Companies that hand-nail point out that using a nail gun to install roofing shingles sometimes makes for haste, and haste means mistakes. The result: shingles detach.
Companies that hand-nail point out that using a nail gun to install roofing shingles sometimes makes for haste, and haste means mistakes. The result: shingles detach.

When selling a shingle job, Russell Roofing, in the Philadelphia suburbs, directs prospects to an online video called “The Worst Roofing Job in History.” It may not be that, but it's a nightmare. The walk-you-through video culminates with slabs of new asphalt shingles sliding off the roof with a yank.

Last year Russell Roofing hand-nailed its 260 shingle jobs. “I don't know anybody around here — except a few Mom and Pops — who does this,” general manager Ron Hall says.

OBSOLETE, OR OBSESSED WITH QUALITY? Nail guns replaced hand-nailing in construction years ago to allow for far greater speed in installing everything, including shingles. “A nail gun is absolutely as effective as hand-nailing in the hands of someone who knows how to use it,” says Jeffrey Fick, vice president of Fick Bros., in Baltimore, where use of nail guns became standard practice 30 years ago.

Roofers who still hand-nail argue that nail guns on the roof make for haste, and haste makes for mistakes that cause shingles to detach at the first high wind. It's a selling point for Russell Roofing and for others.

“We might get 25 calls after a windstorm,” says Christine Benedict, vice president of Benedict Roofing, in northeast Ohio. The calls come from homeowners — especially owners of new homes — where shingles have detached. Benedict Roofing hand-nails every shingle replacement job; a long-standing practice that has never varied.

GETTING THE PRICE RIGHT Hall says that hand-nailing might make the job another company does in a day and a half take Russell Roofing three days. If homeowners “want to be educated about their roof, we have a good shot at selling them,” he adds. Differences vary, depending on the skill of crews.

Dave Molloy, fourth-generation owner of Molloy Roofing, in Cincinnati, notes that weather events in the area have made the issue of shingle fastening more important than it previously was. In September 2008 a windstorm, dispatching tornadoes in all directions, blew from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to Canada and left a year and a half's worth of roof repair in Cincinnati.

Molloy Roofing includes information about hand-nailing in every proposal but Molloy notes that it's easier to hand-nail when you have employee crews who are used to doing that.

However, there are roofing companies that install using subcontractors and that also hang their hats on a hand-nailed job. Richard Baker, of Baker Roofing, in Houston, requires it. “I have subs who work for other companies,” he says. “And when they do a job for other companies, it looks like it was done by other companies.”