How to demolish a roof

The lifespan of asphalt shingles, concrete tiles, slate, or metal roofing all comes to an end at some point. For asphalt, it’s around 30 years or so. If well maintained, concrete will easily triple that amount of time and slate or metal are designed to last a century. Or maybe a huge storm just blew through town and knocked a tree through the roof.

What we’re saying is that at some point, your house will need a new roof. Perhaps you bought an older home with 3-tab shingles. Popular a few decades ago, it’s probably outlived its usefulness. You could be contemplating a redesign of your home and want to give it a completely new look – starting with the roof.

There are a number of reasons to change the look of your roof, but almost every new roof needs to wait until the old roof has been removed. There are times when a re-roofing (placing new materials over old) is a quick solution, but, not all roofing materials can be covered nor can they be used to cover an existing roof.

Not all roofs can be covered either. In order for a roofing contractor to sign off on a re-roof or overlay, the existing roof needs to be in better than fair condition. Any issues the roof currently has (broken shingles, cracked tiles, etc.) that could lead to leaking must be repaired. Covering up an issue won’t make it go away – you’ll just be masking the problem.

Although re-roofing is an option in some cases, let’s take a look at what happens when a complete roof tear-off is needed. Although we don’t recommend a homeowner taking on a job of this magnitude, if you’re up to the challenge, it’s a good idea to make sure you secure needed permits (if necessary).

From there, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and … plan.

Plan, Budget, and Coordinate

For professionals with years of experience, removing a roof can be made to look really easy and fast. However, along with that accumulated knowledge, they also have the right tools and processes in place for efficiency. Watching YouTube videos will only take you so far.

If there is one thing online video can show it’s how to be safe when tearing off a roof. This is especially true on steep roofs where footing can be quite hazardous. Affixing stop-fall harnesses to roof trusses or other sturdy facets will go a long way to preventing falls. But this also means being careful of the roof, surrounding landscape, and people walking around below.

Make sure friends and family know what you’re doing and even use yellow “Do Not Cross” tape around the house. There will be a LOT of debris coming down from above and you won’t want to injury anyone. As part of the planning, think about how you’re going to get rid of the shingles, underlayment, and damaged decking.

Add a dumpster rental or other large container to put all of the materials in that will be going to the dump. A magnetic sweeper is a great way to make sure all of the nails are picked up in the flowerbeds, lawn, or pathways/driveways. Other tools include a roof tear off shovel or pitchfork, pry bar, hammer, pliers, screwdriver or cordless drill, as well as eye protection, gloves, and a good pair of shoes.

Along with protecting shrubs with drop cloths and removing any outdoor furniture near the home, look through the attic for anything that may need protection. This could include holiday decorations, family keepsakes, and anything else that’s stored up there. If a large piece of decking falls through the trusses, it could do a lot of damage.

Take It From The Top

This is the moment of truth for many homeowners: getting to the peak of the roof. If with proper safety gear, the idea of being that high up tends to shake the nerves of even the bravest souls. If you have any reservations at all once you’re up there, stop what you’re doing and make your way down and call a professional. There’s no reason to test your liability insurance today.

Some roof peaks are just too steep for the do-it-yourselfers. If you aren’t able to safely walk around the roof you’re tearing off, hire an expert. You’ll need leverage when it comes to prying up shingles or decking that needs removal. Inexperience can lead to injury as well as damage to the roofing structure.

Remove the ridge peak with the claw end of the hammer or prybar. This will reveal the top row of nails. At this point, grab the roof tear off shovel or pitchfork, slide it under the top two rows of shingles, and pry them up. Depending on the age, this is actually a relatively quick way to remove the shingles.

Then move down the roof. Here’s a pro tip: to prevent a huge pile of rubble, take each row of shingles over to the dumpster, trailer, or whatever. Cleaning as you go keeps a tidy roof and cuts down on labor in the long run. Once the shingles have been removed, remove the tarpaper or synthetic underlayment.

Synthetic material should come up easily and stay together. Tarpaper will more than likely be brittle, so take care. The slower you go, the more tarpaper you’ll be able to clear in one piece. Otherwise, you’ll be picking up small pieces of tarpaper for days.

If you are just changing out the roofing materials and making no other alterations, your job may be done. With a roofing shovel, pry up any remaining nails that are sticking up and inspect the decking for any damage. The same for the flashing and any roof vents. Now is the time to replace those pieces, too.

If there is damage to the decking, consider replacing the whole sheet. It’s just easier than trying to rig something up to cover a small hole and it won’t be as strong. At this point, new underlayment and roofing materials can be added.

If you are removing trusses as part of a big remodeling project, we recommend calling in a construction company that has experience with removing structural parts of the home. You could not only damage the ceiling of your home, but you could also ruin the overall integrity of the structure.

Considering a roof tear-off to make room for newer, longer-lasting roof and not equipped to do it yourself? We have the knowledge and experience to take your roof down – trusses and all – to make way for a house remodel. We’ll take care of the permits, the mess, and the surrounding area so you won’t have to lift a finger. Contact Warner Roofing and Construction for a free estimate.

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