Dave Molloy, owner of Molloy Roofing, a fourth-generation roofing company in Cincinnati that hand-nails every shingle job, explains why he prefers to work this way.
Replacement Contractor: Do you think the practice of hand-nailing shingles is on the extinction list? Are you the last man standing?
Dave Molloy: I can't speak to any area other than Cincinnati, but here it has actually increased. I believe it's because it's a competitive market and it's a quality selling point. We market it strongly, and I've noticed that our competitors — not all 400 roofers in Cincinnati, but the big companies — started including it in their marketing.
The wind storm that went through in September 2008 had something to do with it. We had 90 mph winds and tornadoes. The storm rolled from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada and it took two and a half years to work through the damage. A lot of roofs were made vulnerable because of the way they were nailed.
RC: What would you say is the price difference in a 20 squares job, hand-nailing vs. nail gunning?
DM: Every company is different and it depends somewhat on whether you're using employees or subs to install.
A lot of times, if you're using subs, it might not cost more because you dictate the way you want the roof installed. If I ventured a guess, it might be a $250 difference on a 20 squares job. It's not huge.
It depends on the crew. With a bunch of beginners, you can get them up to snuff so fast with a nail gun. But in two or three months they could be hand-nailing as fast as guys who have been doing it five years with a nail gun.
RC: But scope of work is important here too, right?
DM: We don't do new construction, where 95% of the day is laying new shingles. If I did new construction, I'd be out of business. In re-roofing, half our day is prep work: removing roofing, installing flashing or felt. I tend to have a little bit more experienced crews. A lot of times roofers in our area advertise that they do any roof in a day. They'll show up with 20 guys in some vans and have it done by 2 o'clock. Our crews are small and more skilled. Also, they know how to hand-nail so it doesn't slow us down as much.
Really Worth It?
RC: How do you convince homeowners it's worth it?
DM: I try to describe the advantages on our website. We print those pages and send them with our proposal. A certain segment — the quality-conscious buyer — knows it's important.
In the future I think this will be a bigger and bigger issue because everybody talks about the volatility of the weather. We've definitely seen an increase in insurance claims. The idea of roofing companies specializing in insurance claims would have been preposterous in Cincinnati 10 years ago. We didn't have insurance specialists; now a third do that.
RC: How are insurance companies responding?
DM: Up to now that point hasn't really been brought up. It's an explosive issue and I think the insurance companies will be much more plugged in soon. If you go to make a warranty claim on a product, the manufacturers will quickly go to the nailing pattern. Whether overnailed, undernailed, or properly placed. They're on that immediately.
RC: You're saying it's the installer, not the tool?
DM: It's possible to properly nail on a roof with a nail gun. It's just harder to keep your air set right all day and place the nails in the right spots.
If you follow their temperature guidelines perfectly and are careful about placement, you can do it. I've watched how guys do roofing, and they seldom produce the results I want with a nail gun. We have 20 upstairs. We used them once but switched back [to hand-nailing] about eight years ago.
RC: So with a nail gun, the likelihood of error is greater?
DM: You have to stop and hammer in the nails you missed. If there are 145 raised nails at the end of a job, you have an impaired roof. If you're hand-nailing, you feel it when the nail didn't bite wood. If you're gun nailing, you didn't know you put it there.
—Dave Molloy can be reached at email@example.com.
Russell Roofing, in Philadelphia, also hand-nails. Sales manager Ron Hall tells why.