How to Shingle a Roof: Step-by-Step Instructions

By: Contributors & Austin Henderson  | 
Construction workers hammering shingles onto a roof.
Architectural shingles are specialized asphalt shingles with a heavier base. Andy Sacks / Getty Images

So, you want to learn how to shingle a roof. You're going to want to get familiar with architectural shingles, the heavy-duty cousins of standard asphalt shingles.

These aren't your average roof-toppers; they're more robust, usually 20 percent pricier than their traditional counterparts, and come with a hefty 25-year warranty [source: Fratzel]. Plus, you can install them yourself. Let's get started.


Roofing Materials You'll Need

Before you get started installing shingles, make sure you have the following on hand:

  • Architectural shingles
  • Nails (specifically, roofing nails)
  • Hammer
  • Utility knife


The Shingling Process: Laying It All Out

The key to a good shingle job is making sure everything lines up just right — literally. This means avoiding a straight line vertically across your roof by ensuring the shingles are staggered.

Step-by-Step Shingle Installation
  1. Start at the bottom. Begin at the lower left corner of your roof, laying your first row of shingles. This row should peek over the eaves by about a half inch (1.3 centimeters). Secure each shingle with roofing nails at the top edge of the tile.
  2. Double up. Place the next row of shingles directly on top of the first, making it two tiles thick. This is your starter course, the unsung hero of shingle installation.
  3. Stagger and secure. For the third row, trim 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) off the first shingle, then continue with full shingles across the roof, following the pattern in the manufacturing instructions. Nail each one as you go. Remember, the key to success is staggering those rows of shingles!
  4. Repeat and overlap. Make sure you overlap your shingles in a staggered pattern; it's essential for both aesthetics and function.
  5. Do it again — on the other side. Once you've completed one side of the roof, tackle the other side in the same manner.
  6. Top it off. Overlap the shingles at the roof's peak. This is where your ridge cap shingles come into play, neatly finishing off your roofing project.
Pro Tips for Perfect Shingles

If this is your first time reading up on how to install roof shingles, be sure to remember review quick but essential factors before you start shingling.


  • Drip edge installation: Don't forget to install a drip edge at the roof's bottom edge. It's a small detail that makes a big difference in guiding water away from your fascia board.
  • Exposed nails: If you end up with exposed nails after shingle installation, dab a bit of roofing cement over them to prevent leaks. Ideally, you want to avoid exposed nails in the first place.
  • Straight lines: Use a chalk line to keep your shingle courses straight. This not only helps with water runoff but also gives your roof a professionally done look.
  • The ice and water protector: In areas prone to ice dams, installing an ice and water shield along the roof edge is a must. It's like an extra layer of security against water damage.
  • Rake edge and ridge caps: Don't overlook the rake edge and ridge caps. These are the finishing touches that ensure your roof is not only functional but also visually appealing.

Remember, safety is paramount when installing roof shingles. Wear appropriate gear, be cautious of falling debris and ensure your ladder is secure.

When to Call in the Pros

While shingling your roof can be a fulfilling DIY project, sometimes you need to call in a roofing contractor, especially for complex aspects like installing flashing or dealing with a steep roof.

If you're ever in doubt, it's better to consult a professional. After all, your roof is a crucial part of your home's defense against the elements.


Enjoy Your New Roof!

Whether you're laying down new shingles over existing shingles or starting from scratch, these tips will help ensure your roofing project is a success. Remember to follow local building codes and take all necessary safety precautions. Happy shingling!

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.


Roof Shingling FAQ

Can I shingle over old shingles?
Yes, you can install new shingles over existing shingles, but make sure to inspect the old roof. If there are any signs of damage, it’s better to remove the old shingles first. Also, check your local building code, as some areas may have restrictions on multiple layers of roofing.
How many shingles will I need for my roof?
The number of shingles required depends on the size and complexity of your roof. A general rule is to measure the roof area in square feet and then consult shingle packaging for coverage details. Always buy a bit extra for mistakes.
What is a drip edge and why is it important?
A drip edge is a metal flashing installed at the edges of the roof. It helps to direct water away from the fascia and into the gutter. This is crucial for preventing water damage and prolonging the life of your roof.
What are starter shingles and why are they necessary?
Starter shingles are the first layer of shingles laid down at the edges of the roof. They provide a solid base for subsequent layers and ensure proper sealing along the eaves, preventing wind uplift and water infiltration.
How do I ensure my shingle rows are straight?
Use a chalk line to mark a straight line across the roof deck before installing each row of shingles. This helps in maintaining a uniform and professional appearance.
What's the best way to handle ice dams and water protection?
In cold climates, preventing ice dams is crucial. Install an ice and water protector — a self-adhesive waterproofing membrane — along the roof edge before shingling. This protects against water infiltration due to ice dams and wind-driven rain.
How do I install ridge cap shingles?
Ridge cap shingles are installed at the peak of the roof. Cut the shingles to fit the ridge line and nail them down, overlapping each piece for a watertight seal. The last ridge shingle should be sealed with roofing cement.