How to Repair a Pitched Roof

Flaws are either in the shingles, or in the flashing. Inspect both, and replace components as necessary. And don't wait too long. This article applies to "tar type" shingles not wood shingles or shakes.


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    Locate the source of the leak. If the leak is through an unfinished ceiling, look at the rafters and sheathing and look for the drip. The source on the outside will either be in the corresponding location, or uphill from there. If the leak is through a finished ceiling, the location of the flaw is less clear - the drip could be coming through shingles at one point, and then moving along rafters or other structural members, before staining the Sheetrock. Once up on the roof, you'll have to inspect a larger area.
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    On the roof, look in the suspect area. The flaw will likely either be a missing or damaged shingle, or damaged flashing (sheet metal that connects features like chimneys, pipes, etc., into the waterproof structure of the shingles).
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    Recognize the signs of a shingle problem:
    • a shingle is entirely missing
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    • a shingle is ripped
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    • a nail head is misplaced, and visible to your eye (all nail heads should be hidden under other shingles).
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    Recognize the signs of a flashing problem:
    • flashing has pulled away from masonry or pipes
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    • flashing is missing
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    • flashing has corroded because of galvanic reaction with nails; etc. If the problem is flashing, that should be covered in a different article.
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    Wait for warm weather. (but not too warm) If there's a problem with the shingle, wait until a warm day, or better yet try to do the job in the morning before the roof gets too warm but cool enough that the adhesive strip on 3-tabs and built up types are not sticking so aggressively. Use a shingle ripper (a long bar with a hook on one end) to reach *under* the damaged shingle, and grab on to one nail that holds the shingle down. Use the shingle ripper to rip the shingle free of the nail / shear off the nail. There will be four or more nails per shingle. Normal asphalt shingles are "three tab" type, or built up "Heritage" type, or "T-Locks": there will be one nail above each tab-division slit, and one at each end of the shingle on the three tab type, one at each end and two nails equally spaced in the field on the "Heritage" type (Note: This type of shingle is becoming ever more popular. It is a built up type of shingle without any slits or cutouts or tabs. Because it has no tabs if an odd length is required to fill a space it can be cut to fit without affecting the roofing pattern), and one nail above the slit on the "T-locks" type. All nails will be in a row, about one inch further up the shingle from the "weather" portion. That is the nails on a shingle are always covered by the shingle in the next higher row. As each shingle is nailed down the nail not only penetrates that shingle, it also penetrates the shingle underneath-the shingle from the previous row. That means you not only remove the nails from the desired shingle, you also have to remove the nails from the shingle/s above it.
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    Take off the shingle. Once all of the nails holding the defective shingle have been removed, remove the shingle. Pull out any broken or flawed bits, then wipe the area clean.
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    Slide a new shingle into place. The tabbed end of the shingle goes downhill; the other end, which usually has less granulated material on it, goes uphill. If the shingle is too wide, it can be trimmed with a utility knife. Put the shingle on a hard surface (NOT the roof that you're trying to repair!) upside down, then score it with the knife. Break away and discard the excess. Remove a tad more than necessary to get it to fit! You don't want it jammed and too tight because when it gets hot it will tend to buckle. A good 1/8" gap on each end is fine.
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    Carefully bend back the two overlapping shingles in the upper course. Use four high quality galvanized roofing nails (short, with broad heads). Tap them gently through the new shingle, in the location described above (note that most new shingles have a thin strip of asphalt like material on the top side, running left to right. Your nails MUST be further uphill than this line.


  • be careful with your nail placement. Nails that are exposed, or stand proud of the work surface will just create a new leak.
  • Work on a medium warm day, so shingles are pliable, and won't crack.
  • Use a hammer that has a rubber handle ; it won't slide off the roof.
  • Use good quality nails.


  • Be very careful when working on roofs. If your ladder has levelling jacks, use them. Tie off the top end of your ladder. Follow all safety warnings on the ladder

Article Info

Categories: Exterior Walls and Roof