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How to Tarp a Roof in Case of Emergency (Step-by-Step)

If your home has sustained roof damage, one method of securing it against additional deterioration is to tarp it. Most people, however, have no idea how to do that in a way that will stand up to severe weather and its aftermath until a more permanent roof repair can be completed.

Attempting to tarp a roof if you do not know how to do it is also dangerous, especially in bad weather without the proper safety equipment.

The following are step-by-step instructions on using a roof tarp as a temporary fix to secure the damaged area until you can repair it.

The Benefits of a Tarp

how to tarp a roof protecting home

A waterproof tarp protects roof damage from further damage in bad weather. A damaged roof can lead to missing shingles, leaks, and even exposing the inside of your home to the elements. 

A roof tarp will protect your roof against wind, rain, ice, and snow until you can make emergency repairs.

A competently done tarp on your roof can protect it against the elements almost indefinitely. A tarp can be so effective that in the northern USA, where roof damage happens in the winter, tarping a roof and leaving it until spring is a common practice if the roof damage is too severe to tackle in the cold.

What You Need

The tools, equipment, and materials you need are basic and available at any local hardware store or big box home improvement center. You will need the following basic necessities to complete your tarping:

  • Hammer
  • Tape measure
  • Cap nails and screws
  • Tarp (at least 2, as big as you can get them, and waterproof)
  • Long screws (any screws longer than 2 inches will work)
  • Ladder
  • Sandbags or heavy objects to hold the tarp on the roof before anchoring
  • Broom to clear debris before you put the tarp on a roof
  • Anchor boards (2 x 4 is preferable, and you will need several of them)
  • Safety equipment (gloves, safety harness, rubber-soled boots, protective headgear)

Depending on how big of a job you face as you wrap your roof in a tarp or tarps, you may also want to invest in a screw gun. Also, if you are not familiar with working on a roof or are completely in the dark regarding how to tarp a roof, you may want to hire a roofing contractor to do the tarping.

At least, a roofing professional can give you some basic tips on how to tarp a roof for the short term, if for no other reason than to avoid causing further damage to your property and to prevent water from seeping into your home.

How to Tarp a Roof

how to tarp a roof using equipment

Here are instructions on how to tarp a roof damaged by wind, rain, ice, or snow.

Inspect the Damaged Area

While a leaky roof on your house is easy to spot when there is water damage, not every type of damage is as obvious. Wait until the storm has passed, and then look over the section you think might be damaged. You are looking for the following:

  • Leaky roof (look for them from the inside and externally)
  • Loose or missing shingles
  • Holes in the roof
  • Granules in your gutters or flat sections of the roof

To ensure you get the most out of your inspection and stay safe, here is some advice:

  • Wait until the storm has passed. Even a passing storm can mean gusts of wind, lightning, falling debris, and very slippery conditions
  • Only assess the damage during a storm if there is no other choice
  • Use your safety gear
  • Avoid walking on any inclines or stepping onto the damage
  • Do not work alone if you can help it
  • Document the storm damage you can for insurance purposes


Give yourself four feet of excess tarp around the edges of the damage. Including extra at the end of the tarp will also ensure that you can add several rows of anchors to secure the tarp to your roof.

Position and Anchor the Tarp

how to tarp a roof using sandbags

Pull your tarp into position around the roof damage. Make sure that on each side, there is excess tarp to create an ample buffer. Work from one side, across the tarp to the other, and secure the tarp in place with your sandbags or heavy objects. Sandbags give you some leeway to anchor your 2 x 4 boards without tearing the tarp.

Once the tarp is in place and secured by sandbags, lay your 2 x 4 around the sandbags. You should use at least one anchor board per sandbag and, if possible, use one anchor board on each side of the sandbag. Do not worry about damaging the roof, as you will have to replace the shingles in the entire area the tarp covers.

If you are using your tarp over the long term, double fold your tarp and put 2 x 4s in the fold. Lay the folded part of the tarp over the peak side of the roof. Use cap nails to affix the 2 x 4s into the tarp and roof one foot below your side of the peak. Nail or screw the other boards around the damaged area.

Here are a few tips to help you secure the tarp:

  • Sweep the damaged area as much as possible to remove all debris
  • Pull the tarp tight when you lay it on the roof
  • Place enough 2 x 4s on the roof to ensure that wind cannot get underneath
  • Any anchor board that will hold a screw is acceptable
  • Do not try by yourself
  • Be careful to only walk on the edges to avoid further damage
  • You can also nail or staple the edges of the tarp to help keep out the elements

Final Thoughts

Tarps on your house can be an emergency fix that prevents damage, but it is not something to rely on for the long term. Get an experienced roofer out to repair the roof as soon as possible. The quicker a roofing contractor can make repairs, the less additional damage to the wood in your roof can be done.

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