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Can You Install an Asphalt Shingle Roof During the Winter?

New Roof in Winter

For the most part people who live in cold weather state understand that the spring, summer and early fall are the ‘roofing seasons’.  People in these areas budget and plan to get their roofs done when the days are long and the temperatures are mild.  But sometimes things happen and people get put into situations where they need to get a roof installed during the winter months.  Perhaps the home is being sold and a new roof becomes a contingency of that sale.  It could be a tree fell on the roof necessitating its replacement.  Perhaps the roof was approved by the homeowners’ insurance company for replacement and they suddenly realize the deadline for completing the work is looming; perhaps the insurer has made replacing the roof a requirement for continuing insurance coverage.  Maybe a leak late in the year finally brought the poor condition of the roof to the attention of the homeowners and replacement is the only solution that makes financial sense.

Can the people who do get put in these situations still get a quality roof installation?  The short answer is ‘yes’, but to understand that let’s look at the two main reasons why most roofing companies and roofing customers don’t consider winter the best time to install an asphalt shingle roof.

The first challenge to winter roofing with asphalt shingles is the shingles themselves.  The shingles will lose some flexibility in the cold.  They will also become more difficult to cut.  The temperature of the shingles and humidity in the air lines can affect how the pneumatic guns drive the nails, so the pressure setting for warm weather may need to be adjusted when it is cooler to avoid over or under -driving the fasteners.  These are all challenges that can be overcome by taking a little more time and paying closer attention. 

The larger issue with the materials has to do with sealant on the back of every shingle.  This sealant is activated by heat and sunlight and it seals the shingles together which prevents the wind from getting under them and lifting.  The sealant on shingles installed in cold weather may not activate right away; it may not activate until spring.  The temperatures and conditions to activate the sealant will vary by manufacturer and it’s also possible that while the shingles on the southern exposure may seal, those on northern slopes may not.  If this is a concern, most shingle manufacturers recommend hand-sealing every shingle to avoid winter blow-offs.  This can add a lot of work to the project.  There may also be added cost if hand-sealing is necessary.

The second challenge to roofing in the winter is basic human nature.  People who have to labor outside in extreme conditions are probably not automatically going to do their best work.  Working in heavy coats and boots is clumsier and time consuming.  Without careful supervision workers may try and take short-cuts to get things done more quickly.  Extra time must be devoted to safety as winter conditions can make a roof more slippery.  For a winter roofing project to go well the crew needs to be motivated to do a good job, well supervised and allowed to work at a pace where they can take the extra time necessary to ensure a good installation.

So, while not the ideal circumstances, a roof can be installed in the winter but keep the following things in mind if you find yourself in this situation:

  • Understand that the roofing project will take more time in the winter.  Days are shorter.  Shingles are harder to work with. Roofers will need to take more frequent breaks to warm up.  Hand sealing of the shingles may be necessary.    
  • Work with your contractor to pick a window of time where weather will be as good as can be expected for the winter months.  Look for a few days with no snow in the forecast and day time temperature highs in the 20’s or above.
  • Work with a contractor who is comfortable doing a winter install.  Make sure the project will be well supervised and that the supervisor is well versed in the extra steps that may be necessary for a cold-weather install.
  • Be prepared to keep a close eye on the roof for the rest of the winter, especially after heavy winds and make sure no blow-offs have occurred.  If they do, contact your roofing contractor right away.

I am not advocating for winter roof installation.  If your roof can wait until spring then I would strongly encourage you to wait.  But if you are in a situation where it needs to get done, an asphalt shingle roof can be successfully installed in the winter.