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Choosing the Right Nails for Roofing Shingles: Nail Size, Type, Length & More

how long roofing nails

When installing or replacing roofing shingles, using the proper nails is essential to ensure the shingles are securely fastened. Selecting the wrong nail size or length can lead to loose or damaged shingles down the road. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about choosing the right nails for roofing shingles.

A Quick Overview on Nails for Shingles

Before diving into details, here is a quick overview on some key factors in choosing roofing nails:

  • Size – Standard roofing nails are 12 or 11 gauge. Thicker nails are needed for thicker shingles.
  • Length – Nails must be long enough to penetrate the roof deck by at least 3/4 inch. 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 inches is common.
  • Materials – Galvanized or stainless steel are most common. Copper nails are also popular for certain roofing types.
  • Type – Smooth, ring shank, spiral, square head and more. Ring shank is most popular for asphalt shingles.
  • Quantity – Typically 4-6 nails per asphalt shingle. More for larger shingles.

Now let’s explore each of these factors in more detail.

What Size Roofing Nails Do You Need?

Nail gauge or thickness is important in finding the right balance between strength and penetration. Some common options:

  • 12 gauge – The most common choice for most asphalt shingle roofs. Provides good strength without being overly thick.
  • 11 gauge – Slightly thicker than 12 for extra strength. Sometimes needed for heavy architectural shingles.
  • 10 gauge – Very thick/strong for unique situations like slate or tile roofs. Overkill for typical asphalt shingles.

So in summary, 12 gauge nails are suitable for most standard 3-tab or architectural asphalt shingle roofs. 11 gauge provides extra security for heavy shingles or vulnerable areas. And 10 gauge is reserved for specialty roofing types only.

How Long Should Roofing Nails Be?

Proper nail length is crucial to effectively secure the shingles and penetrate the roof sheathing or decking underneath. Some guidelines on length:

  • Nails must penetrate the roof deck by at least 3/4 of an inch. For example, if the deck is 5/8 inch thick, then 1 1/4 inch nails are needed.
  • 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 inches is common for most asphalt shingle roofs.
  • Thicker shingles may require longer nails. Likewise, shorter nails may be acceptable for thinner decking.
  • As a general rule of thumb, nails should be long enough that at least 3/4 inch penetrates into the deck after going through the shingle.

Make sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for their recommended nail lengths for the specific shingle type and thickness you are installing. They will know the exact requirements.

What Type of Metal Should Roofing Nails Be Made From?

You have several options when it comes to the metal composition:

  • Galvanized Steel – Most common choice because it resists rust and corrosion. Provides the best value.
  • Stainless Steel – Holds up even better than galvanized, but costs more. Sometimes used in coastal areas.
  • Copper – Naturally rust-resistant and ideal for copper roofs. Also used to match copper accents.
  • Aluminum – Very lightweight but less strong. Only for certain applications.

Galvanized steel is suitable for the vast majority of homes. Stainless steel is better but largely overkill for most regions. Copper makes sense when matching a copper roof or details. And aluminum is rarely used except for lightweight metal roofs.

What Type of Nail Head is Best for Asphalt Shingles?

There are many nail head shapes and textures to choose from:

  • Ring Shank – Most popular for asphalt shingles. Rings grip shingles to resist back out.
  • Smooth – No gripping texture. Only used onOSB decking to avoid cracking.
  • Spiral/Screw – Grips even better than ring shank but overkill for shingles.
  • Square Cap – Large plastic cap resists leaks/corrosion. Used on metal roofs.
  • Diamond Point – Extra sharp point for hard materials. Not ideal for shingles.

Ring shank is recommended about 90% of the time for asphalt shingle roofs. The rings grip shingles securely while allowing for thermal expansion/contraction. Smooth shank is an exception when decking is OSB.

How Many Nails Per Shingle?

Nail quantity will depend on shingle size and exposure:

  • Standard 3-tab shingles: 4 nails per shingle.
  • Architectural shingles under 36” long: 4 nails.
  • Larger architectural shingles 36-72”: 6 nails.
  • Extra large shingles over 72”: May need additional nails. Check manufacturer.
  • Starter shingles: 2 nails in upper corners only, no exposure.
  • Ridge caps: 1 nail per cap.

Always follow manufacturer instructions for exact nailing requirements. But in general, smaller shingles require fewer nails while larger shingles need more nails across the exposure. Too few nails risks blow off; too many can cause buckling.

How Many Nails Per Roofing Square?

As a ballpark estimate, you’ll need about 250-350 nails per square (100 sq ft) of shingle coverage. Here’s how the math breaks down:

  • 20 shingles per square for 3-tab shingles x 4 nails each = 80 nails
  • About 13 architectural shingles per square x 5 nails each = 65 nails
  • Ridge caps add around 100 nails per square.
  • Starters, misc overlaps add a few more.

So altogether roughly 250-350 nails per square is a good estimate. Some may need more or less but this is reasonable for most asphalt shingle roofs. Buy more than you think you need!

Nailing Tips and Best Practices

Here are some additional tips when nailing asphalt shingles:

  • Drive nails straight and flush to prevent sealing issues or snagging.
  • Ensure at least 3/4” deck penetration but avoid poking through.
  • Seal any exposed nail heads to prevent leaks.
  • Use galvanized staples to temporarily tack down felt before nailing.
  • Hand nailing has better precision but pneumatic guns are much faster.
  • Re-use existing nail holes when possible to avoid extra holes in decking.
  • Consider stainless steel nails near ocean or saltwater areas.

And those are the key things you need to know when choosing nails for your roofing shingle project! Be sure to consult the manufacturer’s instructions for any additional details. With the proper shingle nails selected, you’ll end up with a secure and weather-tight roof.

To summarize, the most important things to remember are:

  • Use 12 or 11 gauge nails for proper thickness
  • Nails must penetrate deck by 3/4” or more
  • Length is typically 1 1/4” to 1 3/4”
  • Galvanized steel is suitable for most roofs
  • Ring shank grips shingles best
  • 4-6 nails per shingle is standard
  • Estimate 250-350 nails per roofing square

Following these nail guidelines will ensure your shingles are sturdily installed to protect your home for years. Let me know if you have any other roofing nail questions!


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