How to Know if Your Asphalt Roof is Getting Old
Should you repair your own roof?
Quick Fix for a Roof Leak

How to Repair a Torn or Curled Asphalt Shingle
How to Repair Asphalt Shingles
How to Replace a Damaged Asphalt Shingle
How to Install Lines of Asphalt Shingles   (Long)

How to Know if Your Asphalt Roof is Getting Old

To test an asphalt shingle roof’s condition, bend over a corner of one or two shingles on the sunniest side of the roof; if they break rather than flex, or if they appear gray and bloated, the material is nearing the end of its serviceable life.

Wear is another factor—a collection of mineral granules in gutters or at the base of downspouts indicates that the protective mineral surface of asphalt shingles is wearing away.

Leaks often occur at the flashing in valleys or where pipes penetrate the surface. Seal these with asphalt roofing cement.
Leaks often occur at the flashing in valleys or where pipes penetrate the surface. Seal pipes with silicone, and seal the connections between the roofing material and the flashing with asphalt roofing cement. Ernest R. Prim /

Also check for bald spots, cracks, or curled shingles. Small tears, cracks, and holes can be repaired, but missing or severely damaged shingles must be replaced.

If you suspect that your asphalt roof has aged before its time, check out the new book by our friend, Tim Carter of Ask The Builder, Roofing Ripoff: Why Your Asphalt Shingles Are Falling Apart and What You Can Do About It.

When your roof has multiple leaks or many damaged shingles, it usually means it’s time to replace the roofing entirely.

Home Tip: When you put on a new roof, make sure to store a few extra shingles so you’ll have matching replacements for repairs.

Should you repair your own roof?

Repairing or replacing the most common type of roofing-asphalt or asphalt-fiberglass shingles (sometimes called “composition roofing”) is relatively easy, but be sure you can work safely and comfortably on it before you decide to make your own repairs.

Make your repairs on a clear, warm day, when both roofing and asphalt (or plastic roofing cement) will be more pliable. Take your time and stay safe when on the roof.

Of all roofing types, standard three-tab asphalt shingles are generally the easiest to install. They are also one of the more affordable, which is why they are so ubiquitous.

Quick Fix for a Roof Leak

You can temporarily solve a roof leak quickly and easily, using a 12-by-12-inch piece of galvanized sheet metal roof repair flashing, available at most home improvement centers.

fix roof leak with flashing
Quickly fix a roof leak by slipping a sheet metal flashing up under the course above the hole. ©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

In dry weather, lift the damaged shingle with one hand while you slip the sheet metal flashing up underneath it to cover the hole.

It’s usually necessary to pry up one or more roofing nails in the row above the missing or damaged shingle so you can push the flashing all the way up under the course above the leak.

How to Repair an Asphalt Shingle Roof

Damaged asphalt roofing shingles and the top of a ladder.
Asphalt roofing shingles requiring repair. You can extend the life of a roof like this with basic repairs, but it ultimately will need to be replaced. © Arenacreative |

Due to their cost-effectiveness and ease of installation, standard three-tab asphalt shingles are ubiquitous in the U.S. Their weight and size when compared to other roofing materials make them approachable for capable DIY homeowners, and an easy job for roofing contractors.

Asphalt roofing problems make themselves known in the form of leaks and drips. Repair leaky roofs before ceilings and walls are damaged; better yet, check your roof at least once a year before the storm season (and after a major storm, if necessary). If your roof is leaking but you’re not sure where the leak is occurring, please see How to Find & Fix a Roof Leak

Find Thermostat Pros Near You

Materials needed to replace asphalt shingles: 

  • Enough asphalt shingles to cover the area of roof  (Calculator for larger jobs)
  • Tape measure
  • Sharp Utility Knife
  • Carpenter’s Square or Straightedge
  • 12-gauge Galvenized Roofing Nails (3d 1 1/4 or 4d 1 1/2″)
  • Hammer or nail gun
  • Chalk line reel  (Amazon)
  • Hook knife, roofing shears, or heavy-duty scissors

How to Repair a Torn or Curled Asphalt Shingle

Many things can cause shingles to curl, either downward or upward. This is also called “clawing” or “cupping.” Age is the most common cause. But installation mistakes like failing to install an underlayment layer (roofing felt or tar paper) will lead to moisture build-up problems with the shingles and wood sub-structure.

Here’s how to repair a torn asphalt shingle:

1 Carefully lift the torn piece or damaged corner, and, using a putty knife, carefully spread a layer of asphalt roofing cement under it. Be careful not to smear the cement on exposed portions of roofing.

2 Tack down a curled corner with one roofing nail. If your are repairing a tear, tack down the two torn halves with two roofing nails on each side of the tear.

3 Carefully apply roofing cement over the crack and on top of the nailheads to seal up any potential leaks. Keep the amount of cement at a minimum—this will be visible on the surface of your roof.

How to Replace a Damaged Asphalt Shingle

When an asphalt shingle is beyond simple repair, it’s best to replace it. Asphalt shingles are relatively easy to replace, but the repair may stick out like a sore thumb if you don’t have an exact replacement for your type of roofing.

When you visit a roofing dealer or home improvement center, take along a small, broken piece of the shingle to help you find a good match. (It pays to store a few shingles for repairs when you roof your home.)

If you can’t find a suitable replacement and the repair is on a highly visible part of the roof, you might want to consider stealing a replacement shingle from a hidden part of the roof and replacing that one with the new replacement shingle. Obviously, this involves a little more work, but it may be well worth the effort.

Man lifting damaged asphalt shingle at top of roof to replace it
Badly damaged shingles call for replacement. Do your best to find a replacement shingle that closely matches the original roof. Ernest R. Prim /

To remove and replace a damaged shingle:

1 Use a flat prybar to gently lift the two shingles directly uproof from the damaged one. Break the black, self-sealing strip that holds the shingles in place by sliding the prybar along the length of each shingle.

2 Raise the shingle tabs, and carefully pry up the nails holding the damaged shingle and the shingle directly above it (this means you’ll have to go two shingles uproof).

shingle repair
Gently pry up the damaged asphalt shingle.

3 Slide out the damaged shingle. If it’s still in one piece, hang on to it for sizing the replacement.

4 With a utility knife, cut off a small piece from the top corners of the replacement shingle, and then slide the shingle into position under the existing shingles, being careful not to tear the roofing felt.

5 Nail the new shingle in place with galvanized roofing nails, hammering against a prybar placed on the nailheads, under the shingle above. Cover the nailheads with asphalt roofing cement, and spread a little extra cement beneath the tabs that you folded back to help glue them back down.

nail asphalt shingle
Nail down the shingle, using a prybar and hammer as shown.

Don’t remove a slightly damaged shingle from ridges; instead, nail each corner of the existing shingle in place and cover it with a new one. Likewise, if a ridge or hip shingle is damaged, nail down each corner with roofing nails, and apply a second shingle over the top after first coating the bottom of that shingle with roofing cement. Nail down the corners, and cover the roofing nailheads with asphalt roofing cement.

If replacing asphalt roof shingles yourself is beyond your abilities, please see our affiliate partner, HomeAdvisor (below), to receive free bids from local asphalt shingle roof repair pros.

If you suspect that your asphalt roof has aged before its time, check out the new book by our friend, Tim Carter of Ask The Builder, Roofing Ripoff: Why Your Asphalt Shingles Are Falling Apart and What You Can Do About It.


Flashing the Roof

pg. 344-345

How to Install Lines of New Asphalt Shingles

Asphalt shingles usually come in 12-by-36″ pieces, which makes measurement and overlapping a somewhat simple task.

How to Lay Chalk Lines

Ideally, create a grid on the underlayment (felt or tar paper) with your chalk line. This will give you less to think about during the fastening step.

For vertical lines– Pre-measure reference points at the top of the roof’s ridgeline and the lower dripline of the roof. Mark the tar paper as you go with something easy to see, like a white marker or heavy duty pencil.

Home Tip:  When making marks for any project, just a big “V” which points at the desired measurement on the tape measure. This is more accurate than using a dot or a line, as it eliminates any direction error when reading the marks.

For horizontal lines– If you’re planning a 6-inch exposure for each shingle, measure increments of 6 inches on both diagonal edges of the roof—the “rake”— and snap a chalk line horizontally on each.  You should now have a “grid” outlined on the roof.

How to Fasten Asphalt Shingles

Use 12-gauge galvanized roofing nails to secure asphalt shingles. If re-roofing over old shingles, use 4d (1 1/2″) nails. If installing new roofing, use 3d (1 /4″) nails.

Laying the First Row (Starter Row)

Use the lower chalk lines to orient and straighten the first shingles. Be sure to fasten the lowest row of shingles with the tabs pointing up the roof. Drive a galvanized roofing nail into the shingles above each notch.

Begin nailing the starter shingles at the rake (the sloped edges of the roof), and continue along the eaves. Allow a 1/2″ overhang along the eaves and at both rakes, and 1/16″ spacing between shingles. Use four nails for each shingle, nailed 3 inches above the eaves. Nail the first course (line of shingles) over the starter course, again using four nails per shingle.

When laying the next courses, the top priority is maintaining proper horizontal and vertical alignment between the shingles. Using chalk lines is highly recommended for both.

Diagram showing a staggered asphalt roofing pattern.
How to align and stagger asphalt roofing shingles. ©

Laying the Subsequent Rows 

Install the first and remaining courses with the tabs pointing down the roof. Nail each shingle to the roof just above the slot between the tabs. Start the second course with an offset of about 6″ to stagger the seams. 

Hands laying a row of staggered asphalt shingles over previous rows.
© 135pixels | Shutterstock

Cutting Asphalt Shingles

For new, not-yet-mounted shingles: 

When cutting asphalt shingles to size, place them face down on a flat surface and score them with a sharp utility knife while using a straightedge or carpenter’s square to hold your line. Then bend the shingle to break it on the scored line.

For edge shingles on the roof: 

Use a hook knife or roofing shears, or heavy-duty scissors to evenly trim excess material from the rake of the roof where your rows end.

Hands using heavy duty scissors to trim new asphalt shingles at the edge of a roof.
© 135pixels | Shutterstock

If repairing your asphalt roof yourself sounds beyond your skills, please check out our partner, HomeAdvisor, to receive free bids from local asphalt shingle roof repair pros.

Call for free estimates from roofing pros now: