How To Stagger Architectural Shingles For Your Roof [Detailed Guide]

With architectural shingles, you can create an attractive roof for your home. If you're planning to install this type of roofing, staggering the shingles is an essential step in the process that you should know about. We did research so that you can learn how to stagger architectural shingles on your roof.

Here are the steps in staggering architectural shingles:

  1. Install the starter strip on the eaves of the roof. Add the first layer of shingles.
  2. Lay down the second course by adding the shingles over the first layer across the roof.
  3. Add the third layer of shingles over the second course.
  4. The fourth course does not need trimming. Complete by adding the shingles over the third course.
  5. Trim the excess shingles at the ends.

In the process of staggering, you should prepare the materials and ensure safety before you add the shingles. You can do the project yourself or ask for the services of a contractor. If the staggering is successful, your roof will look polished. Read further to know the steps on staggering and other related matters.

Shingles flat polymeric roof-tiles background, How To Stagger Architectural Shingles For Your Roof [Detailed Guide]

Staggering Architectural Shingles On A Roof

The staggering of roof shingles refers to the spacing between adjacent shingles and interlocking butt joints. Roof experts also call it edge-to-edge spacing, shingle offset, or vertical racking. It is a faster way of installing roof shingles in a column-like pattern. 

Staggering architectural shingles need careful installation, so it is a must to follow the correct process. The quality of the staggering technique affects the function and appearance of your roof.

Roof of new house with shingles roof-tiles and ventilation window

You can add the shingles yourself or hire a professional. Before you proceed with the installation, you must prepare for working permits if local codes require them. Make sure that the area is safe for work.

Also, you need to purchase quality architectural roof shingles. Another term for this shingle is asphalt-based or dimensional shingles. Refer to the printed instructions of the product, if available.

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Listed below are the tools and materials to gather:

  • Architectural/Asphalt-based shingles
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Utility or roofing knife

Architectural Roof Shingles Process

After preparation, here are the steps in the staggering process:

  1. Cut the shingle starter strip with a utility knife. A starter strip comes in various sizes, so you need to trim it to follow the size of a particular section. 
  2. Add a roof sealant along the top and bottom of the strip. 
  3. Then install the starter strip on the eaves of the roof. 
  4. Start adding the shingles on the lower left rake of your roof, laying flush on the starter strip. Secure the first layer of shingles with nails. Finish adding the shingles across the roof.
  5. In the second course, trim 5 inches from the left side of the first shingle. Apply the shingle over the leftmost side of the first layer. The first course should expose around 5-5/8 inches.
  6. Continue adding the next untrimmed shingles across the roof.
  7. For the third course, trim 10 inches of the first shingle's left side. Then add over the second row. Finish the course as you did in step 6.
  8. On the fourth course, you don't need to trim the first shingle. Just add it flush over the third row. 
  9. Repeat steps 1-8 to add multiple rows to cover the whole roof.
  10. Trim the excess shingles at the end of the courses with a utility or roofing knife.

Working with roofing shingles can be challenging, so it may be best to enlist the help of a reliable contractor for this project.

Check The Stagger Spacing

After adding the roof shingles, you should inspect their spacing. If the shingles aren't spaced properly, the roof will look misaligned, and leaks could result, leading to mold, rotting, and damage.

The typical spacing for staggering shingles is around 6-15 inches from edge to edge. You should check the product's specifications for the required spacing. If the spacing of the shingles is less than 4 inches, water could leak into the roof.  

Is A Starter Strip Necessary For Architectural Shingles?

Roofers removing old asphalt shingles from the roof of a residential house

The starter strip or course is important for asphalt-type shingles to help seal shingle joints and seal the edges. The strip resists water and wind.

The strip can help the roof shingles to work as intended. You will not see the strip on the roof because it matches the layers of shingles over it. 

Without the strip, there could be moisture on the roof deck. The water could flow through the roof edges. With a properly installed starter strip, you will encounter fewer problems.

Starter strips are not for universal use, so you need to find one that's compatible with your roof shingle. 

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What Happens If You Forget To Stagger Roof Shingles?

If you don't stagger the architectural shingles on your roof, you could have major roofing problems.

Without staggering, the alignment of the shingles will not be uniform. As a result, the seal strength, wind and water resistance, and appearance will affect the roof's condition.

Rooftop in a newly constructed subdivision showing asphalt shingles and multiple roof lines

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for staggering architectural shingles. If you can't install the shingles yourself, ask a roof professional to do the installation.

Do Architectural Shingles Need Nails?

Yes, the shingles need nails. Nails are very important when staggering architectural roof shingles. Building and residential codes require roofing nails to fasten roof shingles. Manufacturers set the following specifications for the nails:

  • Nominal shank diameter of at least 12 gauge and head diameter of 3/8 inches
  • Resistant to corrosion
  • Nail materials can be aluminum, copper, galvanized, or stainless steel
  • Minimum of 4 nails for architectural/asphalt-based shingles

If you have the required nails, you can hand nail or use a nail gain to install them. Either method will work to fasten the shingles.

You must be extra careful when working with nails, because they can create holes, and in this case, the holes will allow water to leak in. 

Check which method of nailing the shingle requires. If you don't follow the manufacturer's instructions, you risk voiding the warranty of the shingles. 

Nail Measurement

The length of your nails will be based on the shingle and sheathing thickness. The following are the usual nail lengths:

  • Normal architectural shingles with sheathing of 3/8-inch: 1-inch
  • Sheathing thickness less than 3/4-inch: 1 1/4 inches
  • For thicker sheathing: 1 1/2 inches

You should refer to the product instructions to find out if it requires other nail lengths.

Can You Overlay On Existing Architectural Roof Shingles?

Shingles flat polymeric roof-tiles

You can overlay existing shingles, but roofing contractors do not recommend it. They will suggest removing the old roof shingles first. Adding a second layer of shingles creates a liability for contractors.

It is not a good idea to overlay because the quality is not good. The appearance of your roof will not be appealing, and the roof will be more prone to damage. 

Below are the pros and cons of adding another layer of shingles over existing architectural shingles:


  • Up to 25% cost-savings (no fees for tearing off and disposing of old shingles)
  • Fast installation of new roof shingles


  • Voids manufacturer's warranty
  • Roof becomes less resistant to water leaking and ice damming
  • Shortens the shingle's lifespan
  • Could violate building and residential codes
  • Adds more weight to the roof
  • Absorbs heat rapidly
  • Traps moisture
  • Faster deterioration of old layer
  • More frequent repairs 
  • Additional roof preparation

Based on the facts above, it is clear that there are consequences to overlaying without removing existing shingles. Ask your roof contractor to remove old shingles, since they have the equipment and expertise. Follow their suggestions to avoid roof problems. 

In Summary

Staggering architectural shingles on a roof follows a careful process. You can do it yourself or enlist a contractor.

You must prepare and follow appropriate safety measures before you start. Choose quality architectural shingles, then gather all the tools and materials needed. Prepare suitable nails and starter strips for the shingles. 

The first step is laying a starter strip. Then add the first layer of shingles on the bottom of the roof rake. Place the shingles across the roof.

Trim the leftmost sides of the first shingles for the second and third courses. The fourth course of shingles does not need trimming. Continue adding the shingles until you completely cover the roof.

If you successfully stagger architectural shingles, you can achieve a professional-looking roof for your home. 

If you found this post helpful, you might want to read these related articles:

Roof Overlay Vs. Tear Off – Which Is Right For Your Home?

Can I Paint Roof Shingles? [& How To]

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