Bruce W. Maki,
Replacing the shingles on an old two-story house with a steep
pitch roof can seem pretty daunting. Or maybe it's just that roofing
has a reputation as dangerous work. Numerous people have reacted
with surprise when I've told them about doing this re-roofing
project. They think it's terribly dangerous, that only special
people can work on such high and steep roofs, that there is a
constant risk of falling off.
I've worked on at least half a dozen major roofing projects prior
to this, some on steep roofs, some on low pitch roofs. In some ways
I prefer working on a steep roof. For one, there is not as much
bending over. And since roof jacks and scaffolding planks MUST be
set up, there are designated places to walk and lots of places to
grab onto. If you've ever worked on a low-pitch roof on a hot day,
you know that by simply turning your foot on the shingles you can
scrape bare a big patch of asphalt. This is not a problem with a
steep roof, because you never really walk on the shingles.
However, the big drawback to steep roofs is the time needed to
set up roof jacks and scaffold planks. There was probably one or two
hours of scaffold setup for each quadrant of this roof.
Note: After completing the first quadrant of this roofing
job I realized that I needed more photos, so I shot many pictures
during the second quadrant (done about 5 weeks later) that covered
some topics I missed earlier.
Southeast Quadrant: Phase 1
The house before the roofing was replaced. There
were three different colors or shades of shingles. It looked
cheesy, to say the least.
Southwest Quadrant: Phase 2, done about 5 weeks
But the real problem was that several areas of the roof had
shingles that were badly curled or degraded. There was a small leak
around the chimney, which was caused by inadequate flashing.
The siding next to the roof had problems with
paint peeling. On closer inspection we discovered that many of
the boards were split or soft from water damage.
And during some previous roofing job, somebody had placed
step flashing in front of the siding, rather than
behind. Not wise.
The chimney was a mess. Note the grayish-looking
tar around the base of the brick. Previous owners have simply
piled on more roofing tar to patch the joint, rather than
repair it correctly with metal flashing. They also slathered
tar on some cracked bricks. Lame.
This house is shaped like a plus sign (+), with four gables and
two main ridges that are perpendicular to each other. This
arrangement made it logical to approach the re-roofing job one
quadrant at a time, with the ridge making an obvious stopping point.
Many roofs can be done in sections. A simple gable roof could be
done one half at a time, with the ridge being capped at the end.
Installing Roof Jacks For Safe And Easy Access
Some people, including myself, sometimes have a
reluctance to get started on major projects like replacing a
roof. There are a lot of things that could go wrong, such as
having a sudden downpour when all the shingles have been
And it takes some work just to set up the equipment needed to
work on a steep roof.
The first step in any steep-roof shingle job is to install
roof jacks and planks. Once there is a firm platform to work
from, it becomes much easier to jump right in and start
tearing off shingles.
This first quadrant had the advantage of a porch roof
located just below the house roof. The porch roof has about a
6:12 slope, which made it safer to walk on.
The presence of the porch roof made everything seem easier. We
could haul materials up to the porch roof for staging and storage.
Note in the above photo how the ladder is tied to the scaffolding
with a rope. There is nothing more frustrating than having the
ladder tip over and leave you stranded on the roof. Also, that rope
made a very good "handrail" to grab while climbing up or
down from the roof.
Surface Preparation: Several Problems
Those whitish-looking narrow boards... I believe
those were the original roofing strips when the house was
built. In 1907 most houses were roofed with cedar shakes, not
asphalt composition shingles. Wood shake or shingle roofs do
not require a full deck of sheathing, only narrow strips of
wood spaced about 6 inches apart. At some point in the past
century they added wood planks between those narrow boards.
The old solid wood sheathing had many holes like
To our surprise, the entire roof deck was a mess. There were
large gaps between boards, there were boards with large chunks
missing, and the worst flaw... many of these narrow, older strips
were considerably thicker than the wider boards, so the roof
deck was not uniform and smooth but had high strips in places.
We contemplated the problem and decided to add a layer of
Oriented Strand Board (OSB) on top of the existing roof sheathing,
but only after the thickest narrow boards were removed.
OSB is not my favorite material for roof sheathing. I would
prefer plywood, but it costs about twice as much. One drawback of
OSB is its tendency to swell when it gets wet. Wet OSB will rot
faster than plywood under similar conditions. Also, if the panels
are butted tight together, they won't be able to expand and the
edges will swell or buckle upwards, leaving unsightly ridges visible
through the shingles.
But... OSB is very reasonably priced, around 8 bucks a sheet for
7/16" thickness. If kept dry by a careful roofing job, OSB
should last a very long time. We ran over to Home Depot the next
morning and bought 20 sheets of OSB for this quadrant of the roofing
project. This new decision cost us a lot of time and a bit of money,
but eliminated the potential for numerous headaches later on. By the
time we were finished, we were glad we decided to add the extra OSB
When we tore off the shingles around two sides
of the chimney, we were surprised by how high the previous
owners had piled on the tar. There was about a three-inch deep
layer of shingles and hardened goop around the chimney... but
no metal flashing.
The lightning rod was less of a problem than I
anticipated. We simply removed the nails that held down the
brackets and lifted up the rod whenever we had to work beneath
it. We also unscrewed the air terminals, which are the
spires that point upwards.
At the ridge we removed the cap shingles.
We removed the shingles on the other side (the
left side) to expose a small strip of bare wood. Later we
covered this bare strip with tar paper for a good temporary
fix. Since we are doing this roof one quadrant at a time, we
can't remove any more shingles on the other side.
That home-made ladder/stairs came in very
handy for all sorts of roofing work. It allowed us to just
walk right up the roof with no more effort than climbing a
flight of stairs. We removed the shingles all around the
ladder, and then moved the ladder over to take care of that
We made several of these ladder/stairs. The one in the picture
above was 9 feet long (and kinda heavy), and we also made a 6 footer
and a 3 footer. Later in the job we amputated the 9 footer into a 6
and a 3.
Getting into the valley was not so simple,
however. Since the ladder/stairs had to be placed against a
roofing scaffold, they did not provide access to the valley
So we just nailed some 2x4 and 2x6 cleats to the roof. The
nails were big 16d spiral nails, and they were always driven
into the rafters. Locating the rafters was easy because we
could see them in the gaps between the boards.
It was pretty easy to sit on the ladder/stairs
and work on shingle removal.
We made a minor mistake when we started setting up the roof
jacks. There are two rows of red roof jacks quite close
together on the larger roof face. This would only be necessary
if these ladder/stairs were not used. I'll point out
that stepping from one scaffold plank to the next is quite taxing
on the legs. But that's the primary way I've seen roofers
Notes From Phase 2 -
Start At The Top And Work Downwards:
When we did the second quadrant, we each worked
on a roof face and peeled off the shingles in a horizontal
band. The idea was to never leave too much bare roof sheathing
exposed to the elements. This section was done in September,
when there is greater likelihood of wet weather.
We pulled up many of those narrow boards, which
left thin openings in the sheathing. You can see the pink
fiberglass insulation through these gaps.
The second phase went faster because it was slightly smaller, but
mostly because we had the fresh experience of the first quadrant to
guide us. Our strategy was:
- Remove a horizontal band of shingles a bit wider than the 4
foot width of the OSB.
- Install a row of OSB starting at the valley and working
towards the rake.
- Cover that new row of OSB with tar paper, leaving the lower
edge un-stapled so we could later slide the next lowest piece of
tar paper underneath.
- Repeat this process until we reached the bottom edge of the
roof, and then work back uphill with shingle installation.
- There's a catch with this approach: the Ice and Water Shield
for the valley. We made some mistakes in the first quadrant that
cost us some time.
(Click here to skip
Many original nails had worked loose. Some nails
got caught in the shingle removal scraper tool and were pulled
up, like this one.
I would say that almost all of the nails in the roof
sheathing were at least a little bit loose. I am convinced
this is a factor in the deterioration of many old wood-frame
houses, because it lets the entire structure sway in the wind.
This swaying is called racking.
This roof had thousands of small rusty nails
that had been bent over into the wood. I suspect these may be
leftovers from the previous wood shake roofing materials.
We spent several hours picking away at these. Often
we could just drag the claw of a hammer over the nails and
they would break off. Some needed to be yanked out. It was
time-consuming picky work, but we wanted to remove all
obstructions that would hold the OSB away from the old
There were a lot of old roofing nails under
the shingles we tore off. The previous roofers hadn't even
bothered to pound in many of these.
The flat pry bar was an essential tool for
removing these nails.
Most professionals just whack these nails flat, but
eventually the sheathing is peppered with these things, which
seems to help make the wood crack. We're not interested in
helping an old house deteriorate, and since our time is far
less expensive than any paid professional's, we chose to take
some time to clean up these nails.
This is one of many examples of how a do-it-yourselfer can exceed
the quality level of work done by most professionals. They'll say
what we're doing is not necessary, a waste of time, and that they
can't afford to do it. But I've seen boards that were destroyed by
these old nails.
(Click here to skip this
To haul away the shingles, we parked a small
utility trailer just below the roof (it's hard to see... right
behind the Jeep). We were able to throw a lot of shingles
directly into the trailer. Every few hours we picked up the
shingles on the ground and loaded the trailer.
Disposing of shingles can cost a small fortune in some areas. I
have heard of shingle removal costs reaching well into the
four-figure range. The dump in our area charges about $32 to dispose
of the contents of this small 4'x8' trailer, loaded about 18 inches
Also note that when traveling with an open trailer (or truck) of
construction debris a sturdy tarp should cover the load. Here in
Michigan you are eligible for a nice ticket if the police catch you
with an uncovered load that exceeds the sides of the trailer.
And... be aware that shingles are very heavy. This little trailer
can carry only about 900 pounds, which is about 4 squares (400 sq.
ft.) of conventional shingles at single thickness.
We bought a magnetic nail picker-upper tool for about $25. You
slowly roll it around the lawn and it picks up nails. This was an
excellent purchase... fixing a flat tire costs $10 or more, why take
chances. Besides, if the lawn mower kicks out one of these nails it
could cause serious injury.
The Hard Part: New Sheathing
Adding a layer of OSB definitely slowed down our progress,
but was worth the effort.
We worked from the top down, and we applied a sheet of 15
pound felt (tar paper) as soon as a full row of OSB was laid
across the face of the roof.
It's important to leave a small space between the panels,
or else the edges will buckle later on and small ridges will
"telegraph" through the shingles. I've seen it before and
it's a dumb thing to have happen just because you forgot to leave a
little gap. We simply used 2 nails for spacers when positioning the
To provide a sort of "back-stop" for
the top row of OSB, we nailed some scraps of wood to the other
side of the roof, just over the peak. We could simply push the
OSB panels uphill until they hit the stops, and there was no
worry about positioning the panels vertically. Then we could
just drive a couple of nails right below the panel to stop it
from sliding, and tap it into place.
For most of the OSB on the first phase we used 3 inch nails in a
nail gun. Otherwise we used 3 inch galvanized spiral deck nails. Of
course, the goal is to drive the nails into the rafters, not just
the old sheathing. We spaced the nails about 8 inches apart.
One problem with our framing nailer is that it often blows the
nail head halfway through the OSB. Dialing back the air pressure on
the compressor doesn't always solve the problem, so for the second
phase we just hand-nailed the sheathing. That didn't really take
much longer. The main benefit of the nail gun is that it doesn't
make my tendonitis flare up like hammering does.
Notes From Phase 2:
The plan was to install OSB in a band while much
of the old shingles remained in place. It wasn't quite as
simple as that. We went ahead and tore off all the shingles
from that smaller face on the left of the valley.
Working around the plumbing vents was not a
problem. Luckily the OSB panel ended right beside this pipe.
The pipe is 3" PVC that was installed a year before to
correct an inadequate venting problem. I had painted it black
at the time, but our roofing work scraped off some paint. At
the end of the job I applied another coat of oil-based black
My view is this: Why not take 5 minutes and paint these glaring
white PVC vents black so they are not so visible? I've never
seen a professional roofer or a plumber do this, yet it makes the
house look better and costs next to nothing. Can you see the
two PVC vent pipes in the picture below? One is white, just below
the center of the photo, and the other is black, just right of the
left-hand gable peak. See what I mean about black-painted
vents blending in better?
We focused our efforts on the smaller face.
The upper scaffolding on the large face just happened to
interfere with our second row of OSB.
When this scaffold was removed, it was possible
to lay the second row of OSB close to the edge of the old
shingles (red arrow). This made a logical stopping point for
the day, as tar paper or tarps could be quickly stapled down
to overlap the old shingles, making a water-tight temporary
We just quickly laid some tarps over the open roof, because
the forecast was expecting clear and dry weather.
The next morning we completed the OSB on the smaller roof
face. This was a critical goal because then the Ice and Water
Shield® could be installed in the valley, which simplified
the installation of the tar paper.
This roof is unusual because there is a small crown molding
(arrow) at the top of the fascia board, but the original roof
sheathing didn't reach this trim, so the crown just hung there,
fastened only at its bottom.
We corrected that by driving short deck screws
to fasten the lower edge of the OSB to the crown molding.
Meanwhile, Back In Phase 1:
To remove the last shingles on the higher face,
I stood on a plank rigged up to a ladder. This could be dangerous
if not done right. The left end of the plank was screwed to
the roof scaffolding, and the base of the ladder was secured
with 4 large wood stakes, which prevented the ladder's
base from moving sideways or away from the house.
At this point there was new OSB and felt down to
the upper scaffold, and the old shingles below that. As long
as the felt runs over the edge of the shingles, rain
will stay out.
Note how we laid Grace Ice and Water Shield® in the
valley, working from the top down. This didn't work well,
because it was a chore to leave the lowest 6 inches un-adhered
and later slip the next piece below it.
In this sectional manner a roof can be replaced over a period of
several days or even weeks. The biggest risk, from my experience, is
that wind will rip off the tar paper and let the rain into the gaps
between the panels of OSB. I certainly would not try this approach
during the late fall and winter months.
Details - Where Roof Meets Siding:
(Click here to skip
Later, we removed the siding from the small
triangle-shaped section of wall above the porch roof. We tried
to salvage some of the siding by cutting the nails with a
reciprocating saw, but it didn't work. Most of the boards just
Phase 2 had a smaller triangular section
of siding to replace.
We nailed a strip of aluminum flashing to the corner
joints. The main benefit is that the Ice and Water Shield®
has superior adhesion to the metal compared to old wood. We
later applied a 12" wide piece of Ice and Water Shield to
the corner joints.
At the last row of OSB, we had to be sure the
panel edge lined up with the existing edge of the roof, or
else there would be problems later installing the
aluminum drip edge.
The width of the last row of OSB would have been around 2 to 3
inches. The old roof did not have enough structure to fasten such a
narrow strip of OSB. Our solution was to install the full width
sheet aligned carefully with the edge of the old roof, and then fill
in the narrow strip above.
Details - Drip Edge, Ice and
(Click here to skip this
Once the last OSB was fastened, we installed the
The corners were formed by cutting the drip edge with tin
snips and folding over a small tab.
The drip edge has been installed on the lower
edge and the rake (the sloped edge).
We nailed a strip of aluminum flashing in the valley. We used
6 inch wide metal here, but 10 or 14 inch would have been
To make the fold, we simply cut a strip about 7 or 8 feet
long, sandwiched half of its width between two 2x4's, and bent
it by pressing the exposed half against another board.
My main reason for using metal in the valley is to provide some
structural strength over the small voids between the panels, and to
provide an excellent bonding surface for the Ice and Water Shield®.
We applied a sheet of Grace® Ice and Water
Shield® to the valley. This first piece was over 6 feet long
and was difficult to handle. Four-foot pieces are easier to
The next sheet overlapped this one by about 6 inches.
Then a sheet of Ice and Water Shield® was applied at the
edge of the roof, carefully overlapping the valley sheet.
Note how the tar paper was flipped up. After this, we
stapled the tar paper so it overlapped the Ice and Water
If you've never worked with Ice and Water Shield® before,
well, you're in for a treat. It's quite a challenge to work
with this super-sticky film. It sticks to skin fairly well, it
sticks to wood reasonably well, it sticks to metal very
well and it sticks to itself irreversibly well.
In other words, if you remove the backing paper and a
corner folds over and sticks to itself, you cannot get
it apart. Period. I've had to throw away long sheets of
this product because I let it droop and it contacted itself.
This product can be very frustrating, but it's worth the
The instructions on the box describe some techniques that
work quite well, such as tacking the corners and peeling the
release paper back from one end to the other. I've had good
luck just unrolling the sheet while peeling away the release
paper, smoothing with my right hand as I peel with my left. It
takes practice. Buy extra.
All Downhill From Here...
After the valley details were complete, we
continued tearing off the shingles on the larger face.
We discovered that the previous owner had
patched the sheathing around the plumbing vent when he
replaced the shingles.
I noticed a potential problem at this point. The distance
from the new OSB to the edge of the roof was about 50 inches,
2 inches wider than a sheet of plywood. I could install a
narrow strip and then remove the lowest scaffold, but that
would mean hoisting large panels up there by myself, as
my helper had left.
So I ripped some OSB in half lengthwise and
nailed them down. The next row would be about 26 inches wide,
not too wide to handle solo.
This turned out to be the wise choice, because I
was able to get the tar paper installed to this low point, and
work around the vent pipe too.
Then I took a few minutes and moved the ladders
around. I set up ladder jacks on two humongo type 1A
28' ladders (I can barely move these beasts, but they sure are
stable) and used the lesser ladder to access the extension
plank that I laid on the ladder jacks.
This method of access is a pain because it requires three
ladders... two to hold the plank and another for access. When the
ladder jacks are outside of the ladders, you must use
a third ladder to reach the plank. When the jacks are under
the ladders, you do not need a third ladder for access. But I
couldn't use that approach because I would be standing directly
below the soffit.
With the roof jacks and scaffolding removed I
was able to lay part of the last row of OSB and install new
I wanted to do as much work as possible before moving the
ladder/jack/plank apparatus down to the next chunk. Without a
helper it took a long time to move this stuff.
I managed to install the self-adhesive starter
strip and the first row of shingles before moving the ladders.
But this wasn't enough to prevent a second moving of the
ladders, because I needed to get three rows of shingles laid
before I could install the roof jacks again.
After I moved the ladders, I was able to install
the last section of OSB, then the drip edge, etc.
At this point the roof deck preparation work was complete,
and I was ready to commence shingling.
I would estimate that getting to this point consumed at least
two-thirds of the total time we spent replacing this quadrant of roof. It took
about 5 days to reach this point (for each phase), and I had the
home owner to help me for two of those days. That's about 7 man-days
for 600-700 square feet of roof surface. We could have worked more
hours each day, had this been done in late spring when the days are
much longer than late September.
I nailed down a few partial rows of shingles and
installed the roof jacks in about the same location as during
Continue reading the last few points or jump to: Installing
Tips And Techniques:
Hoisting Materials And Tools:
We used a 3/8" rope with a large hook on the end to haul
almost everything up to the roof. This worked great for hoisting
buckets full of tools and sheets of OSB.
To lift panels, we just clamped a C-clamp to the
middle of the top edge of a sheet, and looped the rope through
it and hoisted it up. This is much safer than trying to climb
a ladder while carrying a sheet of plywood.
The C-clamp made a convenient handle for
carrying sheets of OSB across the roof.
By resting the sheet against a ladder, the sheet didn't spin as I
pulled it up. Without the ladder, a corner of the sheet can get
caught under the soffit, making hoisting difficult.
Years ago I was building an addition by myself, and while trying
to place a sheet of plywood on the roof, the panel caught the wind
and started sliding down the rafters, making a bee-line for my neck.
With visions of a "plywood guillotine" in my mind, I knew
there had to be a better way.
By hoisting things with the rope I could always just let go
if something went awry, and since nobody is allowed to stand under
the item being hoisted, nobody could possibly get hurt.
To bring tools to the roof we just loaded them
into a 5 gallon bucket and pulled them up. With this
technique, you can keep both hands on the ladder while
We used the rope to raise and lower planks. We
just drove a couple of nails into the narrow edges near the
end of the board and looped the rope around them.
Just as with all industrial and construction work,
absolutely NOBODY is allowed to walk or stand under ANY
object being lifted. If there are children and pets in your
household, keep them away from the hoisting areas.
Working on a steep roof is very hard on the seat of your pants
because of the need to sit against the roof at times. Rather than
destroy good blue jeans, I wore very old pants that were almost ready to
be cut into rags. This roofing job just finished them off. It pays
to hang on to a couple of pairs of old jeans with holes in the
Here's a tip I learned from a roofing project
years ago... keep a couple of 5-gallon plastic pails handy for
storing tools and supplies. We tied the pails to the steel
roof jacks with bungee cords and dog leashes.
Safe and Easy Access:
We found that the ladder/stairs created an extra
level of safety that made climbing up and down the roof no
more scary or strenuous than using normal household stairs.
I got the idea from a picture in a book that showed some roofers
using a short section of a wooden extension ladder. They had laid
the ladder against the roof, bearing on the scaffold plank. But the
round rungs appeared to provide nothing more than a place to rest
one's foot, not a comfortable work platform. I reasoned that I could
fabricate a similar device from 2x4's, 5/4x6 deck planks, and
Simpson Strong-Tie angle brackets. Note that these stairs were made
to work on the 12-in-12 slope of this roof (i.e. a 45 degree angle)
and would need to be modified for other roofs.
I would say that the biggest risk from roofing work arises from climbing up and
down the ladder to get to and from the roof. Climbing with tools in
your hands is a really good way to lose your balance. That's why I
insisted on using the buckets and rope for hauling everything.
The next greatest risk is probably the chance of losing one's
balance near the edge of the roof. When working higher up the roof,
there is little chance of falling off because there are several rows
of planks to stop you.
There is another hazard during roofing: Getting hit by falling
objects. It is necessary to throw things from the roof. In both
of these phases of our project there were entry doors that people
could walk out of and be struck by debris. Some common-sense
- If you accidentally drop something while working on the roof, yell "Heads
Up" so people have a chance to react.
- When you walk out a door in a danger zone, say something to
alert people on the roof. I like to come up with creative
things to say, such as "Don't shoot", "Hold your
fire", or "Elvis has left the building".
- When you are about to hurl a large chunk of shingles from the
roof, and you aren't sure who might be below, say something.
- People have a habit of coming and going from their houses and
not being the least bit concerned about something falling from
the sky. Everybody around a re-roofing project needs to adjust
their habits for a few days. Maybe posting a sign on the inside
of the door will remind people. Or tie a bell to the door so you
can hear it opening.
- Remember, it only takes 600 inch-pounds of kinetic energy to
cause a fatal skull fracture. This means that a 10 pound
object falling from 60 inches (that's 5 feet) can kill somebody.
A 2 pound object falling from 25 feet can do the same.
- Shingle Removal Tool
- Pitch Fork
- Pry Bars
- Basic Carpentry Tools
- Circular Saw
- Roof Jacks and Planks
- Oriented Strand Board,
7/16" thick, about 36 sheets for half of the roof.
- Grace® Ice and Water
Shield®, about 3
- 3" Galvanized Spiral
- 3" Common Nails (for
- 1-1/4" Roofing Nails
- Aluminum Drip Edge
- Self-adhesive shingle
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