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What is a Roof Tear Off? (And The Steps to Tear Off a Roof)

October 31st, 2022 | 6 min. read

What is a Roof Tear Off? (And The Steps to Tear Off a Roof)

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Are you finally ready to replace your leaky roof? If so, your roof proposal should include a line item list of everything that’s going into your roof replacement. But are you confused by the line item that says “old roof tear-off”? 

The team at Bill Ragan Roofing has been providing high-quality roof replacements in the Nashville area since 1990. Giving you and your family peace of mind is our absolute goal. 

Just like explaining whether you should stay home during your replacement, your contractor should go over the roof tear-off process with you. But always looking to educate on the art of roofing, I’m going to break it down for you here. 

By the end of this article, you’ll learn what the roof tear off process looks like. Knowing the 3 steps your roofing contractor takes to tear off your old roof will also prepare you for the rest of the roof replacement process. 

Before we get to the steps it takes to tear off your old roof you need to know what a roof tear off is. 

What is a roof tear off? 

A roof replacement is simply replacing your old roof with a new one. But before installing the new roofing materials and components, the old ones have to be torn off.

clear decking after the tear off process(Clear decking after the tear off process)

Tearing off your old roof is a crucial step during the roof replacement process. To do this, your roofing contractor goes section by section removing your old roof by literally tearing off the shingles and components from the roof’s decking. 

Just like an artist needs a blank canvas, this gives the roofers a chance to install your new roof on a clear area. Just know that there are cases where some homeowners skip the tear off process, but we'll discuss that in a minute. 

The 3 steps to tear off your old roof

After learning what roof tear off is, you need to know what the actual process looks like. It can be concerning because it looks like complete chaos, but it’s controlled chaos.

In this controlled chaos, a roofing contractor protects your property, tears off your old roof, and deals with your roof’s old nails. Below are the 3 steps to tear off your old roof. 

1. Protecting your property before the roof tear off starts

One of the main jobs of a roofing contractor is protecting your property anytime they’re on your roof. But it’s especially true when you’re getting your roof replaced. 

Once your roofing contractor chooses an access point, they’ll begin unrolling protective tarps from the gutter down to the ground. These tarps should cover all the landscaping and foliage that surrounds the roofline around the base of your home. 

protecting your property while tearing your off roof

This ensures all the roofing debris coming off your roof gets into the dump trailer or down to the dump tarp and not in your bushes or yard. They'll also tarp your pool if you have one and move any outdoor furniture that could get damaged.  

After all the precautions are taken and your property is protected, it'll be time to begin the actual tear-off process. 

2. Tearing off your old roof 

When tearing off an old roof, a roofing contractor uses a tool called a “tear-off” fork. These forks can easily slide under the shingles and lift them right up. 

roof tear off fork

The tear off process begins at the end furthest away from the dump trailer and works it's way back towards the access point. While one crew is going from section to section tearing off, another crew is making sure the torn off materials end up in the dump trailer or the tarped landing zone in your yard. 

roof tear off

Your roofing contractor should always try to control where the roofing debris goes during the tear-off process of your roof replacement. But it's impossible to stop some debris from floating away. 

Just know that all trash will be picked up and thrown away after your roof replacement is complete. 

3. Dealing with your roof’s old nails 

After the shingles and components are removed, something has to be done with your roof’s old nails from your roof’s decking. If it’s an exposed ceiling or exposed overhang, your contractor will pull the nails out. 

If it’s plywood, they’ll knock the nails down to ensure they’re hammered down straight and flush into the decking. This ensures none of the old nail heads are sticking up and they’re out of the way for your new roof to be installed. 

roof decking

What they’re really doing when knocking the nails down is testing the integrity of your roof decking. If the decking can handle the nails being knocked down, then it can handle your new roof. But if the decking’s integrity is compromised then your contractor will have to replace it before installing your new roof.   

After the old roof is torn off, the deck is clean, and one last visual inspection is performed to ensure the nails are knocked down, your new roof is ready to be installed. 

Do you have to get a roof tear off when getting a new roof?

As I mentioned earlier, some homeowners skip the tear off process. This is called a nail-over reroof.

A nail-over is literally installing (nailing) a new asphalt roof over the top of your old asphalt roof. This is a way to save money instead of replacing your entire roof, but it's not recommended in most cases. 

To get a nail-over, your current roof must be near the end of its lifespan and lying down flat. The roof also must have only a few penetrations, a little amount of flashing, and no walls that have to butt up against your shingles.

But even if your roof is a good candidate for a nail over, it doesn't mean it's a good idea. You don't get to replace crucial materials and the new roof is installed over a failing roof. 

This makes future leaks harder to find and you also won't get the same kind of material warranties as you would as full roof replacement. Just know that most states only allow 2 layers of shingles on a roof. 

So, you'll have to get a full roof replacement if your roof already has two layers. 

The rest of the roof replacement process 

When you invest in a quality roof replacement, the tear-off process lays the groundwork for proper roof installation. While the tearing off your old roof may seem like a small step, it's actually a crucial piece of the entire replacement process. 

The other steps of the process are just as important and some are more important. That's why you need to know the entire roof replacement process.  

Because of this, I wrote another article that breaks down the entire roof replacement process. 

The team at Bill Ragan Roofing has provided high-quality roof replacements to the residents of Nashville and surrounding Middle Tennessee areas since 1990. We take extreme pride in our workmanship and back it up with a lifetime craftsmanship guarantee.  

Check out this article on the 8-step process to replace your roof to know what to expect on the day of your roof replacement. 

prepare for your roof replacement checklist

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