We are often asked by contractors if they can substitute framing staples instead of nails for their wall and roof sheathing fasteners. There is no easy universal answer to this question because the location of the project may place it in a high wind or seismic zone that may require special engineering for the fastening systems. However, according to the International Building Code, there is a fastening schedule under Table 2304.9.1 (2006 IBC) that lists the approved equivalent fasteners for nails and staples in a wide array of assemblies not subject to these special engineering conditions.
For example, according to the table, 7/16″ OSB (Oriented Strand Board) wall sheathing may be fastened with 6d common, box or casing nails OR 1-3/4″ 16 gage staples at 6″ on center at the panel edges and 12″ on center in the field (special conditions apply for shear walls). Similarly, 19/32″ OSB roof sheathing would be 8d common, box or casing nails at 6″ on center at the panel edges and 12″ on center in the field OR 2″ 16 gage staples at 4″ on center at the panel edges and 8″ on center in the field.
Note the differences in the specification and length of the fasteners as well as the nail/staple patterns. This is important to follow and there will always be a specification for fasteners at the edges as well as in the field. Also note that these specifications are relevant only to the thickness of the sheathing panel as well as the material specification described. For example, a thinner OSB panel or a same thickness particle board or gypsum board panel will require a different fastener specification. The specifications in the table are minimum requirements and failure to follow those specifications will result in weakness in the sheathing that can contribute to a number of potentially severe problems down the road. It is also important to verify the installation of these fasteners as they are quickly concealed by roofing and siding installations shortly after they are in place.
It has been our experience that projects near our offices in the front range and mountains of Colorado, as well as near our central Texas office and in many other locations, we can typically use this table to determine the fastener alternatives. However, be sure to consult with your architect or engineer before simply assuming that your project is not subject to a higher design standard due to the climate or seismic conditions of your location.