How to Remove Tar and Gravel Roof

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Removing a tar and and gravel roof means hard labor. To cut down on the sweating and broken backs, the right tools are absolutely essential. If you just go at the tar and gravel roof with a shovel, you are going to be up there all day, all week or all month. Additionally, never try to remove a tar and gravel roof by yourself. Enlist the help of strong men or women who can work steadily and endure a good muscle burn. Pay attention to the weather and schedule the work for a warm, dry day.

Things You'll Need

  • Roofing tear-off shovel
  • Roofing spudders
  • Pry bars
  • Carbide roofing blades
  • Motorized roofing saw, stripper, and/or spudder (optional)
  • Heavy-duty tarps
  • Wheelbarrows or roofing carts
  • Tall-backed waste disposal trailer
  • Nail magnets
  • Roofing brooms
  • Heavy work gloves
  • Safety glasses or sunglasses
  • Plenty of water
  • Sunscreen
  • Hats with brims

Weather, Safety and Work Attire

  • Pay attention to the weather. A warm, dry day is best for tearing off a tar and gravel roof. The warmth of the sun will soften the tar and make it easier to peel up.

  • Stay cool. If you must work in temperatures over 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, require your crew to wear sunscreen, sunglasses or safety glasses, hats with brims and white t-shirts to stay cool. Keep a full keg of ice water on the roof with you as you work.

  • Use breathing masks. The dust and other pollutants found on all roofs are carcinogens that can cause long- and short-term health problems. Change masks as the old one becomes saturated.

  • Have all crew members wear flat-soled shoes without any cleats or thick treads. Cleats and the like will pack the tar and gravel into the roofing membrane, making it chunky and hard to lift up even with the aid of the proper tools.

The Right Tools

  • Give each crew member a roofing tear-off shovel. Your tear-off shovel is your best friend when it comes to removing a tar and gravel roof. It should have a flat, relatively sharp lip with which to both shovel gravel and shave off tar from the roof membrane.

  • Break up the tar and gravel roof with a carbide roofing cutter. It must be carbide because it is stronger and stiffer than anything else. If you don't plan to remove the roofing membrane along with the tar and gravel, make sure you are cutting only as deep as necessary.

  • Use a roofing spudder or pry bar when the tear-off shovel or cutter do not work. This is for the nitty-gritty work in which small bits of tar and gravel have stuck to the roofing membrane. Aim your shots with the roofing spudder and be sure to keep the blade away from your feet, shins, knees, thighs, and free hand.

  • Consider that if you are into spending the big bucks and wish to cut your workload down by a factor of ten, you can invest in a motorized roof saw, roof stripper or spudding machine. These lawnmower-sized behemoths will eat your tar and gravel roof right up. They range in the thousands of dollars, but pay for themselves by saving on labor costs over the course of two or three tear-off jobs.

Waste Removal and Clean up

  • Use wheelbarrows, roofing carts and tarps to transport tar and gravel to a tall-backed trailer. If using a tarp, make sure you use a heavy-duty, high-thread-count model. No tarp will last forever, but the heavy-duty ones will last much longer.

  • Keep the surrounding area clean. Use a nail magnet to sweep the area surrounding the structure and pick up any nails or other pieces of metal that might have been left on the roof from a previous era.

  • Finish when every last bit of tar, gravel or roofing rubber has been torn off.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you choose to just remove the tar and the gravel from the roof without the membrane, extra skill and experience is needed to avoid marring the rubber. Chances are, however, you will have to replace the rubber as well.
  • Anyone who works on a roof even once should be up-to-date on their tetanus shots, as a matter of course.
  • Make sure your clean up effort is thorough or even redundant. Nails and other debris left on the ground can hurt area adults and children alike.
  • When using roofing tools such as carbide blades and roofing spudders, think before you strike.

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