How To Stagger Architectural Shingles

Jessica Stone
by Jessica Stone

As opposed to traditional asphalt shingles, architectural shingles are specialized with a much heavier base. They generally cost about 20 percent more than most conventional shingles, but come with a warranty of at least 25 years.

Although you can always hire a professional, installing architectural shingles is very simple to do yourself. However, the most prevalent question posed about the installation process is how to stagger the architectural shingles.

The trick here involves layering the seams of the shingles between courses. The first layer will be laid down with the full shingles flush against the starter strip. In order to properly lay the second course, 5 inches must be trimmed off of the left end of the first shingle and installed over top of the first course so that it is exposed 5-5/8 inches. You can then continue placing this layer down across the roof while preserving the same exposure throughout.

While this may seem like an intricate process, once you understand it and set it up correctly from the start, the staggering will flow effortlessly. We’ll explain all the tasks involved in installing architectural shingles, including how to perfectly arrange and stagger each piece.

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What are Architectural Roofing Shingles?

Back in the 1980s, improvements were made to the traditional dimensional shingle that resulted in a new development of more sophisticated asphalt roofing materials with characteristic, and often dramatic, appearances. This new name: architectural shingles, stemmed directly from these advancements.

Sometimes referred to as dimensional or laminated shingles, architectural shingles are some of the highest quality roofing materials on the market today. They are typically constructed of a heavy fiberglass base with ceramic-coated minerals implanted in a watertight asphalt.

Architectural shingles are also thicker and provide the option of a variety of different color and size selections that add three-dimensional shadows and light to your roof. They are known for their durability and can hold up very well when exposed to severe weather conditions and harsh sunlight.

How to Install Architectural Shingles

If you’ve recently decided to enjoy the many aesthetic and functional benefits of architectural shingles, you need to be aware of exactly how to install them. While the process is overall very simple, special care should be taken in order to ensure that the final result looks as expected. The following steps will help walk you through how to properly install and stagger your architectural shingles.

Step 1: Preparation

Before you begin installing the architectural shingles, there are a few preliminary preparation steps. Just like any other major renovation project, make sure to check with your local building inspector about any specific roofing code requirements in your area and secure a building permit. Also, if you’re installing new shingles over existing shingles, you want to verify the necessary steps to meet the manufacturer’s warranty.

Step 2: Safety Precautions

Undoubtedly, working on a roof can be dangerous and you should take all the necessary precautions to guarantee your safety. First, you want to make sure that your ladder is in place and secured properly. Consider using a ladder stabilizer to hold you steady for the duration of the project.

At any point, when you’re working on the roof and are not attached to the ladder, you need to be secured to a fall-restraint harness. Most of these can be easily attached with wood screws to the roof ridge.

Also, consider the pitch of your roof when deciding to contract someone for the job or do it yourself. In general, the steeper the roof, the more dangerous and difficult it will be to maneuver during the project.

Quick Tip: Always make sure to wear protective safety glasses when handling a nail gun.

Step 3: Install the Starter Strip

Your first step in the installation of architectural shingles is to install a starter strip along the eaves of the roof. The asphalt shingle starter strip that you purchase may be too wide for your particular situation. If this is the case, trim it accordingly with a utility knife.

To ensure good adhesion, add extra roof sealant along the bottom and top of the starter strip. It can also be beneficial to apply the strip along the rake of the roof.

Step 4: Begin Applying the Shingles

You’ll want to start applying the shingles at the lower left rake of the roof. Install the first course all the way across the roof. Lay them flush against the starter strip and secure with four nails. You can finish off by applying a bead of roofing sealant between the first course and the starter strip.

Per shingle, a minimum of four nails are required. They should be affixed in the sealant line and approximately six inches above the base of the shingle. There should be one nail at about 1 inch from each side of the shingle. All of the additional nails must be equally spaced out from these two exterior nails.

Step 5: Staggering Architectural Shingles

Effectively staggering your architectural shingles begins with the installation of the second course. First, trim 5 inches off of the left side of the first shingle in the second course. Apply this piece directly over the shingle on the first layer, flat against the left edge with a 5-5/8-inch exposure.

Continue on with installing full shingles across the rest of the roof to finish off the second course. Be sure to maintain the same exposure throughout this layer.

Quick Tip: If it’s helpful for you, you may consider drawing horizontal lines with chalk across the roof surface in order to ensure correct shingle alignment. However, most architectural shingles will also come with a guideline that aids in placement.

Step 6: Laying the Third and Fourth Course

For the third course, you will need to double your cut and trim 10 inches off of the left side of an architectural shingle. Install this shingle over top of the first shingle of the second course, flush against the left edge, and upholding the same 5-5/8-inch exposure. Proceed just like you did with the second course and place full shingles across the length of the roof to finish off the third course.

Once you reach the fourth course you will have come full circle and will not need to cut the first shingle before installing it. Instead, place the full shingle just like you did for the first course and repeat the entire process to successfully stagger the shingles and cover your entire roof. Any excess shingle material at the ends of the courses can be easily trimmed with a sharp utility knife so they are flush with the rake.

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DIY vs. Hiring a Contractor

With a greater understanding, the technique for installing and staggering architectural shingles is not especially difficult. As long as you are practicing careful alignment and fastening the shingles properly, you’ll be successful on your own.

However, if you’re torn between doing it yourself or hiring it done, there are a few things to consider. More specifically, roofing materials are incredibly heavy, and stabilizing yourself on a sloped, elevated surface for hours at a time can be grueling work. Most roofing contractors will come with an entire crew in order to achieve the same amount of work in a fraction of the time.

They are also incredibly experienced and will, quite literally, take the load off of your back. While this project is possible for those handy homeowners and DIYers, if you are afraid of heights or do not feel confident in your abilities, hire a professional to install your architectural shingles.

Jessica Stone
Jessica Stone

Jessica considers herself a home improvement and design enthusiast. She grew up surrounded by constant home improvement projects and owes most of what she knows to helping her dad renovate her childhood home. Being a Los Angeles resident, Jessica spends a lot of her time looking for her next DIY project and sharing her love for home design.

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