Russell Roofing, in suburban Philadelphia, sells homeowners on its installation — and that installation is all about hand-nailing.
Replacement Contractor: Why is your company so committed to hand-nailing?
Ron Hall: We want to have the best warranty out there, and we have all the highest manufacturer credentials. I think manufacturers know that hand-nailing is the right way to install those shingles, but they're in the business of selling shingles. And for roofers to be profitable, they have to turn a job around as quickly as they can.
They figure: I've got to gun it or I can't make money. If the manufacturer whose product they were using required it, they'd switch products.
RC: How do you sell it?
RH: I start by showing [the homeowner] a video online called "The Worst Roofing Job in History."
I pull out the manufacturers' brochure. I ask homeowners if they've ever used a pneumatic nail gun. If they say yes, I say: Then you know how indiscriminate it can be. You can blow through a shingle and nothing holds it anymore.
RC: But nail guns can be used efficiently and effectively. It's long been an installation standard.
RH: You automatically start to rush. It makes you go faster. There is a right way to do a roof. Our concept is that you can put 4,000 to 6,000 nails in a roof for a 20-square roof and do it right. The hammer doesn't allow you to overdrive the nail because the head of the hammer goes flush with the nail.
A nail gun can also underdrive a nail. It will also drive a nail in cockeyed. Those are some of the issues. Have you ever seen a roof with installation issues that was hand-nailed?
Taking the Time
RC: So how much extra time would hand-nailing 6,000 fasteners add to that 20-square job?
RH: It adds about 40% more labor time on average. Of course that depends on some of the other details. We job cost every one of our jobs in real time, so our crews log in their hours on site. We know at the end of the day how the job costing is breaking. We have done 16,000 jobs in our company's history. We're disciplined about how we approach our pricing. It's not a guessing game.
RC: What if homeowners balk at that additional cost?
RH: If they don't understand the importance of hand-nailing, I may as well not give them a number. Anybody who cares about his or her home is our customer. If they're an informed buyer and they want to be educated about their roof, then we have a good shot at selling them. You're hiring the contractor's habits. Somebody on Angie's List says: Oh, they do great work but they're expensive.
It's not about the number. That's who we want to be. We propose the best job we can do and figure out how to make a profit.
RC: Are you installing with your own employees?
RH: We have in-house crews and sub crews. We pay them more, the sub crews, because it takes more time.
—Russell Roofing is not alone in its preference for hand-nailing. Molloy Roofing, in Cincinnati, also hand-nails. See why.