Installing roof shingles: backbreaking, perilous

The Baltimore Sun

I need new roof shingles but am paralyzed by fear of making the wrong choice of material and color for my home. Installing roof shingles doesn't seem that difficult, so I may do the work myself. How do I select high-quality roof shingles? Should I install the new roof over the top of my existing asphalt roof shingles? What other roofing tips can you share?

Many books have been written about roof shingles, so it is unthinkable that I could fully discuss all you have asked. But I can point you in the right direction. First, let's get realistic about what is involved in installing roof shingles. It is dirty, backbreaking work. If the air temperature is above 70 degrees, you will be hot up on the roof. Dehydration can make you fatigued, dizzy and more prone to cutting corners. On top of all of this is the danger of simply working up on a roof. Whether you intend to or not, you will obey the law of gravity, and it can be painful -- and deadly.

Can you do the work? Maybe. I don't know your skills or what tools you have. You could consider trying if your roof has a pitch shallow enough to walk on without fear of sliding off. First, it would be useful to volunteer to re-roof a neighbor's small shed to see if you have what it takes.

There are many different styles, textures and colors in asphalt shingles, and almost as many levels of quality. The price per square (a square is enough material to cover 100 square feet) is an excellent barometer of quality. As the price goes up, so does the quality and the warranty. If you need help visualizing a color and texture, consider buying just one bundle of shingles and laying them on the roof as if they were nailed. Then get down on the ground and look at them to see if you like the color and texture.

You can sometimes install a new asphalt roof on top of an existing one. There are building-code considerations, so always check with your local building department. I have discovered over the years that you get a better job if you strip off the existing roofing materials. This is miserable work, even with the best tools.

Read all of the written instructions you can get from the shingle manufacturer. Instructions are often printed on the packs of shingles, but do additional research to locate photos or videos of roofing tips.

Keep in mind that a majority of roof leaks happen where the roof meets something that is not a roof, such as skylights, plumbing-vent pipes, exhaust fans and chimneys. You need to install flashings (or transitional roofing materials) expertly at these locations.

When you strip off the old roofing material, check the wood sheathing for damage. Be sure the wood is securely nailed to the rafters and that there is no wood rot. Install heavy felt paper or a modern water membrane in place of traditional felt paper. Consider using the special membranes that stop water leaks caused by ice dams or wind-driven rain.

Expert home builder and remodeling contractor Tim Carter has 20 years of hands-on experience in the home industry. He is a licensed master plumber, master carpenter, master roof cutter and real estate broker. If you have a question, go to and click on "Ask Tim."

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