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How to Install Roof Shingles

An overhead view of gray asphalt shingles on a red brick and gray vinyl siding house.

Updated June 25, 2021

Marc M.

By Marc M.

Installing shingles is a major project, but a knowledgeable do-it-yourselfer can accomplish it with the right tools and safety precautions and by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Learn the basics of installing roof shingles and get tips on planning, safety and estimating materials.

Roofing Safety

Safety is a special concern when working on a roof. Follow all applicable safety requirements for your area. Here are some safety tips to remember. 

  • If you have a roof with a steep pitch, a multistory house or aren’t comfortable working at heights, have your roof installed professionally.
  • Use a harness and fall protection equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions when working on the roof.
  • Wear the appropriate safety gear, such as a hard hat, gloves and eye protection.
  • Wear rubber-soled shoes or boots and walk carefully.
  • A tool belt will help keep your tools readily available while leaving your hands free.
  • Perform the work when the roof is dry. The roof surface may be slippery, especially when the weather is wet or icy.
  • Be aware of the location of the edges of the roof (eaves and rakes or ends) at all times.
  • Keep the area below the roof clear of people and animals to prevent injuries from sliding materials.
  • Handle roofing materials with care. Some may contain dangerous chemicals. Follow the warning labels on the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
  • Be on the lookout for exposed nails on the roof and fallen nails on the ground.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using ladders.

Planning for Shingle Installation

  • Check for permits or inspections required for your work.
  • Be aware of and follow all applicable building codes.
  • Plan your work. Some materials can only be exposed to the elements for a limited time before being covered with shingles.
  • Enlist helpers for the project. Installing shingles is a big job, and roofing materials can be heavy and unwieldy.
  • Make sure you have a plan for disposing of debris properly. If you’re removing existing shingles, you’ll have a significant amount of material to dispose of. Consider renting a dumpster or a dumping trailer.
  • Let your neighbors know about your project ahead of time. In addition to creating debris, installing shingles can be loud.
  • The noise and vibrations of removing and installing shingles may disturb your pets. Consider keeping them away from the house during the project.
  • Clear away items from around the house, including vehicles, grills, patio furniture and container plants, so they don’t get damaged by falling debris. Cover your shrubs.
  • Secure any items on the interior walls of your home so vibrations from the work don’t dislodge them.
  • Consider laying down tarps under the work area to help collect nails and other debris that fall from the roof.

Need help choosing roofing materials? Take a look at our Roofing Buying Guide to learn about different types of roofing and things you need to consider when purchasing roofing.

Estimating How Many Shingles You Need

Determine the total square footage of the roof by measuring the length and width of each roof area. Multiply the length by the width for each area and add the total areas together. Calculate the number of areas of 100 feet — known as squares — by dividing the total area by 100. The result will indicate how many squares of shingles you need.

The roofing products you choose will include information on how many bundles or units of shingles you need to cover the area, but you can make a rough estimate. You can plan for about three bundles or units of standard shingles for each square you calculated, so multiply the total number of squares by three. For example, to get a rough estimate of how many bundles of shingles you’d need for a roof with a total surface area of 2,000 feet:

  • 2,000 ÷ 100 = 20 squares
  • 20 x 3 = 60 bundles of shingles
  • Add 10% to 15% to the estimate to account for waste and trimming. You don’t want to run out of shingles near the end of the project and have to make another trip to the store. For complex roofs, you may want to add a larger waste factor since you’ll likely need to trim more.

Knowing the square footage will also help you estimate how much underlayment you need for your project.

Knowing the perimeter of the roofing areas will help you purchase the right amount of drip edge flashing and leak protection.

You’ll also need either starter shingles or standard 3-tab shingles to cut down to starter shingles. These will run along the eaves and rakes (ends) of each roof area.

Installing Roof Shingles

General steps for installing shingles on a roof are listed below, but procedures can vary by roofing product manufacturer, building codes, and factors such as your climate or the slope of the roof. Always follow the procedures specific to your area and those of the roofing product manufacturer. As you’re installing, work across and up the roof.


Handle the shingles carefully to avoid damage. Cold weather will make shingles brittle and subject to breaking easily. In hot weather, the edges of the shingles may damage easily. As you work, use care when stepping or kneeling on new shingles to avoid damaging them.


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