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How to Tear-Off a Roof

Removing the old roof materials creates a big mess thousands of broken shingles scattered over your yard. If you plan ahead, you can make the tear-off go smoothly and save time and ruined plants in the process.

Materials needed:


  • harness (if your roof is a 4 or steeper a harness is required)
  • gloves, mask (for those with sensitive airways)
  • ladder or other access to roof
  • tarps
  • disposal plan (dumpster, truck, wheelbarrows, etc.)
  • ladders, plywood and/or A-frames to cover landscaping
  • pry bar
  • utility knife
  • hammer
  • roofing shovel
  • magnet
  • tin snips
  • rake
  • saws and drills (depending on roof attachments that need to be removed)


Inspect the decking and attic from the inside: Look at the type of sheathing used on your existing roof before you begin the tear-off process. Protecting the attic floor may be necessary if sawn boards or planks were used instead of panels. Any open space between boards will allow nails, shingles and old felt to drop into the attic space. Additionally, if there are gaps in the sheathing, be sure to strip the roof in a top-down pattern, to send the debris off the roof, and not into the attic.

Protect the windows and siding on your home: Cover windows and siding with tarps to prevent sharp and heavy debris from damaging your property.

Prepare the job-site, aka your landscaped yard of delicate shrubs and plants: Place pieces of plywood or ladders over bushes, plants and small trees that could be damaged by falling debris. A-frame structures can also be placed over plants and bushes to deflect and soften the blow of falling shingles.

If you are planning on renting a dumpster or truck to haul away the debris, park it under the eaves: The more shingles you drop directly into the truck means fewer shingles you will have to shovel in later.

Lay tarps on the ground to collect the debris: tarps can make the hauling away process much easier especially if you can't park the truck or dumpster under the eaves. As the shingles are pushed off the roof, they will break into small pieces that will be strewn across your yard. Place tarps wherever you plan to drop the old shingles, including the area surrounding the truck or dumpster. Wheelbarrows can also be used, but they are small targets from the top of a roof! Though it is easiest to let gravity work for you and push all shingles down the roof, think ahead about how you can collect the debris. You may find that certain sections of the roof may be easier to haul old debris up and over the roof to get it to the waste containers.

Remove any other attachments to the roof that may be damaged in the process, or conceal old shingles: This step will depend on your roof. Most solar panels will need to be removed and reattached by a professional. Gutters may or may not need to be moved prior to the tear-off.

Remove the ridge cap shingles using a pry bar: Pry at the nail locations to loosen the ridgeline shingles.

Using a roof-stripping shovel, loosen and scrape the shingles and felt off in downward strokes: Insert the edge of the shovel under the shingles, and pry the nails up. Repeat this along the strip of shingles until you have loosened 4-10 square feet of shingles. (You can do this part of the tear-off with flat-blade shovels and pitch forks, but they are less efficient than stripping shovels designed for the job.) You can pry up larger sections of shingles, but remember that you have to remove them from the roof, and large sections can be very awkward and heavy to move. Push the debris down and in front of you and try to throw it towards the tarps and bins that you will use to haul it away. If the sheathing is planks or boards, rather than panels, try using a side-to-side (but still moving in a top-down direction) pattern to loosen and clear shingles so that the shovel doesn't catch on the horizontal boards.

Remove shingles around flashing using a flat bar and utility knife: Carefully remove shingles around flashing, so that you can reuse the flashing. If shingles are particularly hard to remove from the tar and adhesive, use a heat gun to soften the cement. Do not use a flame or torch, as many roofing materials are flammable.

Remove flashing: Using a utility knife slice through the roofing cement to loosen the metal pieces carefully. You may be able to reuse these pieces as you apply the new roof.

Pry out old nails and sweep the deck clean: the deck should be clean and smooth so that the new shingles will lay flat and adhere well to the surface.

Clean the ground area: Rake and clean the ground area with a magnet to pick up all the debris. Rusty nails and sharp shingle pieces are unattractive and dangerous if stepped on.

Now is a good time to inspect the sheathing to make sure it is strong enough to hold a new roof for the next 20 years or longer. Any signs of sagging, decaying or damaged decking should be replaced and/or repaired before the new roof is installed.

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