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3-Tab Shingles – The Pros and Cons

When it comes to roofing materials, homeowners are often faced with a multitude of choices, each offering its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Among the most popular and enduring options is the 3-tab shingle.

Known for its classic appearance and cost-effectiveness, 3-tab shingles have been a staple in the roofing industry for decades. But are they the right choice for your home? In this blog post, I’ll get into the pros and cons of 3-tab shingles, exploring their features, advantages, and potential downsides.

Whether you’re considering a new roof or a replacement, understanding the strengths and limitations of 3-tab shingles will help you make an informed decision for your next roofing project.

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3-Tab Shingles – The Pros and Cons

Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons to help you decide if they’re right for your home:


Cost-effective… 3-tab shingles are one of the most budget-friendly roofing materials available. They’re less expensive to purchase and install compared to other options like architectural shingles.

Easy installation… Their simple design makes them easier and faster to install than other types of shingles. This can further reduce your roofing project costs.

Lightweight… 3-tab shingles are lighter than other roofing materials. This puts less stress on your roof structure and may be beneficial for older homes.

Wide availability… 3-tab shingles come in a variety of colors, so you should be able to find a color that complements your home’s exterior.


Shorter lifespan… Compared to other roofing materials, 3-tab shingles have a shorter lifespan, typically lasting around 15-20 years.

Lower wind resistance… Their flat design makes them more susceptible to wind damage, especially in high-wind areas.

Less curb appeal… 3-tab shingles have a flat, basic look that may not provide the same level of curb appeal as dimensional shingles.

More maintenance… They may require more frequent inspections and maintenance to ensure they are performing well.

Phasing out… Some manufacturers are starting to phase out 3-tab shingles, so finding replacement shingles for repairs in the future may become more difficult.

Overall, 3-tab shingles can be a good option for homeowners on a budget or for smaller roof repairs. However, if you’re looking for a longer-lasting roof with better wind resistance and curb appeal, you may want to consider other roofing materials.

How to Cut 3-Tab Shingles

Starter Shingles:

– You’ll need to cut shingles for the starter strip at the eave (bottom edge) of the roof.

– Flip a shingle upside down and find the straight edge without the tabs.

– Use a straight edge and utility knife to cut the shingle along its width, typically around 7 inches.

– You’ll use the part of the shingle without the tabs for the starter strip.

Hips and Ridges:

– When installing shingles around hips (where two sloped sides meet) and ridges (the peak at the top), you’ll need to cut the shingles to fit neatly.

– Shingle all the way up one side until the reveal portion of the shingles (the exposed part without asphalt) is within 4 inches of the peak/hip.

– Flip the shingle over and use a utility knife to cut a straight line just below the ridge or hip line.

– Repeat on the other side, ensuring the cut shingles on both sides overlap the ridge/hip by no more than 4 inches.

Here are some additional tips for cutting 3-tab shingles:

Sharp blade… Use a sharp utility knife to ensure clean cuts and prevent ragged edges.

Cutting surface… Use a flat, stable surface like a piece of plywood to cut the shingles.

Safety… Always wear gloves and safety glasses when cutting shingles.

Important Note:

While cutting shingles for starter strips and hips/ridges is manageable for DIY projects, remember that installing a roof is a complex task. If you’re not comfortable working at heights or lack experience with roofing, it’s highly recommended to hire a professional roofer for the entire project.

How Do I Nail 3-Tab Shingles

Nailing 3-tab shingles is a crucial step in securing your roof and ensuring its longevity.

Here’s how to properly nail them:


Nail Type… Use galvanized roofing nails with a minimum shank length that penetrates the roof deck by ¾ inch (typically 11 or 12 gauge with ¾” or 1″ length).

Nail Placement… There are generally two nailing patterns depending on your local wind codes and shingle manufacturer’s recommendations:

4-Nail Pattern (standard)… This is the most common method. Place 4 nails per shingle.

6-Nail Pattern (high wind areas) … Used in areas with strong winds or steeper roof slopes. Place 6 nails per shingle.

Nailing Technique:

Align the Shingle… Position the shingle according to your chosen exposure (typically 5-inch or 6-inch) and ensure proper overlap with the course below (around 2 inches for tabs).

Nail Location… Refer to your chosen nailing pattern (4 or 6 nails). Here’s a general guide for the 4-nail pattern:

First Nail… Drive a nail about 1 inch in from the left edge and ½ inch above the cutout slot.

Second Nail… Place a nail about 1 inch in from the right edge, mirroring the first nail’s position.

Third & Fourth Nails… Drive the remaining two nails centered above each cutout slot, again maintaining ½ inch distance above the slot.

Nail Depth and Straightness… Drive the nails straight so the head sits flush with the shingle surface without puncturing it.

Additional Tips:

Power Nailer (Optional)… While a hammer and roofing nails work, a power nailer can significantly speed up the process. Ensure you set the correct air pressure to avoid driving nails too deep.

Manufacturer’s Instructions… Always refer to the specific nailing pattern recommendations provided by the shingle manufacturer for optimal performance and warranty purposes. They may have slight variations from the general guidelines mentioned here.

Don’t Over-Nail… Avoid driving too many nails or placing them too close to the edges, which can damage the shingle and create weak points.

Remember, proper nailing is essential for a secure and weatherproof roof. If you’re unsure about any steps or have a complex roof design, consult a professional roofer for guidance.

Can I Use 3-Tab Shingles on a Low Slope Roof

No, it’s generally not recommended to use 3-tab shingles on a low slope roof (typically less than a 2:12 pitch).

Here’s why:

Water Shedding… 3-tab shingles rely on gravity to shed water effectively. Their flat design with minimal overlap creates shallow channels for water runoff. On a low slope, water can linger or pond on the roof surface, increasing the risk of leaks and moisture problems.

Shingle Sealing… The interlocking tabs on 3-tab shingles create a layer of protection against windblown rain. However, on a low slope, wind-driven rain can exploit the minimal tab coverage and penetrate under the shingles, leading to leaks.

Building Code Requirements… Most building codes will specify a minimum roof pitch for asphalt shingles, often around 2:12 or higher. This ensures proper water drainage and shingle performance. Using 3-tab shingles below the recommended pitch might not comply with codes and could lead to permitting issues.

Here are some alternative roofing options for low slope roofs:

Architectural Shingles… These shingles have a thicker, dimensional design with better interlocking tabs compared to 3-tab shingles. This provides improved water resistance for low slope applications (down to a 2:12 pitch in some cases, depending on the manufacturer).

Metal Roofing… Metal roofs are a great choice for low slopes. They are lightweight, durable, and very water-resistant. However, they can be more expensive than asphalt shingles.

Rubber Roofing Membranes… These membranes are specifically designed for low-slope applications and provide excellent water resistance. They come in various materials like EPDM and TPO and offer a long lifespan.

If you’re unsure about the best roofing material for your low slope roof, consult a professional roofer. They can assess your specific roof structure, local climate, and budget to recommend the most suitable option.

Do 3-Tab Shingles Need an Underlayment

Yes, 3-tab shingles absolutely need underlayment for several reasons:

Water Protection… Underlayment provides an extra layer of defense against water intrusion. Even a perfectly installed shingle roof can develop minor gaps over time due to wear and tear, or strong winds can blow rain under the shingles. Underlayment helps prevent water from leaking through these gaps and reaching the roof deck, which can cause major problems like rot and mold growth.

Secondary Barrier… If a shingle gets damaged or blows off, the underlayment acts as a secondary barrier to prevent water infiltration until repairs can be made.

Ice Dams… In cold locations, ice damming can form at the eaves of a roof, causing water to get up under the your shingles. Underlayment helps prevent this water from leaking into the roof structure.

Improved Durability… Underlayment protects the roof deck from the harsh effects of sunlight and heat, which can degrade the materials over time.

Better Performance… Underlayment can improve the overall performance of your asphalt shingle roof by helping it resist wind uplift and improve ventilation.

There are two main types of underlayment commonly used with asphalt shingles:

Felt Paper… This is a traditional material, but it’s less durable and breathable compared to synthetic underlayment.

Synthetic Underlayment… This is a newer material that is more water-resistant, breathable, and generally lasts longer than felt paper.

While some older building codes may not have explicitly required underlayment for asphalt shingle roofs, it has become a standard practice for professional roofers.  Skimming on underlayment can lead to significant problems down the road, so it’s always best to include it for a secure and long-lasting roof.

Can I Use 3-Tab Shingles for Ridge Capping?

It is not recommended to use 3-tab shingles for ridge capping.

Here’s why:

Design and Durability… 3-tab shingles are designed to shed water over the flat surface and rely on the tabs for some interlocking. They aren’t designed to withstand the direct exposure and harsh elements at the peak of the roof. They are thinner and less durable than dedicated ridge cap shingles, making them more susceptible to cracking, splitting, and wind uplift.

Water Protection… Cracked or broken 3-tab shingles on the ridge can create gaps where water can seep into the roof system, leading to leaks and potential damage.

Improper Ventilation… Ridge cap shingles are specifically designed to allow for proper roof ventilation, which is crucial for preventing moisture buildup and heat ventilation. 3-tab shingles used for ridge capping might hinder this airflow.

Aesthetics… 3-tab shingles used on the ridge won’t create a clean, finished look compared to ridge cap shingles designed to provide a uniform and aesthetically pleasing cap to the roof.

Warranty Issues… Using 3-tab shingles for ridge capping might void the warranty on your shingles or roofing system if it goes against the manufacturer’s recommendations.

While it may seem like a cost-saving option to use leftover 3-tab shingles for capping, it can lead to more expensive repairs down the road.

Here are some better options for ridge capping:

Ridge Cap Shingles… These are specifically designed for ridge capping. They are thicker, more durable, and have a profile that allows for proper ventilation. They come in a variety of colors to match your existing shingles.

Metal Ridge Cap… Metal offers excellent weather resistance and a clean look. However, it can be more expensive than asphalt ridge cap shingles.

If you’re looking for a cost-effective option, consider buying leftover or discounted ridge cap shingles from your local roofing supplier. They might be a better value than risking leaks and future repairs by using 3-tab shingles on your roof’s ridge.

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How to Use 3-Tab Shingles for Starter Strip

While using leftover 3-tab shingles for the starter strip can be a budget-friendly option, it’s not the ideal method.

Here’s why:

Improper Sealing… Standard 3-tab shingles have the asphalt sealant strip running along the bottom edge with the tabs above. Using a full shingle for the starter strip means this sealant ends up too high on the roof and doesn’t effectively seal the first course of shingles.

However, if you’re set on using 3-tab shingles for the starter strip, here’s how to modify them for a better seal:

Modified 3-Tab Shingle Starter Strip:

Materials… You’ll need a utility knife, a straight edge, and 3-tab shingles.

Cutting the Shingle… Take a shingle and flip it upside down, so the underside with the asphalt sealant is facing up.

Measure and cut… Using the straight edge and utility knife, cut off a strip along the width of the shingle, approximately 6 to 10 inches from the top edge (without tabs). This will leave you with a section that has the asphalt sealant along the bottom edge.

Starter Strip Installation… Install this modified shingle with the asphalt sealant strip at the bottom edge, flush against the eaves and overlapping the drip edge by about ½ inch. You can then continue with your normal shingle installation process.

Important Notes:

This method creates a makeshift starter strip, but it’s not as effective as using dedicated starter shingles specifically designed for sealing the first course of shingles.

Professional roofers recommend using pre-made starter shingles for optimal performance and to ensure a watertight roof.  They are readily available at roofing supply stores and provide a superior seal compared to modified 3-tab shingles.

If you’re unsure about any steps or tackling a complex roof project, consult a professional roofer for guidance and to ensure a secure and long-lasting roof.

Here’s a Video Showing the process of installing a shingle roof.

How to Install 3-Tab Shingles

Installing 3-tab shingles is a physically demanding job that can be dangerous if not done properly. It’s recommended to hire a professional roofer for larger projects or if you’re not comfortable working at heights.

However, if you’re still determined to DIY a small roof project, here’s a general overview of the steps involved:

Safety First:

– Always prioritize safety. Use proper fall protection equipment like a harness and lifeline.

– Work with a partner whenever possible.

– Be aware of weather conditions and avoid working on wet or slippery roofs.


– 3-tab shingles (enough to cover your roof area with some extra for waste)

– Roofing underlayment (felt paper or synthetic underlayment)

– Starter strips

– Drip edge metal

– Shingle nails

– Roofing cement

– Utility knife

– Hammer

– Roofing nails

– Power Nailer (optional, but recommended for faster installation)

– Tape measure

– Chalk line

– Safety glasses, gloves, and shoes


Ryans Shed Plans

Prepare the Roof Deck… Ensure the roof deck is structurally sound and free of debris. Repair any damaged areas.

Install Roof Underlayment… Roll out the underlayment starting at the eaves and work your way up the roof. Overlap the underlayment by a minimum of 4 inches and use roofing nails or staples to secure it temporarily.

Install Drip Edge… Attach drip edge metal along the eaves of the roof to protect the fascia board from water runoff.

Install Starter Shingles… Apply a starter strip along the eave, overhanging the drip edge by about ½ inch.  Cut the starter strip shingles in half so the tabs don’t line up with the course above.

Shingle Installation… There are two common shingle layouts for 3-tab shingles:  6-inch exposure and 5-inch exposure.

6-inch exposure (recommended for most projects) … Snap chalk lines on the roof deck to ensure straight shingle rows. Shingles are applied with a 6-inch overhang, with each course overlapping the tabs of the course below by about 2 inches.

5-inch exposure… This method provides a slightly different aesthetic but offers less wind resistance. Shingles are applied with a 5-inch overhang and the tabs line up every 7th course.

Valley Installation… Valleys (where two roof slopes meet) require special attention to prevent leaks.  Consult a professional roofer or detailed instructions for proper valley installation.

Ridge Cap Installation… Once the field shingles are installed, cover the ridge with ridge cap shingles following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Cleanup… Remove all debris from the roof and surrounding areas.

Remember, this is a simplified overview, and there are additional details and techniques involved in proper shingle installation. It’s crucial to ensure a watertight and long-lasting roof.  If you’re unsure about any steps, consult a professional roofer.

Related Reading

The Pros and Cons of Painting Roof Shingles

Pros and Cons of Architectural Shingles

How to Install Roll Roofing on a Flat Roof?

Rolled Roofing Vs 3-Tab Shingles

How Many Types of Roofing Shingles are There?

Is a Metal Roof Cheaper Than Shingles?

What’s the Best Roofing Shingles for a Shed?

How To Measure a Roof for Shingles?