If you’re a homeowner, the prospect of a new roof can be as exciting as it is intimidating. A new roof is one of the largest investments you will ever make in your home and, if the job is done right, it will provide your family with peace-of-mind and years of comfortably dry living! That being said, the roofing industry has a language so uniquely its own that many people will find themselves a bit confused when it comes time to speak with a contractor in-person.
You may be surprised to learn that even the most recognizable features of your home (the attic for example) will take on new significance when speaking with a roofing contractor. So, before you call a professional, take a moment to familiarize yourself with these common roofing terms and you’ll be ready to talk the talk!
“Eaves” are the horizontal edges of your roof. Think of this as where your roof meets your gutters, which are responsible for water management by preventing leaks and damage frequently caused from water build-up. Under the covering of an eave, you will also find an “eave membrane”. This membrane goes under some (or all) of the shingles in order to prevent water infiltration caused by “ice dams” in the winter.
“Rakes” are the angled edges of your roof. At first, it can be easy to confuse “rakes” with “eaves” (and vice-versa) due to the similarity between the two. However, the easiest way to tell them apart is to remember that rakes are set at an angle, while eaves are completely horizontal. If an edge isn’t parallel to the ground, you’re looking at a rake.
A “ridge” is the horizontal line on the top of your roof. The ridge is often the single longest line that can be seen on most rooftops, and it designates the highest point of the roof’s frame, usually running along the attic itself. Most properties have a single ridge, but larger structures can feature multiple ridges. “Ridge vents” are installed along the ridge to help ventilate the attic by allowing any warm, moist air to escape.
“Hips” are the down-sloped ridges formed at the intersection between two sloping roof planes. Hips are something that you won’t find on every roof. Flat roofs, for example, don’t have hips. However, there are many popular styles of homes that feature hipped roof designs, including: “Hip and Valley”, “Overlaid Hip”, “Cross Hipped”, and “Pyramid Hipped”. Hexagonal gazebos have another recognizable hipped roof design.
“Valleys” are the “V-cut” angles formed along the junction of two slopes of a roof. As their name implies, valleys dip inward, making them the opposite of hips, which project outward. Since valleys are particularly vulnerable to water damage, they are commonly reinforced with a specialized underlayment membrane. In many cases, a “valley flashing” is also installed to help divert rain from the valleys to the gutter system. This is particularly important if you live in an area that receives a lot of cold weather. Valleys are prime locations for “ice dams,” which occur when melted rainwater refreezes and allows ice and water to accumulate under the roof.
“Flashing” is a resistant molding that prevents water from infiltrating the roof. There are various types of flashing, including aluminum, galvanized steel, and plastic. Depending on its application, flashing can either be flexible or rigid. Among the most common places you’ll find flashing are in valleys, at the bases of chimneys, and around roof vents. If flashing is applied to an area that’s located on an incline (like chimneys or dormers), “step flashing” is used. Step flashing gets its name from the way it’s applied. Contractors install individual pieces in a step-like fashion going up the vertical surface.
“Drip Edge” is a metal molding that is designed to prevent rain from infiltrating the roof by directing water away from shingles located near your eaves and gutters. Drip Edge is crafted in an L-shape which attaches to the edge of the roof, simultaneously blocking water from getting under the structure while reinforcing the fitting itself.
A “soffit” is a term for the enclosed underside of any overhanging eave. Soffits serve a purpose that is both aesthetic and functional. Aesthetically speaking, soffits cover the eaves of the roof, giving the home a more “buttoned-up” appearance by hiding visible rafters from sight. In terms of functionality, soffits allow air to be captured and circulated through the roof system, which is then directed to the attic, improving circulation, regulating temperature, and preventing moisture damage.
“Fascia” is the term for the long, straight boards that run along the lower roofline and support the bottom row of shingles or tiles. These boards prevent damage to the roof (as well as the home’s interior) by blocking moisture from getting in. Fascia is fixed to the roof’s lower trusses, allowing it to carry the additional weight of the gutter system. While most fascia boards are made from wood, materials like vinyl, aluminum and plastic are also available. Aesthetically, fascia creates a smooth appearance along the roof’s edge and gives you the option of adding an extra splash of color to your home.
“Underlayment” is an asphalt-saturated felt (or synthetic fabric) sheet that’s installed between the roof deck and outer layer of the roof to provide additional weather protection. The underlayment helps the roof shed water while protecting the outer layer from resin released by the decking. Underlayment is applied under all other roofing materials as an added layer of protection from severe weather. For this reason, many manufacturer warranties will require it to be installed by your contractor.
“Decking” is one of the most important structural features of your home. Decking is commonly made from 1/2-inch plywood. Its purpose is to enclose the roof structure, reinforce its strength, and provide a sturdy nail bed for shingles. If water infiltrates your roof’s outer layer, permeates your underlayment, and gets to the decking, you’ll need to have it repaired immediately. Otherwise, a more extensive replacement will be just around the corner.
“Roof vents” are an essential part of a well-ventilated home. These enclosed structures draw air from soffit vents located at the base of the roof and help regulate the temperature while also preventing the accumulation of moisture. Roof vents have fins which are made from metal or plastic and have four open sides, allowing them to capture wind from any direction. This creates a suction effect that pulls the air through the rest of the system. If you’re looking for increased sustainability, solar vents are great option that will also help reduce your power bill.
The attic is the space between your roof and the rest of your home. It’s extremely important to make sure your attic is properly ventilated. It helps protect your roof system from excessive heat in the summer and moldy moisture in the winter. The good news for homeowners is attic ventilation can be drastically improved by having your contractor install soffit vents. These vents allow your home to gather and circulate air from the base of the roof which is then directed to the attic by roof vents.
Having a roof that’s correctly insulated and ventilated makes a significant impact on the durability, efficiency and sustainability of your home. A healthy, sturdy roof can survive weather that would otherwise cause damage to the building’s structure, ultimately costing much more to fix than it would have cost to prevent. By understanding your roof system and effectively communicating your needs, you’ll already have a head-start when it’s time to call a professional.