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What is Oil Canning? Causes + Solutions For A Common Metal Roof Problem
Lauren Risotto

By: Lauren Risotto on March 20th, 2020

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What is Oil Canning? Causes + Solutions For A Common Metal Roof Problem

Metal | Roofing | Problems

Have you ever seen a metal roof that looked like it was wrinkled? If you have, then you witnessed one of the biggest wonders of the metal roofing world, known as oil canning.

If any professional, such as an installer or manufacturer guarantees that your metal roofing or siding will never have oil canning, run fast and far in the other direction. Unfortunately, that’s not true and you should look for a seller that won’t make a false guarantee.

The truth is: oil canning will occur in metal, as it’s inherent in the product itself. However, there are measures you can take to help minimize oil canning and ways to disguise its appearance.

At Western States Metal Roofing, we have been manufacturing metal roofing and metal siding for over 20 years. We are very knowledgeable about how metal responds to certain conditions that can cause oil canning.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • What Is Oil Canning
  • What Causes Oil Canning
  • The Ways To Disguise Oil Canning
  • How To Help Prevent Oil Canning

What Is Oil Canning?

Oil canning is an inherent characteristic of light-gauge, cold-formed metal products with broad, flat areas. It is not grounds for panel rejection.

Oil canning is a cosmetic deformation, observed as waves or wrinkles, in the flat areas of metal roofing and metal siding panels.

Oil canning, sometimes also known as stress wrinkling, is solely an aesthetic issue and does not affect the functionality of a metal roof. However, it’s presence is unwanted and hard to avoid.

What Causes Oil Canning On A Metal Roof?

  • The Expansion and Contraction of Metal
  • Overtightened Fasteners
  • Uneven Substrate
  • Underlayment That Is Not Flat
  • Settling of a Structure
  • Mishandling Metal Panels
  • Roll forming

Pinpointing the cause of oil canning is nearly impossible. There are so many different factors that can result in oil canning that can stem from factors during production, storage, handling or installation. We will go over some of the biggest causes below.

The Expansion And Contraction Of Metal

Metal naturally moves by expanding and contracting. It expands in heat and contracts in cooler weather.

However, the panels are restricted from being able to move when they are double pinned at the edges. This stress on the metal’s inability to expand and contract will result in oil canning.

Overtightened Fasteners

Overtightening fasteners is a common metal roofing installation error, and also leads to oil canning by placing uneven stress on the panel.

Uneven Substrate

An uneven substrate, also called an out-of-plane substrate, will be reflected through the metal panels. The stress on the metal from not having a level or flat substrate will cause oil canning.

Underlayment Not Being Flat

If the roof is not given a flat surface to lay on, it will not be able to lay flat itself either. Uneven underlayment will result in uneven stress put on the metal that can result in waves forming in different spots on the panels.

Settling Of A Structure

Oil canning is likely to result when metal siding is put on a building and then the building settles after installation. The panels are going to have oil canning from essentially being squashed by the weight of the building coming down.

Mishandling Of Metal Panels

Metal panels need to be evenly supported when stored and transported. The panel should be supported every 12 feet so that the surface of the panel is always kept even. Allowing the panel to sink in the middle from not being supported can result in oil canning.

Roll Forming

Even after metal is reshaped, it’s always trying to go back to its original form. Stress put on the metal during roll forming can cause oil canning from the metal moving and trying to become its original shape.

What Factors Best Disguise Oil Canning On A Metal Roof?

  • Lighter Colored Panels
  • Matte Finishes Instead of Glossy Finishes
  • Metal Panel Type
  • Roofs That Do Not Receive Direct Sunlight

Lighter Colored Panels

Oil canning is more obvious on darker colored panels. Using white or a lighter colored panel will help make oil canning appear less obvious.

Matte Finishes

The stress wrinkles on metal are more noticeable on glossy finishes. Using a panel in a matte finish will help hide oil canning.

Panel Type

The presence of oil canning can often depend on the type of panel that is used.

Corrugated Panels

Panels that are already designed with corrugations, or waves/ribs, are the best at hiding oil canning. Oil canning is most obvious on flat areas and corrugated panels either have limited flat surfaces or none at all.

Panel Width

The wider the panel, the more likely oil canning is to appear.

Corten Panels

Corten panels arrive pre-rusted. Before the panel rusts, oil canning is easier to notice if it exists. However, once corten rusts any oil canning that is present will be hard to see.

No Direct Sunlight

Oil canning is most obvious in the afternoon when the sun is directly hitting the roof, exposing the shadows from the unwanted waves. Oil canning is more difficult to detect when a building is surrounded by trees or does not receive direct sunlight.

How Can You Attempt To Minimize Oil Canning?

  • Use A Heavier Gauge Metal
  • Use A Corrugated, Not Flat Panel
  • Backer Rod

Use A Heavier Gauge Metal

A thicker metal is better equipped to prevent oil canning as it’s stronger and harder to bend.The lower the gauge number, the thicker the metal panel. Therefore, a 22-gauge panel is thicker and less likely to have oil canning than a 26-gauge panel.

Standing seam is an example of a metal panel that has flat surfaces and is prone to oil canning. As a result, it’s generally made with lower gauges to help prevent the appearance of stress wrinkling.

Use A Corrugated Panel

As we mentioned earlier, corrugated panels are best for eliminating the appearance of oil canning. Metal needs somewhere to go when it expands and corrugations and corrugated panels help hide this movement.

⅞ Corrugated, PBR/ R-Panel, and Western Rib are the best panel choices as they do not have any flat surfaces.

Backer Rods

Oil canning visibility can be reduced by backer rods, a foam closure used in walls to fill the joints. If a backer rod is placed in the center of the panel flat, it will lift up the flat and help hide oil canning.

Should I Still Use Metal Roofing If There Is Oil Canning Present?

While you can take precautions to prevent oil canning, there is no way to guarantee that it will not occur as it is inherent in metal. However, there are several factors, including product type and color, that can help disguise its presence.

Oil canning is merely a cosmetic issue that is not even always noticeable. It has no impact on the longevity, durability or performance of your metal roof. The potential for oil canning should not impact a decision to invest in a metal roof that will give you 40-60 years of value.

Besides being one of the longest lasting roofing materials, metal offers many other benefits.

Learn About The Benefits of Metal Roofing


Get a free quote for metal roofing and metal wall panels by clicking here.

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About Lauren Risotto

Lauren is the Content Manager at Western States Metal Roofing and provides insight on content creation and product promotions.