Step by Step Guide on How to Roof a House

two handymen on top of house installing new roof

There are a number of reasons to install a new roof on your house. The existing roof may be damaged, outdated or you may want to improve energy efficiency. No matter what the reason, there are a series of important steps to follow addressing how to roof a house correctly.

Putting a roof by yourself requires special equipment and a lot of knowledge. However, an understanding of these steps covering how to roof a house can help educate you when hiring a roofing service.

Safety Precautions

This is an important initial step in how to roof a house no matter who is doing the job. You should take as many safety precautions as necessary to secure the area surrounding the structure. Part of this step is to contact your local building department. Make sure you have all the required permits to do a roofing project.

  • Remove anything that could be broken by things falling off the roof.
  • Cover plants and shrubbery, including placing a protective tarp over ground cover.
  • Find at least one secure place to access the roof and clear away everything from that area.
  • If there are gutters on the roof, take them off to prevent damage and make removing the old roof easier.

Sketch a Rough Draft

This step is often skipped by experienced professionals, but it can be critical for do-it-yourself roofers. You will use this sketch and the measurements to help fit around vents, chimneys, and flashed areas on the roof. It is also necessary to calculate how much roofing material you need.

  • Sketch a picture of each section of the roof, keeping it as close to scale as possible. For standard roofs with two equal halves, this is simple. Complex roof shapes warrant an experienced roofing professional.
  • Measure distances between every obstruction on the roof. Include the width of the vent cap, location of vent pipes, and especially chimneys.
  • As the installation process progresses, it can be noted where cuts and adjustments will need to be made ahead of time. This can save time and energy plus it helps prevent mistakes.

Calculate Needed Materials

Since you have a drawing of your roof, having the right amount of materials will be easy. With accurate roof measurements, there will not be any guesswork. You will know how many rolls of roofing felt are needed and how many bundles of shingles will complete the job.

Making sure the right materials are on the job is a critical step in how to roof a house properly. For the technologically astute, there is even a roof app to make precise calculations.

  • If you are doing your roof installation yourself, make sure you coordinate this step so that your materials are ready to go as soon as the last old shingle is removed.
  • Do not allow the wood to be exposed to the elements if it can be avoided.
  • There are simple formulas for calculating roofing material. However, you can gain the optimal answers by contacting a professional roofing service.
  • It is recommended to time the steps so that as soon as the old roof is off, at least a layer of roofing felt is ready for installation.
  • If you deem it wise to add a waterproofing coat before the felt layer, that customarily adds only a 24-hour delay to the job. However, the wood will be waterproofed.
  • The best suggestion is to have the materials on hand before the last shingle hits the dumpster.

Remove the Old Roof

decayed shingles of an old house against a clear sky

If you have handyman skills, this is a step you can do by yourself. There are additional safety steps you should take if you’re going to attempt to remove the old roof. Be sure you appreciate what type of footwear you need, and what tools are necessary.

  • Doing this step yourself can save as much as $3,000, but make sure you have the right equipment to do the job safely.
  • Have a portable dumpster or some other type of large trash container ready on site.
  • Roof jacks can be nailed through to the roof rafters, with a 2 x 10 board attached for extra safety. This can also keep old material better organized to simplify clean up.
  • Using a pitchfork or specially designed roofing shovel, begin at the roof peak farthest away from the dumpster.
  • Begin working at the peak. Move down, taking off a row of shingles at a time that accounts for roughly ¼ of the total roof width.
  • Move that debris off the roof and proceed to the next portion of the roof, working down to the bottom. Repeat this process for the other side of the roof.
  • Sweep the roof, checking for leftover roofing nails. Clear away everything before moving on.

Roof Inspection

For new structures, this step will be part of the ongoing building inspection requirements. You will not need to check a new roof for damage. Just make sure the installation follows the code. For existing roofs, you will want to be certain a thorough roof inspection checklist is completed before moving forward.

  • Inspect again for roofing nails and other debris left over from the old roof. Start with a roof that is as close to perfect as possible. It will save time and headaches going forward.
  • Inspect every inch of the roof, checking for soft spots in the sub-roof, or any signs of water damage.
  • Have all roof damage repaired before installing the new roof. Otherwise, the consequences of fixing it later can be costly.

Waterproof & Roofing Felt

While applying a waterproof coat is not necessary, it is a recommended step for slate, shake, and metal roofs. These roofs have such a long lifespan, it is worth the extra expense to add an extra waterproof barrier. For standard asphalt shingles, you can waterproof prior to installing roofing felt, but it is not imperative.

  • Once the waterproof layer is completely dry, start setting chalk lines for the roofing felt.
  • Install the roofing felt from the eaves upward. The first line should be set 33 5/8-inches from the roof eaves.
  • As you roll out the first line of felt paper, tack it in the middle to keep it from blowing. Complete the first section, then overlap each subsequent section a minimum of 6-inches.
  • Make cutouts for chimneys and vent pipes. Applying an exterior latex sealant around these openings is wise. It will prevent leaking under the final shingle layer.
  • Take a walk on the roof and make certain there are no uneven strips or wrinkles. To fix any imperfections, slice the felt and allow it to flatten. Cover the cut with a 1-foot wide strip and secure it.

Install the New Roof

worker installs blue tarp on a new shingle roof

Installing a metal, shaker shingle or slate roof invariably needs the expertise of a professional roofer. There are special tools necessary to install these roofing materials. The final step in how to roof a house properly is for installing shingles.

However, you will not need specialized cutting tools or expert knowledge at this point any longer. If good preparation has been made prior to this final roof installation step, it should go smoothly.

  • First, pick the right roofing nails. Always use galvanized and be certain to penetrate ¾ of the way into the wood.
  • Set a chalk line for the first row of shingles, beginning at the roof cap. Use two extra roofing nails for the first row adjacent to this roof cap.
  • Asphalt shingles have a nail line to follow. Shingles with a reinforced nailing strip are recommended.
  • The shingle will also have an overlap mark on the outside of the shingle. Drop a second chalk line for each new row.
  • Progress down the roof, completing each row before starting a new one.
  • Account for roof vents and chimneys as they become a part of the row. Keep all your cuttings, because many of these pieces can be useful to fill the next row. This way you waste.
  • The final row or two will have to be nailed from a ladder. This is why the safety preparation step was so important.
  • If measurements were done correctly, there should be little cutting on the final row. A minimal length, (less than ½-inch) overhang past the eaves is acceptable.


If you’re not comfortable with your knowledge and skills to do your own roof, by all means, consult with a professional roofing service. These steps can be helpful in providing you with a competent knowledge of how to roof a house.

Armed with this information you can ask the right questions to get you the most qualified roofer. You will also be able to assess the installation process and make sure certain steps are being done properly. Use these indications on how to roof a house if you’re doing the job yourself or remember them to check on your roofing service.

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