The roof of your home is a critical component in keeping its inhabitants cozy and safe, and the shingles are the icing on the roof cake. While many folks choose to leave the responsibility of properly installing shingles up to roofing professionals, it truly isn’t that challenging of a project, but rather just time-consuming and best tackled by detail-oriented folks.
Can you Install Shingles With a Nail Gun?
In short- of course! Nail guns undeniably make the roof shingles installation process faster, though many contractors still swear by hand-nailing. You can either use a roofing nailer or use a staple gun to do the job. If you only need to replace a small area, then a hammer and nails would be a better choice.
Is Hand Nailing a Roof Better Than a Nail Gun?
Roofing manufacturers don’t recommend either installation method over the other, as long as the fastener and installation instructions are properly observed. Ultimately, the experience and skill level of the roofer is more important than their tool choice, and we cover the primary installation options below.
What Type of Nailer Should I use to Install Shingles?
Typically, shingle installation begins at the bottom edge of the roof and progresses laterally and upwards over the roof, culminating at a ridge vent or other joining finish layer on the peak. Most modern asphalt shingles are 3-tab or dimensional shingles and come in a strip instead of a single shingle. These strips typically have guides on them for nailing, and essentially set you up for success if you follow the provided directions.
1. Roofing Nailer
If you choose to go the powered route and install your shingles with a roofing nailer, there are some factors to consider to ensure you get the best performance from this tool for this application.
- Choose a nail gun that uses coil nails over stick nails – they progress faster, which means fewer stops to reload, fewer units of nails to haul up,
- Adjustable depth for different areas and types of shingles
- Consider the weight of the nailer- roofing isn’t a quick job, and you want a tool that won’t cause early fatigue from excess weight.
- Make sure the tool is well-balanced with a grip that works well for your It doesn’t matter if your buddy’s uncle swears by a tool; if you hold it in your hand and it just doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not the right tool for you.
Roofing nailers undoubtedly are faster than hand nailing, resulting in less labor time and therefore reduced labor costs. And you can’t deny that there are fewer smashed fingers when using a nailer over a hammer!
However, roofing nail guns are powerful, which can be a drawback if working on an older or damaged roof. With hand-nailing, you can feel if the decking is soft or rotten when you go to sink a nail. Nail guns remove that element, and you could end up shooting straight through the shingle and decking beneath if you hit a soft spot at full power.
If focused purely on speed, you could also miss the nail line on the shingle, resulting in improper installation, which could result both in leaks and void the manufacturer’s warranty in the event of a leak.
2. Roofing Stapler
Roofing staplers used to be the tool of choice for many tradesfolks, as they were lighter and easier to repair than the nail guns on the market at the time. Staples are also less expensive than nails for a similar amount of labor time, allowing for a higher potential profit for contractors.
However, they’re now considered the least effective method for shingle installation, as both nail guns and hand nailing offer better hold, and durability, and are more code-compliant.
3. Hand Nailing
Hand nailing is slower, but you have much more control over the installation. Most contractors who hand nail swear by it because of the ability to “feel” when the nail is at the right depth for optimal installation, or if there are issues with the decking beneath that should be addressed before moving on. The primary argument for hand nailing in the powered age is that quality is preferable to speed.
Obviously, the materials cost for contractors who hand-nail is much cheaper, as no compressor, hoses, or power supply is needed. This also minimizes tripping hazards on the roof, which positively affects the safety of the workspace for the roofer.
The primary technique for hand-nailing shingles is the 2-hit method: One light tap with the nail held in place by the roofer, and a second harder hit to drive it in (with fingers removed, of course.) Experienced contractors move quickly once they get into the flow, but still, don’t move quite as fast as a powered crew, resulting in somewhat higher labor costs and longer project duration.
What Size Roofing Nails Should I use for Shingles?
Most shingle manufacturers will clearly state the recommended fastener and fastening directions, but the IRC also offers general guidelines for hardware and installation:
According to International Code Council,
Fasteners for asphalt shingles shall be galvanized steel, stainless steel, aluminum, or copper roofing nails, minimum 12-gage [0.105 inches (3 mm)] shank with a minimum 3/8-inch-diameter (9.5 mm) head, complying with ASTM F1667, of a length to penetrate through the roofing materials and not less than 3/4 inch (19.1 mm) into the roof sheathing. Where the roof sheathing is less than 3/4 inch (19.1 mm) thick, the fasteners shall penetrate through the sheathing.
Asphalt shingles shall have the minimum number of fasteners required by the manufacturer’s approved installation instructions, but not less than four fasteners per strip shingle or two fasteners per individual shingle. Where the roof slope exceeds 21 units vertical in 12 units horizontal (21:12, 175-percent slope), shingles shall be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s approved installation instructions.
So basically, check what the manufacturer recommends, and just follow it to a T! However, it’s never a bad idea to also check in with your local building department, as certain saltwater zones can have different fastener specifications.
What about Cedar Siding Shingles?
Hand nailing is still the best for control, but it will certainly add a lot of labor time. If not hand-nailing, it’s recommended to use a coil siding nailer and not a roofing stick nail gun for cedar shingles.
Roofing nail guns have a wider shaft, and are thus more likely to split cedar, as it’s naturally already a less resistant substance than asphalt shingles.
Plain steel and copper nails can react undesirably with cedar’s natural oils and may result in aesthetic blemishes, rust, or disintegration over time, so it’s recommended to purchase what the manufacturer suggests instead of using what’s on hand or on sale.
Installation Tips and Considerations
- Your nail placement determines the durability of the shingle, so always make sure you are installing it in the correct place at the correct depth. If you do not, water can penetrate into your roof and home, and wind could remove your shingles entirely
- If there are gaps in the sheathing/decking, this could result in improper fastening and incorrect shingle installation. And as a reminder, if shingles fail due to improper installation, any warranty is void, and you’ll be responsible for the resulting damage and repair/replacement. So- being sure that your nails hit home the first time is always worth any extra effort!
- Both over- and under-pressurized nails can cause issues, so if using a powered nailer, triple-check your tool before getting started.
Overall, hand nailing offers more connection with the finished product and often a better quality install, while powered nailing offers speed and efficiency. Either can be used to install modern shingles, it really just comes down to the preference and skill of the installer. Check out our article on shingle replacement for more information!
- Can you Install Shingles With a Nail Gun?
- What Type of Nailer Should I use to Install Shingles?
- What Size Roofing Nails Should I use for Shingles?
- Installation Tips and Considerations