Installing shingles is a run-of-the-mill job for experienced roofers but can be intimidating to people without roofing or home improvement experience. Even if you have construction experience, roofing work is one area where you need to be 100% confident that you know what you’re doing to ensure your own safety and to keep your home protected from the elements. Luckily, we’ve got your back and have put together this comprehensive guide on how to install asphalt shingles.
Below you’ll find everything you need to know about installing asphalt shingles, including how to plan the job, what you need to do to prepare, a list of all the gear and materials you’ll need, and a step-by-step guide for actually doing the installation.
Prepping for Shingle Installation
There are several things you need to do before you bust out your ladder and start haphazardly nailing shingles to your roof. A little bit of prep work goes a long way to make the job easier and ensures you won’t have to take more than one trip to your local hardware store. We’ll cover tools and equipment later, but first, we’ll discuss some things you can do before you make a single purchase.
Besides acquiring the right tools and materials, you should also pay attention to the weather forecast and choose a clear day. Attempting to install shingles in wet weather is asking for trouble, so don’t be afraid to delay the project by a week if there’s any possibility of rain.
On a similar note, try to do any roof work during the temperate months. Being up on your roof exposed to the blistering summer sun or biting winter winds is equally undesirable. Most people wind up installing shingles in the spring as the weather warms up, but autumn is just as viable, as long as you do it before your roof is covered with leaves.
Installing shingles is a noisy business, so it is probably a good idea to warn your neighbors ahead of time as a courtesy. It’s also a good idea to avoid starting work too early since every step of the process makes a racket. If you have any pets that are sensitive to loud noises, consider having them spend installation day away from the house if possible.
A final note on preparation is to clear your front and back yards of anything that might get damaged by falling debris, including patio furniture, outdoor grills, and lawn decorations.
Installing shingles requires more than just the shingles themselves. You’ll also need the following materials and tools.
- Hammer (or nail gun)
- A straight edge
- A knife
- A broom
- Chalk line
- Roof shovel
- Tarp (probably multiple)
- Safety harness and line
- Rubber-soled footwear
- Eye protection
- A dumpster
- Hard hat (even if you’re working alone)
- Drip edges
- Felt paper/underlayment
- 1¼ inch roofing nails
- Roofing cement
Many people overlook how they’re going to get rid of their old shingles when planning to install new ones. A dumpster or dumping trailer will make your life so much easier when the time comes to haul away the old shingles, underlayment, and other debris. Most dumpster rentals come with delivery and removal services, although it sometimes costs extra. If you have a truck capable of hauling a dumping trailer, you can save some money by just renting the trailer and removing the garbage yourself.
Speaking of debris, removing your old shingles is going to be a messy affair, so make sure to lay down a few tarps to make cleaning up easier when you’re finished. If you have to think about where you toss shingles as you remove them, the job is going to take significantly longer. It’s much easier just to throw stuff off the roof, knowing your tarps will catch everything.
The easiest step to overlook is also the most important step: safety prep. Roofing work is dangerous, even for experienced roofers. It is absolutely essential that you take the time to make the necessary arrangements that will ensure your safety.
Any time you’re working on your roof, you should wear a safety harness and line attached to your roof’s ridge. Everyone thinks they’re surefooted until they trip on an exposed nail or slip on a loose shingle. Even if it seems annoying to take the time to set up a harness and line, it could literally save your life.
You may also want to set up a staging area with safety rails for added protection. This isn’t strictly necessary, although it can be a nice way to make inexperienced roofers more comfortable.
Wearing the proper safety equipment is also important. You should wear rubber-soled boots or shoes, gloves, and eye protection. A hard hat is probably a good idea, even if you’re working alone, but it is required if you’re working with someone else who might unexpectedly drop something on you by accident.
We’ve already mentioned how important it is to watch the weather while you plan your project, but it’s worth reiterating. Getting stuck on your roof in wet or icy conditions is incredibly dangerous and definitely warrants delaying the project until the weather cooperates.
Roof Prep and Measurement
You’re almost ready to get to work, but before you do, you need to take some careful measurements, so you know how many shingles to buy and how much underlayment you need.
To estimate the number of shingles you need, measure the length and the width of each independent section of your roof. Multiply the length by the width to get the area (this is usually measured in square feet). In roofing parlance, the total square footage of your roof is usually divided by 100 to get a measurement called “squares.” You’ll need the size of your roof in squares to know how many shingles you need to buy.
As an example, if the main section of your roof measures 40 feet by 50 feet, the area is 2,000 square feet, which equals 2,000 ÷ 100 = 20 squares.
Shingles — and other roofing supplies — are usually sold in bundles, with three bundles of shingles covering approximately 20 squares. If you want to avoid repeated trips to the store, round up the number of shingle bundles you need by one or two. Having extra shingles on hand is never a bad idea and you can always return unopened bundles leftover when you’re finished.
Thankfully, felt paper is also sold in terms of squares, so you won’t need to do any more math to figure out how much you need. If you’re confused, don’t hesitate to ask someone at the hardware store. If you tell them how big your roof is, they’ll be able to help you figure out what you need.
What Goes on the Roof Before the Shingles?
If you’ve never worked on a roof before, you might be surprised to learn that you need to install a few things before you can start attaching the shingles.
Drip edges are an essential part of any roof. Water has a high surface tension, which means that rain tends to cling to your roof as it rolls down the peak. Without a drip edge, water will curl up under the edge of your roof, leading to leaks and water damage over time.
You have to install the drip edge before you install the shingles since it sits on the fascia board. You want the drip edge to be close to the edge of the fascia board but not touching. Leave about a half-inch gap between the bottom of the drip edge’s kicker and the fascia board. Attach the drip edge with 1–1/4–inch roofing nails (you don’t need to be precise).
Don’t forget to apply drip edges to the gable ends as well; follow the same procedure.
Before you start installing the shingles, you also need to cover the roof with felt paper. Standard 30-pound felt paper is a common choice that works well in most climates.
The felt paper’s job is to form a buffer between the shingles and the roof sheathing. This is important so that your roof and shingles can expand and contract independently when the temperature changes. Without the felt paper, your shingles will bind to your roof and won’t have the flexibility to adapt when the weather changes. Felt paper also helps absorb condensation that may form under your shingles.
Attach the felt paper with the same roofing nails you used to apply the drip edges. Once again, precision is not necessary; just make sure the felt lays flat against the roof without any ridges or folds.
Every roofer does this step slightly differently, but most agree that laying out the felt in overlapping rows is the easiest way to ensure you get the right coverage and thickness. Aim for half overlapping strips, laying out the paper across the long dimension of your roof, parallel to your gutter. In general, it’s better to err on the side of more overlapping than less. You want to avoid having any spots where your shingles contact your roof directly.
You may have to replace the flashing around your chimney and any external vents you have if it looks worn or damaged. However, most people get away with reusing their roof’s current flashing. Take care when removing shingles around your chimney, skylights, vents, and siding to avoid damaging the flashing. If it looks good, put it to the side for reuse later.
How to Shingle a Roof in 11 Steps
1. Remove the current shingles
Before installing your new shingles, you need to remove your existing shingles, nails, and underlayment. The easiest way to do this is with a roofing shovel, a specially-designed tool that’s easy to wedge under shingles and makes the job much faster. Be careful around sensitive areas like your siding and chimney, especially if you plan on reusing the flashing.
2. Clear off any miscellaneous debris.
You might need to remove stubborn shingles by hand with a hammer. Make sure to scan your roof for stray felt fasteners and nails, as these need to come off before installing the new shingles. Sweep your roof free of any debris that remains with a stiff-bristled broom.
3. Inspect your roof deck.
Replacing your shingles is the perfect opportunity to give your roof deck a once-over. Look for signs of water damage, unevenness, warping, or damage. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pause the shingle installation to repair any issues find, but your future self will thank you.
4. Install the drip edges.
Once you’re sure everything looks good, you can start installing the drip edges, following the procedure discussed in the previous section. How you nail the drip edges isn’t as important as ensuring you have them aligned correctly and spaced away from the fascia board by about one-half inch.
5. Install the underlayment.
This step can be tricky for people without roofing experience, so take your time if you’ve never installed felt paper before. The goal is to have an even covering between your shingles and roof sheathing. If you have a large roof, follow the instructions on the underlayment packaging for how to stagger the sections if one strip isn’t long enough to cover the entire length of your roof. Don’t rush. Make sure to overlap the strips by approximately half their width, and be careful not to introduce any folds or wrinkles as you go. This is the often most time-consuming step for new roofers, and you must get it right.
6. Install the first row of shingles.
The first row of shingles — sometimes called the starter strip — should overhang the drip edge by about a half-inch. Make sure to measure the height of your shingles and mark a line on the underlayment where the top edge of the shingles needs to be to get the half-inch overlap. You’ll probably have to trim your starter course to get the tar strip as close to the edge of the roof as possible.
7. Mark your roof where the rest of the shingles will go.
This step will make installing the rest of the shingles much easier, so don’t skip it. Use your chalk line to snap out a grid with six-inch horizontal spacing and five-inch vertical spacing. This will make it easy to nail down the rest of your shingles while ensuring you get the right amount of overlap and exposure.
8. Install the remaining courses of shingles.
When you start installing the remaining shingles, you’ll quickly realize that you’ll need to cut the shingles to achieve the right horizontal offset. Some people prefer to cut all at once before they start, while others choose to cut as they go. It really doesn’t matter, so choose whichever method is easier for you. Nail the shingles to the roof with your roofing nails, following the instructions on the shingle packaging. Some people recommend using as many as six nails, although four is more common. In general, more nails can be beneficial if you live in an area with high winds. However many nails you use, make sure the next shingles overlap the nail heads by at least one inch.
9. Install the pesky shingles around structures.
Unfortunately, there’s no trick to installing shingles around vents, chimneys, and skylights. Cut the shingles to size as best you can and use a bit of roofing cement to secure them to any odd-shaped edges. Make sure not to leave any spaces, especially around any ridge vents. Making cutouts can be tricky, so having a few extra shingles on hand in case you butcher a few is a good idea.
10. Install the ridge cap shingles.
The final step — not counting clean-up, at least — is to install the ridge shingles. How to install them depends on the manufacturer, so follow the instructions provided with your purchase. The general approach is to cut the shingles into a piece long enough to overlap the top course on each side of the roof by five inches. The built-in tar strip should be oriented across the ridge for the ridge cap shingles, perpendicular to the direction it faces on the rest of the shingles.
11. Clean up.
After you’re done basking in the glory of nailing down the last shingle, it’s time to clean up. If you followed our advice and rented a dumpster and put down tarps, you shouldn’t have much to do besides hauling everything away.
How Hard is it to Install Roof Shingles?
It depends on what you mean by hard, but most experienced construction workers say that roofing work is more difficult than many other types of construction. An estimated 30% of construction fatalities occur during roofing work — usually from falls — so it can be quite dangerous. If you don’t have any roofing experience, you’re better off hiring a professional roofer than trying to DIY. There’s no shame in hiring a roofing contractor and it might be the right call, especially if you have an old roof that might need more extensive repairs before it can be re-shingled.
The good news is that shingling your roof is relatively straightforward as far as roofing projects go. Once you have your safety gear ready and everything measured, installing the shingles is easy, albeit a bit repetitive. The most complicated part is measuring the shingles and making sure you keep the overlap and stagger consistent, but snapping a chalk grid does most of the work for you.
Cost to Shingle a Roof
The most common 3-tab shingles cost between $1 and $2 per square foot, assuming an average price of around $30 per shingle bundle or $90 per square. This puts the average cost of shingles for a 1,800-square-foot roof at around $2,000. When you factor in the cost of the remaining roofing materials like metal flashing, underlayment, and nails and the cost to rent a dumpster, you’re looking at approximately $5,000–$6,000.
While this might sound expensive, shingles are far less expensive than using metal, clay, wood, or composite shingles.
What are the Different Types of Roof Shingles?
This guide covers installing asphalt shingles, but they’re far from your only option. Asphalt shingles are the most popular option because they’re cheap and easy to install, but other types of shingles are generally more aesthetically appealing.
These are the standard shingles you see on most homes. They come in sheets with three flaps per sheet and cost about $90 per square.
Composite shingles usually last longer than asphalt shingles, but they are also way more expensive, costing approximately $400 per square. Many people prefer composite shingles because they can convincingly simulate wood and slate, giving homeowners more design options and aesthetic choices.
Wood shingles are also more expensive than asphalt shingles, although prices for wood shingles depend on the kind of would they’re made of. Popular wood shingles are made from pine, cedar, and spruce, and the average price for wood shingles is between $350 and $500 per square.
Clay shingles are extremely popular in warm climates like Florida and California since they promote airflow and help keep houses cool. The downside to clay shingles is that they can be incredibly expensive. Prices vary, but it is not unusual for clay shingles to cost between $800 and $1,000 per square.
Metal shingles are the most durable shingles you can buy and can last up to 75 years. They’re not very popular for aesthetic reasons, but they’re extremely cost-effective given their longevity. You should expect to pay around $350 per square for metal shingles. Metal roofing is not commonly seen in private residences.
This type of shingle is different than traditional asphalt shingles and is generally easier to install. Architectural shingles are common in areas with high winds since they’re heavier and can withstand winds up to 150 mph. They’re especially common in regions that get hurricanes and tornadoes, where building codes often place tight restrictions on roofing materials. An architectural shingle roof is much more resilient than an asphalt shingle roof.
Should Shingles Overhang the Drip Edge?
Yes. Letting the first course of shingles overhang the drip edge helps prevent water from leaking into your home. Water is incredibly cohesive and will cling to the underside of your eaves if you don’t have a properly installed drip edge. Allowing the shingles to hang over the drip edge by bout one half-inch adds an extra buffer that makes it harder for water to find its way under your eaves and behind your exterior walls.
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be this: installing shingles is a surprisingly complex job that requires careful planning and patience. With the proper prep-work, anyone with a modicum of handiness can re-shingle their roof, although it will take some time to do safely. Don’t neglect proper safety practices and take the necessary precautions to set yourself up for success.
Once you have all the equipment and materials, installing the shingles is fairly easy. If you have a medium or large roof, it’s probably a good idea to enlist some help since laying shingles is a time-consuming process. If you choose to go it alone, make sure you leave yourself enough time and don’t forget to check the weather before you start!
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I extend the lifespan of my shingles?
The best way to extend the lifespan of your shingles is to keep your roof clean. Debris like twigs and dirt can worm its way under your shingles, causing them to deteriorate more quickly than they would with regular cleaning.
You should also inspect your roof regularly for signs of curled-up shingles. Cutting damaged shingles before they damage surrounding shingles will help your shingles last longer. Taking care of your roof isn’t difficult and regular maintenance can save you from needing a new roof sooner than expected.
When you shingle a roof do you start at the top or the bottom?
You should always start from the bottom edge when you shingle a roof. Shingles are meant to overlap; you want the flaps pointing down, so they don’t trap dirt and debris. Starting at the bottom of the roof also makes it easy to get the overhang distance right without needing to measure and calculate.
What is the purpose of roofing nails?
Roofing nails are designed to be great for holding shingles down in questionable weather, like high winds and rain. Most people use 1–1/4–inch roofing nails to hold their shingles and underlayment down. You don’t need anything fancy; roofing nails aren’t anything special.
Today's Homeowner Roofing Methodology (Roofing Type)
Arranging for a home repair of this scale is going to be a fairly involved project. If you haven’t conducted renovations like this – either via a contractor or on your own – then it can be a bit overwhelming. At Today's Homeowner, we pride ourselves on being able to take all of the guesswork out of the equation for you.
We’ve thoroughly evaluated each roofing type to make your selection process easier. Through exhaustive research into hundreds of different roofing providers throughout the United States and analyses of thousands of individual homeowner experiences, we’ve broken our roof rating system down into the following categories.
All roofs receive an aggregate rating between (0.0) and (1.0). This rating is comprised of six key evaluation criteria, which we’ve outlined below. The rating between (0.0) and (1.0) will correspond to a secondary rating out of five stars, which is displayed more visibly in our articles across this category.
- Durability (.40): With roofs being constantly exposed to the elements, different materials’ relative durability is a key metric that must be considered. If you’re planning on conducting such an extensive upgrade to your home, then your roof’s expected lifespan should be among your primary concerns. We’ve weighed the relative effectiveness of all roofing materials, from asphalt shingles to corrugated metal roofing from different manufacturers in order to determine the most long-lasting options.
- Cost (.25):The nationwide average cost for replacing a 1,500-square-foot roof falls between $6,500 and $16,000. Across the board, you should expect to pay between $4 and $11 per square foot of roofing material. This range will account for your location, material choice and availability, ease of access to and installation of your roof, and far more.
- Contractor Availability (.13): Different roofing contractors in different locales will have varied service offerings. For example, not all roofers are equipped with the requisite skillset and knowledge to install metal roofing. Depending on the kind of roof you want to have installed, your contractor options may be somewhat limited.
- Warranty Offerings (.12): Aside from workmanship warranties, many roofing manufacturers will offer warranties for the panels themselves. Structural failure should be covered by any manufacturing firm for at least 10 years after the installation has been completed, at the panel or shingle’s full value. We grade each roofing type by standard warranty offerings to ensure that you’re covered in this case.
- Ease of Future Maintenance and Upgrades (.05): You should always have contingency plans after any home upgrade. Maintenance is inevitable, no matter the material you use. Whether you’re installing solar panels on a functional existing roof, or are simply replacing a defective panel or shingle, certain materials will be easier to work with than others. Typically, less durable materials will score higher in this category due to their better pliability and workability.
- Customization Options (.05): Any exterior and visible home upgrade is going to have an aesthetic element, aside from functionality. A roof replacement should be an upgrade to the curb appeal of your home. Different types of roofing materials will have varying numbers of style and color options, which factor into our rating.