How to Properly Remove Old Shingles

remove asphalt shingles properly

Removing old shingles is a labor-intensive process regardless if you’re the contractor or a DIY homeowner. Before you climb on top of the roof and start ripping off shingles, let’s go through a few steps to make the process easier, cleaner, and safer.

1. Remove the shingles safely

Removing shingles generates a lot of debris and creates opportunities for damaged property and injured workers. Shingles and nails can damage landscaping, doors, and windows.

Roof jacks—sometimes referred to as roof brackets—help prevent the downward slide of removed materials (and roofers if someone misplaces their footing), and helps debris end up in one place; hopefully, a well-positioned dumpster.

A roof shovel is the fastest tool to remove shingles, as it pries up both the shingle and the roofing nails.

Pro Tip: Have the new shingles on hand so your roof is not exposed for long.


2. Work in sections

Start removing the ridge cap shingles first. Pry up the shingles and the underlayment in two- to three-foot-wide sections while working down to the roof jack. Once you reach the roof jack, return to the top of the roof ridge, and start on the next section.

As you work, toss the removed shingles and other roofing debris into a dumpster or garbage can to avoid piling them up on the roof. This creates a safer work environment and clears up the workspace.

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3. Be aware of dangerous areas on the roof

Always be cautious when working on top of your roof, and be aware of soft spots.

Traditional asphalt shingles may soften in extremely warm temperatures, leaving you vulnerable to injury and your roof to potential damage. Walk along the roof supports if you know their location, but always exercise extreme caution.

4. Make a plan for the removed material

dumpster filled with debris

Shingles get heavy as the work piles up, so make it a point to routinely dump the debris as you work instead of saving it until the end of the project.

Start removing shingles from the side of the roof that is furthest away from the dumpster or garbage can. If you’re unable to move the dumpster close to the edge of the house, lay down a tarp as close as you can; just be sure to keep it away from flowerbeds, gardens, and other landscaping features.

5. Don’t damage the roof flashing

Work carefully around the roof flashing. Slow down and inspect it when you remove shingles near chimney and ridge flashing points. Gently pry up the edges and remove the nails before setting the flashing off to the side. If the flashing is damaged, don’t reuse it. It will only lead to problems further down the road. Look for any flashing with an excessive amount of tar, as this points to a ‘band-aid’ repair and should be replaced, along with the shingles.


6. Inspect your roof for remaining nails and underlying damage

When you get close to the roof edge, don’t pry the shingles all the way up or they’ll slide off the roof. Work the shingles loose and then pry them the rest of the way off with your hands.

As you walk back to the roof ridge, inspect the section for any remaining nails that did not come loose. Remove any nails you find, and clear the surface of any leftover debris. In addition, keep an eye out for cracked or rotted boards and underlayment.

7. Protect exposed roofing elements

Exposed roofing elements should be covered with a tarp if the job isn’t completed before sunset.

Nail a tarp over the exposed areas to protect it overnight. A tarp is a temporary measure but will work just fine for a 24-hour period. Chances are you’ll have to use more than one tarp. Overlap the tarps at least 6 inches and apply it the same way you applied the first.

8. Clean up the mess

Put all the removed shingles, nails, and other roofing debris in the dumpster, and coordinate with the dumpster rental company to have them pick it up. If you used a tarp, have someone help you load it onto a trailer and drive it to the dump.

Don't neglect the gutters. Clean the gutters of loose shingle granules and nails that will inevitably fall into them. Failing to do so can lead to clogs, which increase ponding water. Ponding water increases the strain on the gutter system and the likelihood that mosquitoes will gather there. 

Lastly, inspect your yard for any remaining material. You may want to run a broom magnet over the yard to pick up nails and other scattered debris.

Removing shingles can lead to surprises

roofing contractor

Removing roof shingles is a labor-intensive job that can lead to all kinds of complications. There might be more damaged flashing or underlayment than you expected, or the new shingles might not be arriving as quickly as you originally thought.

And while many DIYers feel competent in the project, they know they may encounter unforeseen problems they don’t know how to handle. While you can save money doing it yourself, it never hurts to hire a trained roofing professional to remove the old shingles.

Hometown Roofing Contractors make it easy to find affordable roofers who deliver quality results. Customers can find licensed roofers, request quotes from different companies to find the best rate available, and see how other customers reviewed their experience.

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