How to Replace Roof Shingles

By Amanda Lutz Updated March 15, 2024

To replace roof shingles, you must buy replacement pieces, invest in the right tools, prep the roof, and, most importantly, focus on safety. In this guide, we’ll explain what roof shingles are, how to detect signs of damage, and provide tips for removing and installing shingles properly.


Roof Shingles Basics

Roof shingles are overlapping (usually rectangular) elements that cover the roof of a building. Shingles protect your home’s roof from weather, damage, and deterioration. Besides being highly functional, roof shingles add aesthetic appeal to your property and have the potential to increase its value. Below are a few common types of roof shingles.

Asphalt Roof Shingles

Asphalt roof shingles are the most popular type of shingles in the United States. They’re affordable, easy to install, and offer adequate protection against the elements. When installed and maintained properly, the life span of high-quality asphalt shingles can be as long as 30 years.

While durable, asphalt shingle roofs are susceptible to wind uplift—this phenomenon occurs when a strong wind blows across the top of your roof and lifts all or part of the roof. Asphalt shingles can also crack when exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations.

Metal Shingles

Metal shingles are usually made from aluminum, copper, or steel. These shingles are popular for their durability (they can last up to 70 years) and energy efficiency. They don’t require much maintenance besides regular inspections and cleaning. You can also paint metal shingles your desired color to match your home’s style.

However, these shingles are costlier than many of the other options. They’re also prone to denting and damage, especially in severe weather conditions.

Slate Shingles

Slate shingles are made from natural stone and are well-known for their elegance and longevity. In general, slate shingles can last 100 years or more. Slate shingles are highly resistant to fire, mold, and pests. They offer great protection against the elements and don’t require much maintenance. The downsides of slate shingles are their high cost and installation complexity.

Tiles

Clay or concrete tiles are an alternative to asphalt and wooden shingles. They’re popular for their durability and longevity. With the right approach to maintenance, these tiles can last a lifetime.

The downside of clay and concrete tiles is their weight, which makes installation more complicated. Tiles are also costlier than other options.

Wood Shingles

Another common roof shingle material is wood, which is usually made from red cedar, treated pine, or spruce. Besides being durable, wood shingles are aesthetically appealing, environmentally friendly, and have excellent insulation properties.

With proper maintenance, wood shingles on your roof can last up to 40 years. However, they require regular upkeep that includes staining or sealing. Another downside to wood shingles is their limited fire and water resistance. Wooden shingles are also susceptible to rot.

While all types of shingles have their benefits, asphalt shingles are the most common, so we’ll focus on replacing asphalt roof shingles in this guide.


Signs of Damaged Roof Shingles

Even with proper maintenance, asphalt shingles can sustain damage and require replacement. In general, you’ll learn if you need to replace your roof shingles during a regular roof inspection. Below are some common signs of shingle damage.

Buckling

Buckling is a distortion or wave-like appearance of the shingle surface. Buckled shingles look like they’re being pushed up from beneath. Buckling can occur due to poor attic ventilation, lack of insulation, and excessive moisture.

When shingles buckle, they’re highly susceptible to leaks. Failing to replace them can lead to water damage to your home.

Curling

Curling happens when the edges of the shingles begin to turn upward or downward. The main reasons for this problem are old age, improper installation, and extreme temperature exposure. Once curling occurs, shingles become highly susceptible to wind damage and water infiltration, which can compromise the integrity of the entire roof.

Lost Granules

Over time, asphalt shingles can lose granules due to old age, extreme weather conditions, and poor shingle quality. When granules wear off, the underlying asphalt layer becomes exposed to UV rays and moisture. This accelerates shingle deterioration.

Missing Shingles

Extreme weather conditions, such as powerful storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes, can rip the shingles off your roof. The longer your roof remains without shingles, the faster it deteriorates, so it’s imperative to inspect your roof after serious storms.

Roof Leaks

If you notice a leak inside your attic or the rest of the house, it could be an indication of serious shingle damage. When shingles give out, the roof becomes vulnerable to moisture. If this happens, address the problem immediately. Continuous water infiltration can lead to extensive water damage, mold growth, and structural issues.


How to Prepare for Replacing Roof Shingles

Before you start this do-it-yourself (DIY) shingle replacement project, you need to consider some safety measures and gather the necessary tools and materials.

Safety First

Working at heights is always dangerous. Even experienced roofing professionals with the right safety gear can have accidents. Take the following safety precautions to stay safe while you replace your roof shingles:

Additionally, check the weather before performing any work on your roof, as slippery roofs are a grave hazard. Wait for the roof to dry after rainy or snowy days.

Tools and Materials

To succeed with your shingle replacement project, gather the following materials:

Many of these tools can come in handy for replacing shingles and general roofing maintenance. While purchasing these tools could be a significant up-front investment for shingle replacement purposes, you’ll likely be able to use some of these tools for other home improvement projects.


Removing Old Shingles

Unless the shingle you’re replacing has been torn away completely by a storm, you need to take a careful approach to removing it. Here’s a step-by-step guide to removing old shingles.

1. Loosen the Shingle

Use the pry bar to lift the edges of the shingle directly above the damaged one. Since these shingles overlap, the top shingle will hide the row of nails that you have to remove.

2. Remove the Nails

After loosening the shingle, locate the nails and remove them. Usually, a shingle will be held in place by three to four nails, and shingles in the first row of roofing can be held by five nails. Use the roofing hammer to extract the nails.

3. Get Rid of the Damaged Shingle

Once you pull the shingle away from its spot, dispose of it in a dumpster or trash can. A damaged shingle can break or crack, making it harder to remove the entire piece, but be sure to gather all pieces for disposal. Be careful not to drop the debris in your gutters, as this can cause clogs and damage your gutter system.

4. Inspect the Underlayment

Depending on how long the shingle has been in bad condition, the underlayment may have received some damage. If you see any problems with the underlayment, such as discoloration or sagging, replace it immediately, as this could be a sign of water damage.

5. Clean the Surface

Once you’ve removed the damaged shingles and inspected the underlayment, look around for any remaining nails. Use a nail gun to secure loose roofing nails or replace them with new ones. Then, use a wire brush to clean the area where the old shingle was. Make sure that the surface is free of debris and dirt before installing the new shingle.


Installing New Shingles

To install new shingles properly, follow these steps:

1. Align the Shingle

Put the new shingle where the old one used to be. Slide it underneath the top shingle and align it to match the rest of the row.

2. Nail the Shingle Down

Many shingles already have holes specifically for nails. If they don’t, place the nails approximately 1 inch from each edge of the shingle. Avoid overdriving the nails to prevent damage in the process.

3. Seal the Shingle

Apply roofing adhesive along the edges and corners of the shingles to create a secure seal. Press down firmly on the shingles to ensure proper adhesion.

Once you finish the installation, thoroughly inspect the surrounding shingles and check for any loose roofing materials, exposed nails, or gaps.


Tips and Tricks

If you’ve never replaced asphalt shingles before, you should keep the following in mind to ensure a successful project:

Get Professional Assistance If Needed

Even if you know how to replace roof shingles in theory, the practice can be much different. Besides the safety issues of working on a roof, you may face problems that require additional roof repairs. If you don’t feel confident about every aspect of the shingle replacement process, consider seeking assistance from a roofing contractor.

Professional roofers can provide expertise, ensure proper installation, and address any challenges that may unexpectedly arise during the project. They can also offer a warranty on their work.

Use Quality Materials

Invest in high-quality asphalt shingles, underlayment, and roofing accessories to ensure longevity. Consider buying shingles that are designed to withstand the weather conditions that are specific to your area.

When Cleaning Up

After you install shingles, clean the work area by removing any debris, nails, or leftover materials. Dispose of old shingles and waste materials responsibly, and don’t forget to inspect the gutters to ensure they’re clear of debris. Otherwise, you may face clogs and water damage.

When Handling Ridge Caps

When replacing ridge caps, cut the shingles to fit the ridge line and overlap them to create a seamless finish. Then, use roofing adhesive to secure the ridge caps in place. To ensure longevity, consider using preformed ridge caps, which have a neater appearance.

While Working Around Chimneys and Vents

When working around chimneys or vents, carefully measure the shingles to fit the unique shapes and angles. You can also use flashing to create a watertight seal.


Our Recommendation

Asphalt shingles are the most popular type of roof shingles in the U.S. While durable, these shingles are susceptible to wind uplift, are vulnerable to extreme temperature fluctuations, and can receive damage over time. If your shingles are old or damaged, replace them as soon as possible to prevent further roof damage.

In general, asphalt shingle replacement is a DIY home improvement project. Once you invest in the right equipment and materials and ensure you understand the safety best practices, you can complete this task on your own. If you aren’t sure that you can finish the project on your own or worry about safety issues, hire a roofing contractor to complete the job.


How to Replace Roof Shingles FAQ

Can you replace a shingle roof by yourself?

Yes, you can replace a shingle roof by yourself as long as you have the right tools, materials, and safety knowledge. In general, homeowners can replace a few shingles in one day, but if you’re installing a new roof and need to replace all of the shingles, expect the job to take up to one week.

Is it hard to replace shingles?

It’s not hard to replace shingles. This straightforward process involves removing the nails that hold the old shingle down and nailing the new shingle to the roof.

Should you remove old shingles before installing new shingles?

Yes, you should remove old shingles before installing new ones to keep your roof’s integrity intact and prolong its life span.

How often should you replace your roof shingles?

In general, you should replace your asphalt shingles after 30 years, and sometimes sooner if there is a lot of wear and tear.