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How to Install Shingles

Learn the difference between “stair-stepping” and “staggering” shingles when roofing a house, and why staggering, though faster, is more controversial.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

How to Install Shingles

Learn the difference between “stair-stepping” and “staggering” shingles when roofing a house, and why staggering, though faster, is more controversial.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Stair-step or stagger?

Many pros shingle in a vertical line up the roof because it's much faster. Known in the trade as “vertical racking” or “staggering”, this method enables the roofer to install a single column of shingles all the way to the peak, without the wasted back-and-forth motion necessary to fill several rows of stair steps. Not only that, the shingles can be piled just to the side of the column being laid. This saves a lot of time moving shingle bundles—and a lot of back strain. After completing a column, the roofer can go back down to the eave edge of the roof and start laying the next column of shingles.

Both step shingling and racking will yield a watertight roof. You won't void your warranty by going with the racking method, but with some manufacturers, you'd have trouble collecting a settlement on two specific problems: “pattern-curling” and “shadowing” (color blending).

Pattern curling is caused by the roofer having to lift the end tab of every other shingle to install the last shingle nail in the end of the next shingle. Because the bending can stress and deform shingles (especially in cold weather), the ends of those shingles may warp over time, creating a prominent pattern on the roof. If this happens, you're out of luck collecting on a warranty if your shingle manufacturer doesn't approve of racking.

Shadowing is the patchwork appearance caused by subtle color differences among different bundles of shingles. The problem is usually worse with racking because all the shingles from one bundle wind up in vertical rows. If the adjacent shingles come from other bundles that are a slightly different color, the roof may look patchy—even striped. The stair-step method tends to spread and mix the bundles better. Prevent shadowing by checking to make sure all the bundles have the same lot number on the wrapper, not just the same color. However, some manufacturers' color blends are so consistent that they don't have or need lot numbers.

Check the instructions on the shingle wrapper. Some companies make shingles that can be used with either shingling method, but they have two sets of instructions to ensure an even color pattern. If the instructions aren't clear, call the manufacturer to find out if racking shingles is recommended or not.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Hammer
    • Chalk line
    • Roof harness
    • Utility knife

Roof brackets

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Shingles
    • Roofing nails

Comments from DIY Community Members

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September 23, 1:02 AM [GMT -5]

This article as well as the one listed as " How to install asphalt shingles properly" are so incomplete you should get your information from a different place. There are many different ways to lay a roof but all basically have the same result. Neither article explained the proper way to start laying shingles for instance: The first shingle of the first row can either be a full shingle or one that has 6 inches cut off. At the top of the shingles there is a slit at either end representing the cut. The first shingle of the second row must be the opposite of the first, this gives you the step or staggard drain look. The drains should look like a brick or block wall with the drains lining up in every other row. The starter strip should be overhanging the drip edge by 1" not anything less. I have never started a roof in the middle and you shouldn't neither unless you wish to run from one side of the roof to the other all day long. Well no sense in beating a dead horse, of course it can't hurt anything neither.

November 04, 8:08 AM [GMT -5]

first time -built wood storage shed-final step installing shingles-roof 96" long shingles 39 1/2 long
1-would it be possible to overlap the shingle with the next shingle or should it lay next to each other.
2-which method is bettter starting in the middle and triming the two outside shingles orr start at the front end and work to the back and trim thelast one

May 18, 11:51 PM [GMT -5]

Nice explanation. How do you know when do you need to re-shingle?

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