How to Roof a House

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How to Roof a House

How to Roof a House

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Before you dive into installing a new roof or replacing your current one, you need to understand the ‘serious labor’ behind roofing.

That’s why I’ve compiled this step-by-step guide to help you understand the ins and outs of how to roof a house safely and effectively.

Tools and Materials Needed

Materials Needed

  1. Ice and water shield self-adhesive waterproof underlayment
  2. Hook blades (for removing any surface materials without causing damage)
  3. Drip edge
  4. Asphalt shingles
  5. Roofing nails
  6. Sealant
  7. Staples
  8. Flashing for vents and valleys
  9. Synthetic Felt or Asphalt Felt paper (should be #15 or #30)

Tools Needed

  1. Caulk gun
  2. Caulk line
  3. Circular saw
  4. Air compressor or hose (used to remove debris)
  5. Extension ladder
  6. Hammer
  7. Stapler
  8. Roofing Shovel
  9. Harness (to prevent accidents or slips)
  10. Scaffolding (protection against falling materials/debris)
  11. Stapler
  12. Straight edge
  13. Tin snips
  14. Roofing knife
  15. Work gloves


Now that you have all the tools and materials needed, there are 2 essential steps or pre-qualifying steps you need to take.

1. Make sure you follow the proper building codes in your area – Certain cities require only a certain set of materials allowed for use and a specific number of shingles installed. This is to prevent any danger in the event of violent storms or weather conditions.

2. Identify the roofing material you’ll use – This depends on your budget and preference. Three-tab shingles are good roof shingles to use and are the most common types. They’re less expensive and will cost you between $51 to $124 per roofing square ( 1 roofing square = 100 square feet).

Laminated shingles carry a higher grade than three-tab types. They’re also more durable and built to last. As a result, they’re more expensive. This will cost you between $60 to $280 per roofing square.

For a better overview of which roofing material you should use, the next section will cover this. 

Types of Shingles

Taking into account the types of shingles you want to use for your house aren’t just about visual appeal and budget. In fact, knowing which shingle suits the weather conditions best in your area is just as vital.

The lifespan of shingles varies as well and each has its respective pros and cons, which we’ll go over. This is an important preliminary step every homeowner must make if they want to maximize the most out of their roof replacement or installation.

After all, installing a new roof isn’t cheap. At the very least, the right shingles can save you long-term or even from harsh weather conditions that if left unchecked, could result in even more costs.

3-Tab Asphalt Shingles

Asphalt roofing is one of the most common designs you’ll see. This is because asphalt roofing is the cheapest to install. Other benefits to using asphalt shingles include its flexibility to carry the weight of snow, resilience to Class 3 impact resistance, fireproof, and waterproof.

Due to its lightweight frame, installing these are also easy to do. You can easily lift them up and replace them individually, making asphalt shingles a versatile option for any home.

Pros: Easy to install, lightweight frame, cheapest pick, versatile, comes with a wide range of colors and thicknesses

Cons: Vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and has the shortest life span

Best locations suited for: Northeast and Northwest

Cost: Ranges between $85 to $150 per square

How long does it last: 15 to 20 years

Architectural Shingles

Architectural shingles are still asphalt-type shingles; however, they’re far more durable and last longer. The extra laminate layer design also makes it more visually appealing.

They also carry the same benefits as asphalt types and can even simulate wood shakes designs that make it more appealing to homeowners. That’s not all though.

Choosing architectural shingles over asphalt shingles is a matter of improved quality, effectiveness, durability, and value.

Pros: Visually appealing, highly durable, versatile, comes with a wide range of design preferences, long lifespan

Cons: Expensive

Best locations suited for: Northeast and Northwest

Cost: Ranges between $150 to $550 per square

How long does it last: 30 to 50 years

Metal Shingles

A metal roof is easy to install and also provide a frame even lighter compared to asphalt shingles. Among all shingle types, metal types are the most energy-efficient. Thanks to their ability to reflect sunlight, this can help lower cooling costs.

Metal shingles also carry high resistance against strong winds, hail/snow, fire, and rot. The downside to metal shingles though is that hail can dent steel roofs over time.

They’re also noisier than most shingles in the event of heavy rain. It is possible; however, to install insulation beneath the layers to reduce the noise and vibrations caused.

Luckily, steel isn’t the only material used for metal shingles. You’ll find more than two types of materials used for metal shingles such as aluminum, copper, zinc, tin, and even corten steel type shingles.

Pros: Very lightweight, Energy-efficient (lowers cooling costs), Longer lifespan than most, Stylish

Cons: Expensive, noise-related issues, hail can dent some metal types

Best locations suited for: Southeast and Northwest

Cost: Ranges between $280 to $385 per square

How long does it last: 75 to 100 years

Wood Shingles

Wood shingles comprise different types of wood, like pine, cedar, or spruce, and create an eco-friendly style among all shingles. Their rustic look is also one of their greatest benefits, giving your house an elegant, classy look.

They’re also relatively more expensive than asphalt and metal types, but they’re also cheaper than composite tiles.

Also, wood shingles aren’t ideal to use in areas with extremely hot, dry, and wet weather conditions. Unfortunately, wood shingle types are vulnerable to termites, fire, rot, and hail.

Pros: Adds a rustic, classy look to your house, eco-friendly

Cons: Vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and fire

Best locations suited for: Great Plains

Cost: Ranges between $425 to $950 per square

How long does it last: 15 to 50 years

Slate Shingles

Slate shingles offer a rugged look and use stone as the main roof material. Although thin, slate types are by far one of the heaviest in the list.

Unlike most of the shingles mentioned in this list, they’re also not as varied when it comes to design and color. Still, the natural beauty of slate types is still widely appreciated. 

What makes slate types stand out apart from their moisture, fire, rain, and hail resistance is their low risk for leak occurrences. One other essential benefit to slate types is their ability to withstand heavy snow.

Although slate types last the longest among all shingle types, they’re also hard to install and the most expensive per square feet.

If you plan on using slate for your new roof, be sure to consult a structural engineer first. Not all roofs can withstand the weight of slate types.

Pros: Last the longest, natural design, highly durable, low risk to leaks

Cons: Most expensive, hard to install, heavyweight frame

Best locations suited for: Midwest

Cost: Ranges between $800 to $1,400 per square

How long does it last: 60 to 150 years

Composite Shingles

Composite shingles are relatively newer additions to the overall list of shingle types. They’re usually made of rubber, plastic, and polymer that mimic a similar look to wood or slate types.

Composite types are not only long-lasting, but they also have Class-4 impact resistance and Class-A fire rating. Some composite types will also have additives, which boost protection against two factors: moss and UV rays.

The one drawback though of composite types is lower insulation than most shingle types. It’s also worth noting that using composite shingles for your house can vary.

There are low-quality composite types, types that are similar to slate, and types similar to wood.

Low-quality composite types offer lower resistance to moisture and are prone to absorbing water. Types similar to slate offer a lightweight design and lower cost but have a shorter lifespan than slate shingle types.

Finally, types similar to wood offer a longer lifespan and higher fire resistance than wood shingle types but are also double the cost.

Pros: Carries added protection and house defenses, high impact resistance, high fire resistance, long lifespan

Cons: Expensive, not all roofers are experienced with handling composite types

Best locations suited for: All locations

Cost: Ranges between $400 to $600 per square

How long does it last: 20 to 50 years

9 Steps to Roof a House

With all the pre-qualifying steps covered, you’re ready to get into some serious roof work.

Step 1: Remove Your Old Roof

Even if you’re installing new underlayment or flashing, you still need to tear off your old roof. This is because underlayment lays the foundation of roofing a house.

Replacing the current underlayment in your current roof means you’ll also have to remove the nails and roof shingles first.

Make sure you remove all the old nails to prevent these from protruding and causing further damage to your new shingles. You can also pound these nails flat as an alternative.

As a safety measure, use scaffolding to collect any falling debris and materials. Some shingles may slide off the roof, so it’s best to take precautions ahead of time. 

You can also place a trash bin nearby to throw any old materials as you’re tearing your old roof down.

Most importantly, wear a harness.

Here’s a video as well to give you a better visualization on how to remove shingles from your roof:

Step 2: Install the Underlayment

As your roof stands bare naked from all the shingles you removed, it’s time to add in the foundation and protective layer for your roof.

The ice and water shield self-adhesive waterproof underlayment serves as a protection against any harsh weather conditions and leakages your house may face in the future. You will also be installing a roofing underlayment in the areas without ice and water shield.

Make sure all the debris from your roof is fully gone since it’s important to have the roof surface leveled evenly as possible. If you notice any debris, you can use an air compressor to get the job done.

This short 1-minute 30-second video will explain all you need to know on how to install underlayment properly:

Step 3: Cover the Underlayment with Felt Paper

Felt paper is used to add a protective layer over your underlayment. You can easily find #15 or #30 felt paper in any home improvement store.

Drive a handful of staples close together onto the felt paper. This will help straighten the row as you unroll the felt. 

As a safety measure, the maximum distance between the staples should be 12 inches apart. Placing too little staples will cause the felt paper to tear, which could cause you to slip and fall.

As you install your felt paper, make sure you overlap each layer by at least 2 inches.

Also, the felt paper should run over the peak of your roof. The felt paper will help shed any water that gets under your shingles and keeps your house dry against heavy rain conditions.

For more on how to properly install the felt paper on your roof, this video provides a thorough explanation:

Step 4: Flashing

Roof flashing is a critical element to roofing your house. 

Since rain or snow tends to pool on your roof’s valleys, the metal flashing installed purposely directs the water away to prevent leaks inside your house.

Valley flashing usually involves using galvanized steel material around any vents, skylights, chimneys, or critical areas in your roof. 

It’s also advisable to install a drip edge along the eaves of your roof, which can easily be installed by nailing the drip edge in place. Drip molding will also help direct the water to your roof gutter rather than inside your house.

When it comes to protecting any open valleys in your roof, you can also use other techniques such as step flashing, continuous flashing, counter flashing, etc. This will depend on the condition of your roof though.

Step flashing is recommended for situations where your roof face meets a wall. Using the step flashing technique directs water away from the wall and into the gutter.

This video explains how to install flashing properly:

Step 5: Install Starter Shingles

The first shingles you install on your roof are referred to as starter shingles. Your starter shingles are the foundation for the next batch of shingles you’ll be placing on top of them.

Some contractors will go move straight into installing three-tab shingles or architectural shingles. This; however, may cause unevenness in the placement of shingles and along the row.

Also, starter shingles cover 50% more than any other regular shingle supplied by shingle manufacturers so it’s always advisable to use a starter shingle.

Before installing your starter shingles, you’ll want to use chalk lines to provide a better guide along the way. 

Find the center of the roof at the top and starting from there, draw a vertical chalk line all the way down to the eaves of your roof.

To install your starter shingles, follow these steps:

  1. Place the first row of starter shingles past your drip edge by 1/2 inch.
  2. The starter row should be positioned in a way where the adhesive strip is facing up and towards the bottom.
  3. Measure a distance of 2 to 3 inches from the bottom of your eave. It’s best to use a chalk line to pinpoint where to hammer your roofing nails accurately.
  4. For the first row of shingles, don’t skrimp on the number of nails you put. For every starter shingle, place at least 5 nails for a tight seal.

Step 6: Install Shingles

Shingling a roof requires paying attention to the manufacturer’s nailing instructions. 

Roof shingling is critical to roof protection, especially in windy areas. Poor nailing is one of the most common causes of roof failure during a storm.

Installing a row of shingles on your roof is similar to the way you installed your shingles in Step 5. You’ll also need tin snips or a utility knife to cut each shingle to its desired measurements.

Make sure you follow building codes in this step. High wind zones will require 6 roofing nails per shingle to ensure maximum protection.

For better visual aid in learning how to trim your shingles and install them on your roof, this video will show you how:

Step 7: Install Additional Flashing

Aside from installing your drip edge, two of the most common roof failures in regards to roof flashing happens around the chimney or dormer.

Poor roof flashing doesn’t only lead to a higher potential of leakage in your house, it could also result in wood rot and cause your roof deck to collapse. Your roof deck sits between the skeleton structure of your roof and the outer layers added onto it.

What this means is that your roof deck should use roofing materials strong enough to carry the roof’s weight to prevent it from collapsing and absolutely damaging your house. 

While metal flashing holds a strong material design for open valleys in your roof, you should also be wary of critical areas such as your dormer, chimney, and skylights.

The best solution for installing shingles on your chimney or dormers is step flashing. If you have any vent pipes and stacks that protrudes or sticks out, this will need protective flashing as well.

This video explains how to properly install step flashing around a chimney:

Step 8: Install Ridge Caps on Your Roof

The ridge is the topmost part of your roof. Essentially, this is where the two sloping sides of the roof meet. Is it important to install ridge caps? Yes, very.

Ridge caps are one of the last steps you should always take into account once you’ve installed all the shingles on the roof.

One common method is using asphalt shingles to cover the ridge of your roof. We suggest installing a ridge vent prior to the ridge caps to prolong the life of your roof.

You can also use laminated shingles if you want. Between the two, laminated types offer higher durability and protection.

Using chalk lines will also help keep your row of shingles straight as you cap the ridge of your roof. We recommend using longer nails than the ones you used to install the row of shingles on your roof to fasten the ridge cap shingles tightly in place.

To help you get through this process much easier, this video will show you how to get the job done step-by-step:

Step 9: Do a Last Thorough Check

Before you finally take a step down from your new roof, run a thorough check of any leftover debris you see. 

Most importantly, if you notice any exposed nails, hammer these down properly in place. Make sure the nails are hammered flatly in place too.

It’s also best to ensure all the flashing installed is sealed securely across all areas of your roof. 

For sealants, refrain from using any asphalt-based or silicone sealants since these sealants dry out easily when exposed to sunlight. Special masonry caulk should get the job done.  

Safety considerations

In any kind of roof work, be it installing a row of shingles or applying new underlayment, it’s always important to take safety measures beforehand.

Wear a Harness

Being an experienced roofing professional doesn’t exempt anyone from wearing a roof harness. Even if you’ve handled a ton of roofing work, one slip can lead to serious spinal, back, and even head injuries that can be as fatal as death.

Weather conditions vary particularly if you’re removing ice from your roof. This is one factor you should always look out for. Take into consideration the building height as well, since not all roof harnesses follow a one-size-fits-all.

Inspect the Area for Any Hazards

Potential hazards like power lines, damaged areas in the roof, and high traffic & pedestrian zones are clear signs of caution. 

Using scaffolding and clearing away any debris is essential to minimizing the hazards and protecting anyone from the falling debris and materials. 

Under extreme weather conditions, such as rain or snow, any attempts to installing shingles or performing any roofing work should be postponed.

If you notice a lot of ice on the roof, it’s best to use a roof rake to remove any ice dams. One way to remove an ice dam is to also use potassium chloride.

Two other recommended chemical de-icer products would be ammonium sulfate and calcium magnesium acetate, which you can find in any hardware or home improvement store easily.

Wear Proper PPE

Wearing proper PPE goes hand-in-hand with wearing a harness. These two preventive measures can save you a lot of injury and pain should any accidents occur. The proper PPE to wear includes pants, long-sleeve shirts, safety goggles, and proper footwear.

Follow the Proper Safety Guidelines for Ladders

Keep these in mind when using a ladder for any roofing work:

  • Make sure all the locks on the ladder are engaged
  • It’s preferable to use wooden or fiberglass ladders if you notice a lot of electrical lines in the area
  • Maintain a 3-point contact on the ladder at all times
  • Inspect the ladder before using it always

Stay Hydrated

During summer months, the heat can easily spike up to a range that could cause heat exhaustion and stroke from prolonged heat exposure. It goes without saying that drinking water throughout the day is important both for worker safety and productivity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you roof a house on your own? 

The short answer: it depends. Adding minor changes to your roof or installing a drip edge, per se, is doable on your own. Removing your old roof takes a lot of hard work, but it’s mostly sweat and muscle you’ll need to get this done.

Installing a new roof, on the other hand, is a different story. Adding a row of shingles, for example, needs to be done quickly since this step is vulnerable to a number of elements.

Flashing is also another critical step. Improper flashing can easily lead you down a rabbit hole of problems and worse – water will easily seep in critical areas of your house.

So what can you do? Talk to a professional about your house’s condition. You could offer to tear out your old roof for a discount. I’m sure they’d be happy to have some workload removed off their shoulders.

How much does it cost to roof a house?

Replacement costs are the most expensive costs for any home. The largest factor here is the roof’s size. This can average between 2,000 to 3,000 square feet.

The second-largest factor would be materials. You’ll find many materials to use from asphalt to wood to slate and composite, all of which have varying price ranges.

These two factors account for the highest percentage of costs. Your roof’s size not only affects the cost but labor cost as well. To give you a rough breakdown:

  • Materials – 55%
  • Labor cost – 35%
  • Extra fees – 10%

Extra fees include any job on-site extras like renting equipment or materials. Total costs can range between $5,000 to $25,000, and that’s already using the most affordable shingle type: asphalt.

Compared to re-roofing, it’s less costly than opting for a replacement. In re-roofing, this mostly concerns replacing any worn shingles with a new shingle overlay to prevent water leaks from getting inside your home.

Your biggest concern though with re-roofing should be noticing any water damage beforehand.

This isn’t always noticeable until a roofer removes all the shingles and takes a better look at the roof deck. Any revealed water leaks or damage can change the repair project to a replacement, adding a significant cost in the process.

Another factor is also if you have vent pipes, chimneys, or skylights in your home. Flashing repairs for this can range between $200 to $500. These two factors (flashing repairs and water damage) can even come out costly if you’re re-roofing your home.

Whether it’s shingling, roof replacement, or re-roofing, take into account these factors in your cost allocation and planning process.

How long does a roof last?

This depends on the material you choose. Asphalt shingle types can last you between 15 to 20 years and are also the most affordable. Architectural asphalt types will last you between 30 to 50 years but are also more expensive. Between the two, architectural is a better investment, especially if you plan on keeping your home for a long time.

To give you a better overview,

  1. Asphalt – 15 to 20 years
  2. Architectural – 30 to 50 years
  3. Metal – 75 to 100 years
  4. Wood – 15 to 50 years
  5. Slate – 60 to 150 years
  6. Composite – 20 to 50 years
  7. Clay – 70 years
  8. Coal and Tar – 30 years

Maintenance Tips

While different shingle types count as a big factor in your roof’s life span, proper maintenance will also keep it healthy and last even longer than expected. Below are X maintenance tips:

  1. Inspect the sealant – Inspect any areas around your roof that contain any sealant and check if you see any wear and tear. If you notice any wear and tear, you’ll need to replace your sealant as soon as possible.
  2. Trim Tree Branches – If you see any tree branches hanging close to your roof, you’ll need to trim these as soon as possible. Any falling leaves that remain on your roof will retain moisture and will cause it to rot.
  3. Check for Rust – This is common for metal roofs. Since metal is more prone to corrosion/rust, it’s important to ensure your roof’s health with the proper techniques. Painting and keeping your roof dry are essential to preventing rust buildup.
  4. Clean your Gutters – Your gutter might seem harmless; however, if water pools in your gutter, this accumulation can easily leak beneath your roofing structure. Checking your gutters and cleaning them when needed is important to prevent future damage.
  5. Inspect Nails – In heavy wind zones, your shingles run the risk of chipping off or becoming damaged in the process. If you notice any exposed nails, you should hammer them back in place, but be sure to follow all the safety precautions first.
  6. Clean your Shingles – Leaving dirt on your shingles results in algae, moss, and lichen build-up, which can damage your roof’s structure over time. Be sure to clean them regularly and if you notice a damaged or broken shingle, adding a shingle on the roof shouldn’t be too hard. Although, it’s best to consult a roofer about it first.

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve learned the ins and outs of roofing, how to shingle, and the various types of shingles to use for your house, I’m sure we can both agree that roofing takes a lot of patience, practice, and commitment.

Before starting your own DIY project, be sure to consult a professional and talk to your roofing suppliers firsthand.

You could even ask for their help and possibly do it alongside them. Believe me, it beats doing it yourself and screwing up when installing a row of shingles, drip molding, or even hammering your nails in place.

Ultimately, understanding how to roof a house doesn’t mean you should do it on your own. It means you can grasp a better understanding of how to maintain your house over a longer period of time.

After all, isn’t that what really matters? To have a roof that can last you many years and protect you & your family from any heavy rain, wind, and storm.

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