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A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Roofing Terms

If you’re in the market for a new roof, you might be overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar roofing terms that are thrown about as you shop around for roofing quotes. Understanding roofing terminology isn’t easy if you don’t work in the business, so we’ve created this handy guide, in which we define the most common roofing terms you’ll come across.

Guide to Common Roofing Terms

Asphalt: A bituminous waterproofing agent used in various types of roofing materials

Course: A row of shingles or roll roofing running horizontally across the length of the roof

Decking: The sheet material, usually plywood, that’s fastened to the rafters in your attic. Roofing materials, such as underlayment and shingles, are then attached to your roof’s decking

Dormer: A small structure projecting from a sloped roof, usually with a window

Downspout: A pipe that’s fastened to the sides of your home and directs water from your roof’s gutters away from your house

Drip edge: An L-shaped sheet metal strip installed along roof edges to allow water run off to drip clear of the decking, eaves, and siding, and prevent moisture from getting behind the fascia boards

Eave: The underside of your roof in the area that extend from the fascia boards to your home’s outside walls

Fascia: The exposed boards you see on the front edges of your roof’s overhangs (eaves). These boards, which can be made of aluminum, wood, or vinyl, encase the tails (ends) of your roof’s rafters. Your home’s gutter system is attached to the fascia board.

Flashing: Sheet metal material that’s used to prevent water from entering any intersection or projection in a roof system, such as vent pipes, chimneys, valleys, and joints

Gable: The upper portion of your home’s exterior wall that comes to a triangular point at the ridge of a sloping roof

Gable roof: A type of roof containing a sloping plane on each side of a single ridge with a gable at each end

Gambrel roof: A type of gabled roof that features two sloping planes of different pitch on each side of the ridge

Gutter: These troughs are attached to your home’s fascia board and collect water run-off from your home’s roof, directing it into the downspouts

Hip roof: A type of roof without gables that features sloping planes of the same pitch on all four sides

Ice dam: Condition in which ice and snow thaws and refreezes at the lower edges of a roof (eaves). Ice dams can result in water backing up and collecting under shingles, causing interior leaks and water damage

Laminate Shingles: Shingles made from two separate pieces that are laminated together. Also called dimensional shingles and architectural shingles.

Louvers: This component, which features slats or strips to allow air to flow through, is installed in a gable or soffit to ventilate the space below a roof deck and equalize air temperature and moisture.

Mansard roof: A roof that has four sloping sides, each of which becomes steeper halfway down

Natural ventilation: A ventilation system that uses non-mechanical vents installed in openings in the attic and properly positioned to take advantage of natural air flow, in order to draw out hot or moist interior air and replace it with fresh outside air

Overhang: That portion of the roof structure that extends beyond the exterior walls of a building.

Pitch: The degree of roof incline expressed as the ratio of the rise, in feet, to the span, in feet

Rafter Tails: A gable roof is framed with rafters that run diagonally from the ridge of the roof down to the eaves. The portion of the rafter that extends beyond your exterior wall is called the rafter tail. Often, rafter tails are encased by fascia board and soffits, but sometimes they are left exposed for decorative purposes.

Rafters: The supporting framing—visible in the ceilings of unfinished attics—to which a roof deck is attached

Ridge: The top edge of two intersecting sloping roof surfaces

Rise: The vertical distance from the eaves to the ridge of your roof

Sheathing: see decking

Shed roof: A roof that features a single sloping plane and has no hips, ridges, valleys or gables.

Soffit: The finished underside of the eaves, usually only visible if you look up when standing next to one of your home’s exterior walls

Starter Strip: Asphalt roofing attached at the eaves that provides protection by filling in the spaces under the cutouts and joints of the first course of shingles.

Underlayment: Asphalt-based sheet material designed to be installed under shingles to serve as added protection from the elements

Valleys: Area in which two adjoining sloped roof planes intersect on a roof, creating a “V” shaped depression.

Vent: Any outlet for air that protrudes through the roof deck, such as a pipe or stack. Any device installed on the roof, gable, or soffit for the purpose of ventilating the underside of the roof deck

What to Do with Your New Roofing Vocabulary

Now that we’ve enhanced your understanding of common roofing terminology, you might find yourself defining roofing terms at your next cocktail party! Well, maybe not, but we hope we’ve left you better equipped to have educated conversations with roofing companies about your reroofing project. And since, if you’re reading this post, you’re probably thinking about reroofing your home, why not give us a call today at 973-927-0963? We’ve been in the roofing business right here in northern New Jersey for over 35 years. We look forward to hearing from you!

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