How to Tarp a Roof after a Hurricane


Many of us (myself included) found roof damage after Hurricane Irma and now need to tarp our roof to minimize leaking while we wait for the insurance company to stop by.

If your new to Florida Hurricanes or for some reason have just never had to tarp a roof, here is a quick and simple guide that outlines the basics of tarping a roof in Central Florida.

I’ve also included some basic roofing fixes for minimal damage that I’ve used on my roof this hurricane season.

Below is how I have tarped a roof myself or seen others tarp a roof. This is only a temporary solution and should be treated as such. After Hurricane Charley I think some people thought a tarp was a permanent roof or at least it was working well enough for them to leave it up for a long, long time.

Don’t do that. Get it fixed properly as soon as possible.

That being said, if you tarp it right, it should work fairly well in keeping you dry until your insurance company can come out or you can get a licensed roofing contractor out to fix it.

Before I go any further I want to make sure you understand the following:
I am not a roofer, contractor, or building specialist.
I have only my limited experience which I am sharing here.
I have no specialized knowledge in this area and am only trying to help those looking for information on the topic.

What that means is, use this information at your own risk!

Should you fall while trying these ideas, I’m sorry you slipped but you probably shouldn’t have been up there in the first place.

If it leaks, I’m sorry, but you probably should have hired a professional roofer.

If you fall through your roof because it suffered structural damage and you didn’t know it, again… you probably shouldn’t have been up there at all.

However, I know some people are going to go the DIY method anyway, so here is what I have done in the past and what has worked for me.

This is the uncomplicated amateur version of how to tarp a roof.

If you want the professional, over the top perfect way to do it you can take a look at the Wikihow way to tarp a roof. It gets very complicated but it’s probably been written by a perfectionist and/or professional who tells you how to do it by the book.

BUT… If you want the Polk County Central Florida “Get ‘R Done” version then just keep reading.

Step 1- Decide If You Really Want To Tarp a Roof Yourself

Seriously, don’t skip this step. It’s kind of like evacuating after a hurricane has hit and realizing you shouldn’t have left your home.

It’s hard to stop in the middle and change your mind. I was on a roof this week with an extra steep pitch, old shingles that were losing granules, and two stories up.

In retrospect, I should have passed on helping the owner of this particular roof, except the owner was myself so I’d probably do it again (I fall into the DIY group I mentioned above).

Step 2 – Get All The Roofing Supplies You Need Ahead of Time

This seems silly, but going up and down (and heaven forbid back and forth to Home Depot or Lowes) sucks. I know a child (maybe this child is mine, maybe not) who likes to cook and sometimes starts recipes without checking to see that all the ingredients are in the kitchen. Don’t be that child. Get everything together first.


Some of the roofing tools you’ll want to have handy and ready to tarp your roof.

The Central Florida DIY Roofer Toolkit Includes:

– A Partner (a lot easier with help)
– Ladder
– Hammer
– Toolbelt
– Roofing Nails
– Screwgun (drill)
– Long screws
– Roofing Tarp(s)
– Tar Sealant (bucket or tube)
– Putty scraper/knife (or something to spread the tar with)
– Extra Shingles (precut caps if you need them)
– Utility Knife
– Boards for putting roof tarp down.

Step 3 – Assess the Damage & Develop Your Roofing Repair Plan

You’ll want to look for damaged shingles or missing caps running along the ridge of the roof.

If you’ve never tarped a roof, you want to develop your plan for doing so. Shingles may be missing from all over and you may not want to tarp the entire roof, only the parts with the most damage. Depending on the pitch and angle of your roof, you’ll want to plan out your methodology before buying all your supplies.

Do you have a simple gable design or do you have many different angles and pitches? Will one huge tarp do it or will you need to get different tarps because you need to cover a different angles? For example, if your roof takes off in a different direction at one point, you may need two different tarps.

Perhaps your roof is so large you’ll need multiple large tarps just to cover all the damaged area.¬†You’ll want to figure all this out ahead of time. If you don’t want to get up on the roof to measure, you can measure the base of your house to get a rough idea of the measurements of the roof.

Will you be replacing caps or any other shingles? If so, you’ll want to take a look at the color and type before going to home improvement store. Do you have light shingles or dark, (gray, tan, etc.).

I saw some bright green roof shingles on a roof this week, if this is your roof… good luck matching that!

What about the type of shingle? Do you have 3 tab shingles or architectural shingles? If you’re replacing full shingles, you don’t want to get the wrong kind since you can’t buy single shingles. But I digress, we can cover replacing shingles later. Let’s stick to how to tarp a roof since and go back to assessing roof damage.

Be sure to look for nails protruding through shingles.

The picture below (though hard to see on the right) shows two different examples of this. In one, the nail is really out of the shingle and has come all the way through. In the other, you can barely see the head of the nail.

A good rule of thumb is that if you can see the nail head, it needs to be covered.

Step 4 – Secure the tarp using your wooden slats (1 x 2’s)

As mentioned above, having a partner helps with this process dramatically. Once you’re on the roof and ready to rock and roll, spread out your tarp to the coverage you want. Don’t simply nail into the tarp.

Time, wind, and rain will eventually pull those nails right through the tarp if you don’t use wood and you’ll have a flapping tarp on your roof doing nobody any good. You may even lose it completely and have to start all over.

I’ve seen tarps put up on roofs with sandbags, but I’ve never done it that way so I can’t say if it works well. I guess it would work in theory without doing any damage to your roof, but I don’t know how well it would hold up.

What you’ll want to do is use your wood slats, I find 1 by 2’s to be the easiest to work with but you can use any wood you have around. They don’t have to be perfect, they don’t have to match, and they don’t have to be pretty. Their sole purpose is to create surface area for holding down the tarp.

Use screws (or nails) to pin down the tarp along the edges and some in the middle. The wood should run vertically, not horizontally (that is it should be up and down – not sideways).

Again, DO NOT put the wood horizontally at the bottom of tarp. Doing this could stop any water that gets under the tarp from flowing downward and out, thus trapping it between the tarp and your roof and increasing the likelihood of a leak.

Your roof tarp should look similar to the picture above when finished.

Step 5 – Patch any other missing shingles with tar.

Chances are, you won’t have enough tarp or won’t want to invest in enough tarp for the entire roof. Especially if you have a few pieces of damage scattered about that will require multiple tarps.

Take a look at the picture above (on the right), there is still the first layer of shingle and the tar is used to seal any cracks that might leak water.

Shingles are put on a roof in 2 layers on top of black tar paper, which is a thick roll nailed down with the large head nails you’ve probably seen. These are the nails that inevitably end pointer up if you drop them and magically find their way to the tire on your vehicle.

If you can’t see the black paper and there’s still one layer of shingle, you may be able to get away with putting some tar down, but it’s not a permanent fix. If you do this, be liberal with the tar, you don’t want it to leak and your ceiling fall in when you’re have a holiday dinner.

Tar for this type of job can be found in large 5 gallon buckets and I think in 1 gallon increments as well. If you just have some small minor damage but want to be safe, you can get a tube of tar and apply it using a caulking gun.

Step 6 – Have a Professional Roofer Assess the Damage and Report it to Your Insurance Company

I talked to somebody today who had minor damage (or so he thought) during hurricane Charley. Instead of reporting it, he fixed it himself because it seemed minor and about a year later got lots of leaks in his house and had to have the whole roof redone.

Unfortunately, he never reported it to his insurance company and had to pay for it all out of pocket. However, he’s convinced the damage was done during the Hurricane because the roof wasn’t very old. So be sure to have a professional look at it and give a proper assessment.

Other Roofing Tips

I was asked about the flashing at the bottom of the roof today. A roof is put on in layers, starting at the bottom and in this order:

  1. Flashing
  2. Tar Paper
  3. Shingles (starting from bottom and layering on top of each other)
  4. Roof caps (you can create these yourself using a utility knife and 3 tab shingles and install them if you need to)
  5. Use of Flex Seal for boots/vents

This is important to know and remember if you’re fixing a single shingle or any part of the roof. A single shingle must be slid under the shingles above it to be put in properly and you may have to remove (and replace) some nails to do this.

Always think of the flow of water. Gravity will pull it down, so whatever is below it must allow the water to keep moving in order to roll off the roof.

So if you’re repairing flashing, it should be tucked under the shingles on the bottom, not over the top of the shingles. The shingles at the edge of the roof should also cover the nails you use to install the flashing, otherwise water may leak in the nail holes and damage your roof.

I’m sure there are some missing pieces to this post, so please share your roofing tips below.

September 21, 2017 |

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