Overview: Savings, planning and timing
Don't be intimidated by the toughest part of
reroofing—the tear-off. In this article, we'll
show you how to remove asphalt shingles
quickly, so you can move on to the more rewarding part
of the job—laying new shingles. We'll also show you how
to “button up” the roof by applying new ice and water
barrier and felt paper.
Before you take on this big chore, get a bid from a contractor
to make sure the savings are worth the strain. The
cost of professional roof tear-off varies widely, depending
on where you live, the style of the roof and how many
layers of shingles it has. In most situations, you can
expect to save at least $1,000 by doing it yourself. In some
situations, you'll save $3,000 or more.
Before starting the tear-off, get a building permit and
check local building codes. Keep the time between the
tear-off and reshingling to a minimum, and wait until
clear weather is forecast. Although the underlayment
should protect against water infiltration, the felt paper
can easily tear or blow loose, making your home vulnerable
to rain damage.
If you're having a contractor apply the new shingles,
coordinate the tear-off so the new shingles will be
installed right away. If you're tackling everything yourself,
work in sections. Rip the old shingles off one area,
then reshingle before moving on to the next section.
Step 1: Prep for the tear-off
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Photo 1: Install roof jacks
Nail roof jacks to the rafters and then nail on a 2x10 to
prevent you—and the shingles—from sliding off the roof.
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Photo 2: Wear a safety harness
Use a safety harness system to prevent falls. Wear shoes
with soft rubber soles for a good grip and long pants to
protect against the skin-scraping shingles.
Doing a little prep work on the ground will keep nails
and other debris out of the grass and flower beds, reduce
cleanup time and preserve the landscaping. Place plywood
over the air conditioner (make sure the power to it
is turned off) and over doors or windows near the spot
where you'll be tossing the debris off the roof. Then cover
plants, shrubs, grass and other areas around the house
with inexpensive tarps to vastly simplify cleanup.
Rent a trash container (a 20-cu.-yd. size will handle
most roofs and costs about $200). If possible, have it
dropped next to the house so you can easily throw old
shingles directly into it from the roof.
For safety and better footing, nail the roof jacks below
the area you intend to strip first (Photo 1). Buy the
adjustable type designed to hold a 2x10 board. Space the
jacks no more than 4 ft. apart. Fasten them with at least
three 16d nails driven through the roof sheathing into a
Working on a roof is dangerous, so take precautions:
- Set roof jacks (about $6 each) and a 2x10 about 3 ft. up
from the roof edge (Photo 1).
- Wear a safety harness (about $150), which you can buy
at safety equipment stores and some roofing and
- Wear soft rubber-soled shoes for traction, long
pants to protect your legs, work gloves and
Step 2: Strip the roof
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Photo 3: Start at the peak
Tear off the ridge caps so you can work the fork under the
shingles near the peak
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Photo 4: Work downward
Work from the peak down, tearing off shingles in easy-to-carry
sections. Tear off a section all the way down to the
roof jacks before returning to the peak.
Start the tear-off at the section farthest from the trash
container. Standing at the peak, use a garden fork or a
specially notched roofing shovel to tear away the ridge
caps and the top courses of shingles (Photo 3). Forks
and roofing shovels are available at roofing and home
centers, starting at about $25. Some roofers prefer forks because
they don't get caught on nails, making it easier and faster
to remove the shingles. Others
like the shovels because they pull
out more nails with the shingles.
Work the fork under the
ridge caps, prying them loose. As
they come loose, allow them to
slide down to the roof jacks.
Or, if they don't slide down the roof, carry them to the
edge of the roof and throw them into the trash
Once the ridge caps are gone, slide the fork under the
shingles and felt paper and pry the shingles up. Some
nails will come up with the shingles. Others won't. Ignore
them for now.
Remove shingles in a 2- to 3-ft.-wide section as you work down
the roof (Photo 4). The shingles
will roll up like a ball in front of
the fork. Push the shingles down
to the roof jacks. Continue tearing off the shingles and
underlayment until you reach the roof jacks, then start
over at the top of the roof.
Watch for soft areas as you
walk on the roof. The sheathing
may be rotted, and you
could break through.
Step 3: Toss from roof to trash container
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Photo 5: Toss directly into trash
Throw old shingles directly into the trash container as they
pile up at the roof jacks. Dispose of the shingles before the
pile gets too large and they slide off the roof.
As the old roofing material piles up at the roof jacks,
carry it to the edge of the roof and toss it into the trash
container below (Photo 5). If you couldn't get the trash
container close to the house, throw the shingles onto a
tarp on the ground. Make the pile on a flat area away
from flowers and shrubs.
Shingles are heavy. They usually come off in clumps. If
you're peeling off two or more layers of shingles, even a
small section will be heavy. You may have to pull the
shingles apart to make them light enough to carry.
Rolling the shingles and felt paper into a ball will also
make them easier to handle.
Step 4: Work with care around roof penetrations
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Photo 6: Evaluate existing flashing
Pull nails carefully around flashings you plan to reuse.
Skylight and chimney flashings are often worth saving if
they’re in good condition.
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Photo 7: Work around step flashing
Pull nails from any step flashing you want to save, bend it
up slightly and pull out the shingles from underneath.
Slow down and work with care when you're next to
chimneys, skylights, dormers or an exterior wall. While
it's usually best to replace metal flashing, sometimes it's
better to preserve and reuse difficult-to-replace types if
they're in good shape. But if you see rust and cracks in
the metal, replace it. Metal in that condition won't last as
long as your new roof.
If you're keeping the old metal flashing, remove nails
and bend it upward off the shingles with a pry bar
(Photo 6). Be careful not to damage the flashing. Once
it's out of the way, pull any nails and remove any shingles
and underlayment that are underneath. Do the same
with step flashing (flashing that's interwoven with the
shingles) where the roof abuts a wall (Photo 7).
Tip: Heavily tarred areas
usually signal a
Band-Aid fix for bad
Replace all this flashing.
Step 5: Tear off shingles along the edge
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Photo 8: Strip the roof edges
Remove the roof jacks and work the shingles loose along
the roof edge with a fork. Then pull them off by hand.
After stripping the shingles down to the roof jacks,
remove the jacks. Work the remaining courses loose with
a fork or shovel, but don't pry them completely free or
they'll slide off the roof (Photo 8).
Loosen the shingles all along the eaves. Then pull off
the shingles with your hands, carry them across the roof
to the trash container location and throw them in.
Some roofs have a self-adhering ice and water barrier
installed along the roof edge. This asphalt membrane
usually pulls up with a fork or shovel, although it may
require some scraping. If it refuses to come loose, simply
leave it and install your new underlayment over it.
If you don't have time before dark to clean the roof and
apply felt, nail down plastic tarps for the night.
Step 6: Trash old valley and vent flashing
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Photo 9: Remove valley flashing
Pry up the old flashing in the valleys using a fork. Valley
flashing is never worth reusing.
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Photo 10: Remove vent flashing
Pry flashing loose around vent pipes. Use a pry bar
rather than a fork to avoid damaging the pipes. Never
reuse vent flashing.
Pry the flashing in valleys and over plumbing vents last.
This flashing usually has the same life span as the shingles,
so plan to replace it.
Starting at the top of the valley, slip the fork or a flat
bar under the flashing and pry the metal edges loose.
Continue working down the valley, lifting up the flashing
(Photo 9). Pry up and toss out old vent flashing as well
Step 7: Clean the deck
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Photo 11: Clean off the roof
Sweep the roof clean to avoid slips and falls. Watch for
any nails you missed earlier and pull them.
Once a section has been completely stripped, go back
and pull out protruding nails. Then use a large broom to
sweep the roof deck clean (Photo 11). Walk carefully.
The shingle granules make the sheathing slippery.
When the roof is clean and bare, inspect the sheathing
for damage. Rotted areas and broken boards are the most
common problems. Cut out and replace damaged sections
as needed. Be sure to use new sheathing that's the
same thickness as the old. When removing a damaged
section, center the cuts over the rafters so you can nail the
new sheathing to the rafters. Also keep an eye out for
loose roof sheathing that needs renailing.
Step 8: Button up the roof and final clean-up
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Photo 12: Cover the roof
Cover the roof right away to protect against rain. Cover
the lower end with self-stick ice and water barrier.
Then staple down roofing felt to protect the rest of the roof.
Buttoning up the roof is the final prep step before shingling.
It consists of installing ice and water barrier and 30-lb. asphalt-saturated felt.
This underlayment acts as a temporary weather
barrier to keep rain out. But it won't stop heavy rain and
wind, so once you start a section, always try to flash and
shingle it by the end of the day.
Ice and water barrier is used at roof edges and other
vulnerable areas. To install it, snap a chalk line 36 in.
from the edge of the eaves. If you have gutters, you'll
want the ice and water barrier to cover all of the gutter
flashing that's on the roof (Photo 12).
Starting at the rake edge of the roof, align the ice and
water barrier with the chalk line. Tack it at the top with
staples every few feet to hold it in place. Once the entire
section is tacked along the chalk line, lift up the bottom
part, peel off the backing, then let it fall back into place.
The ice and water barrier will immediately stick to the
Flip the top part of the ice and water
barrier back over the bottom section
(the staples will easily pop out), peel off
the backing, then set it back into place
on the roof. Work carefully to avoid
wrinkles. They're a hassle to get out.
Move on to the next section of roof
edge, overlapping the vertical seams of
the ice and water barrier by 6 in.
Add a second course above the first, if
required, overlapping the first by 4 in.
Also lay the ice and water barrier in valleys
and around chimneys, skylights and
other roof penetrations.
Then unroll and staple down 30-lb.
felt over the rest of the roof. Use plenty of
staples (5/16 in.) to make the felt safer to
walk on and keep it from blowing off.
This is where the hammer-type stapler
(about $30) pays off. You can drive a dozen staples
Clean up the area
Before climbing off the roof, clean any
debris out of the gutters. There will be
nails and a lot of granules from the
shingles that you don't want pouring
out of your downspouts the next time it
Run a broom magnet over the yard to
pick up stray nails. You can rent the
magnet at tool rental stores for less than
$20. Make several passes in different
directions. Regardless of how carefully
you worked, nails have a way of ending
up in the lawn.
When Are Shingles Worn Out?
The most obvious sign that your roof needs to be replaced is a leak. Since
you don't want to wait until that happens, inspect the shingles every year.
Most asphalt shingles have a life span of 20 to 25 years, although they can
wear out and need to be replaced in as few as 15 years, especially on the
south side of the house.
Signs that shingles are failing include cupping along the edges (the
edges curl up) and extensive cracking. In severe cases, the shingles will
completely deteriorate. Buckling shingles (the shingles develop a bow and
lift up from the roof) are an indication that moisture is getting underneath
them. If large sections of shingles are coming loose and falling off, it's time
for a new roof.
Shingles typically show signs of wear along the edges first. Rounded or
curled corners are early warnings that the roof is ready or nearly ready for