1. First off, you need some good tarps. If you are in an area devastated by a hurricane, look for a FEMA assistance trailer. They may be able to get your home tarped for you. If not, they might have tarps you can use to do it yourself. Although they have been criticized in the past for various things, I WILL say this about FEMA — they have HEAVY DUTY tarps. They probably pay $800 a piece for them and chose them after a five-year multi-million dollar study, but they are really good. Try to get those if you can.
2. The problem with most of the cheap blue tarps you get at the home improvement stores is that they just don’t hold up very long in the sun and wind. It may be months before you can get a new roof. Go for the heavy-duty ones or you may find yourself doing this emergency roof repair twice.
3. Wood battens will help to secure the tarps in place. The size to get is 1″ x 2″ and they come with or without pressure treating. Either one is fine. Get enough so you can run them VERTICALLY about every four feet apart from the eave to the ridge. Don’t run the battens horizontally if you can help it, as that tends to trap water that can get in at the nail holes.
4. You will also need nails to hold the battens on. Although a framing nail gun makes short work of this emergency roof repair, a hammer and eight-penny common nails will do just fine. Drive the nails about two feet apart and keep them at least a foot away from the valleys.
5. Don’t tarp any more than you need to. Areas that have been tarped usually need to be re-roofed because of all the nail holes through the roofing. If only the back of your home is torn up, just tarp the back. But you do need to make sure the tarp is “counter-flashed” to make sure water can’t run under it. That means tucking it under the roofing or running the tarp all the way to the ridge.
6. A word to the wise… Some tarps are slippery to walk on and especially treacherous when wet. Plan your work so you can avoid walking on them as much as possible. You should also be tied off to the roof with a rope and harness. If you can’t do it is safely, don’t do it. It’s better to wait for FEMA or a roofing contractor than risk life or limb.