 

Aesthetically, galvanized steel is an awesome option as well. The zinc chromate that forms creates a brilliantly textured metallic effect over the light that appeals to most industrial-styled buildings while also being welcome in more traditionally rustic settings. Just take a look at our selection of wall-mounted and ceiling-mounted light to see for yourself what the galvanized steel option can do for your own set of steel lights. 

If you’d like to know more about how galvanized steel can make your lighting experience all the better, then contact our friendly team at Steel Lighting Co.,  our friendly team of experts would be more than happy to give some advice and recommendations on what kind of steel barn light can best suit your needs.