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It can take several years to become a licensed plumber, electrician, or HVAC specialist. In most states you are required to first complete formal training with acertified education facility. Then, you may be required up to 5 years as a journeyman before you can get out on your own.

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Unless your roof is tiny, you’re going to want to get your hands on a pneumatic roofing nailer. Prices range from $100 to $300. Renting one costs about $35 a day or $90 a week, so if you own a compressor, you might as well buy rather than rent. A compressor rents for about the same as the nailer. If you don’t own a compressor and know you’re going to finish your house in less than a week, then renting is probably the way to go.

If you do buy a roofing nailer and you know you’ll only use it for one job, a cheaper model will work just fine. It just won’t be as durable as the high-end models the pros use. But don’t tell anyone you bought it. If the word spreads that you’re a roofing gun owner, you run the risk of being recruited by a whole bunch of friends and neighbors to help work on their roofs.

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Our pros show you how to do it right—and save thousands!

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Make no bones about it—roofing is hard work. There’s no hiding from the elements. You can’t be afraid of heights and you need to be pretty fit. Before committing to this how to roof a house project, try this: Get out a ladder and climb up onto your roof. If you can’t walk around on it comfortably, hire a pro. If you passed this first test, go to the lumberyard or home center and throw a bundle of shingles onto your shoulder. Imagine yourself carrying that load up a ladder…many, many times.

If you’re still feeling positive about this how to roof a house at this point, why not give it a shot? You can skip a lot of heavy lifting by having your roofing supplier hoist the shingles onto the roof. Be sure you spread the load evenly across the length of the roof’s peak. However, don’t have the shingles delivered to the roof if you have two layers of old shingles yet to tear off—it could be too much weight for your trusses.

After you’ve obtained a permit (if needed) and safely stripped the roof clean, nail drip edge flashing flush along the eave.

Windblown heavy rain and/or snow can force water up and under even properly installed shingles. Even worse are ice dams (frozen water/snow that builds up on roof edges), which can wreak havoc by allowing water to seep up under lower shingles and then drip into your house. To guard against such seepage, apply self-adhesive waterproof underlayment (“ice barrier”), which adheres tightly to bare roof sheathing and seals around nails driven through it. Buy it at roofing supply companies or home centers. In severe climate regions, most building codes require applying it 3 to 6 ft. up from the eave (minimum of 2 ft. past the exterior wall). Call your building inspector for local details.

Cover the rest of the roof with No. 15 asphalt-saturated felt underlayment (some codes may require No. 30). Each layer overlaps the lower one by at least 2 in. Follow this step by nailing drip edge along rakes (sides of roof), on top of the underlayment. As you did with the flashing, always lap upper pieces over lower pieces. The felt keeps the roof deck dry before shingles go on, protects against wind-driven rain as shingles fail and increases fire resistance.

Next, find the center of the roof at the top and the eave, then snap a vertical chalk line. Most pros use this line to begin shingling, working left and right toward the rakes. Shingle manufacturers may recommend starting at the left rake edge, so check package recommendations.

For the first row of shingles, called a starter course or strip, you cut the tabs off three-tab shingles and apply them with the self-sealing adhesive strip facing up along the eave. Make sure this row has a slight overhang (1/4 to 3/8 in.) beyond the drip edge. The starter course protects the roof by filling in the spaces under the cutouts and joints of the next row (first course) of shingles. The adhesive on the starter course seals the tabs of the first full course.

Finally, nail the first course of shingles directly on top of and flush with the starter course. Use four roofing nails per shingle, as indicated on package instructions (six nails in high-wind areas). Once this course is laid, you can begin snapping horizontal chalk lines up the roof to ensure straight rows. Make sure to expose 5 in. of the shingle tabs where the bottom edge of the tab meets the top of the cutout.

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Tear off the old
It’s impossible to properly install new flashing and underlayment if you don’t tear off the old roof beforehand. When tearing off the existing shingles, be sure to remove all the old nails or pound them flat. Protruding nails will tear holes in your new shingles. If you have movable items near your house and you’re worried they might get damaged, relocate them. Invest in a few large tarps to protect your plants and landscaping and to catch the thousands of nails that will rain down off the roof. It can be downright impossible to remove old self-stick ice-and-water underlayment, but it’s OK if you have to leave it in place. And if at all possible, have the rented trash bin parked close to the house so you can toss in the old shingles right from the roof. For more information, see How to Tear Off Roof Shingles.

Figure A: Roofing Overview
This cutaway drawing shows the steps involved in roofing a house.

This cutaway shows how to roof a house, starting with the bottom drip edge.
Install the drip edge
Metal drip edge isn’t usually required (check with a local building official), but it gives roof edges a nice finished look, prevents shingles from curling over the edge, and keeps water from running directly down your fascia boards.

Before you install the underlayment, fasten the drip edge that covers the fascia on the eaves. The whole length of the fascia is probably not perfectly straight, so don’t snap a line; just hold the drip edge snug against the fascia and fasten it through the top into the decking with roofing nails. Nail it every couple of feet.

Install the drip edge on the gable ends of the roof after you finish installing your underlayment. Start at the bottom side of the gable, and overlap the sections of drip edge a few inches as you work your way up the roof (see Figure A). Use a tin snips to cut the drip edge to size.

Stay Safe
When it comes to roofs, even the best safety equipment is no substitute for common sense and good judgment. Here are some tips for working safely on a roof:

Leave steep and/or high roof work to the pros. No amount of money you could save is worth the risk of death or a lifelong disability from a fall.
A fall protection kit (harness, rope and hook) only costs about $100 at home centers.
Wet roofs are slippery. Wear shoes with soft rubber soles for extra traction.
Keep the roof swept clean of dirt and debris.
Everyone on the ground should wear a hard hat—even the most careful worker can drop a tool off the roof.
Always look and call out before tossing anything down.
Carefully position ropes and extension cords so they’re not underfoot.
Check the weight rating on your ladder—it needs to hold you plus 80 lbs.
Extend the top of the ladder at least 3 ft. above the roof edge so you’ll have something to hang on to as you step onto and off the roof.
Never step on any of the ladder rungs above the roof.
Set up scaffolding to install the drip edge and first few courses.

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How to Roof a House

Photo 1: Stick on the underlayment

Protect the roof against ice dams and windblown rain with self-stick ice-and-water underlayment. Peel off the top half of the plastic backing as you unroll the underlayment.

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