Our offers 5% off on senior Veteran Discount

Our offers 5% off on senior Veteran Discount

Get In Touch
(412) 353-5660

A Closer Look at the Different Parts of a Roof

Posted on : April 18, 2024

A Closer Look at the Different Parts of a Roof

Roofs are among the most noticeable parts of your home. But have you ever stopped to think about all of its components? A roof is more complex than just the shingles or tiles you see on the surface. It comprises many parts, each important in protecting your home. In this blog post, we'll examine the significant parts of a roof and what they do.

At McClellands Contracting and Roofing, we understand that your roof is a significant investment, and knowing the anatomy of a roof is mandatory for a homeowner. We are here to provide a closer insight into parts of a roofing system so you know exactly what you’re paying for!

1. Roof Trusses or Rafters

Roof Trusses or Rafters

Rafters and trusses are critical parts of a roof's anatomy, providing support and shape. 

Rafters are long, slanted wood or metal beams that extend from the top of the walls to create the pitched roof shape, while trusses are triangular frames of multiple wooden pieces joined together into one unit.

Rafters are custom-cut on-site, and trusses are prefabricated in a factory and delivered ready to install. Rafters offer more attic space for future conversions, while trusses provide more substantial support due to their webbing and are easier to install. 

The choice between rafters and trusses depends on the project's specific needs, including budget, design preferences, and attic space or structural support.

2. Joist

Roof Joist

A joist is a horizontal structural element often placed between beams to distribute loads to vertical elements in the framing and span an open area. Usually made of steel, wood, or synthetic wood, joists give the subfloor sheathing rigidity and enable it to act as a horizontal diaphragm.

The joist's depth is essential to building a secure, sturdy floor or ceiling structure. Its stability is increased by lateral support, which keeps the joist from buckling under stress.

The standard method for calculating the joist depth needed for a residential property is to take the span in feet, divide it by two, add two, and then use the resultant figure as the depth in inches. Steel joist manufacturers often provide load charts so designers can choose the appropriate one. 

3. Roof Sheathing

Roof Sheathing

Roof sheathing, or roof decking, is crucial to roof construction and is another significant roof part. In roof anatomy, roof sheathing is the first layer of a roof, it is installed over rafters or trusses to create a flat, solid surface on which the outer roofing material will be installed. Roof sheathing is one of the hidden roof parts that is not visible from the outside. 

Roof sheathing materials include plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), or planks, and they come in various thicknesses depending on the weather conditions, such as snow loads, in the area.

Proper roof sheathing installation is essential for the roof's structural integrity and to prevent decay. The spacing between rafters or trusses and the type of roof covering used will also determine the thickness of the sheathing material.

4. Underlayment 

Roof Underlayment 

The roofing underlayment, such as asphalt-saturated felt or synthetic, is a waterproof or water-resistant material installed directly on the roof deck underneath the visible roof covering. 

It is an extra layer of protection against moisture penetration if the outer roof covering is damaged or gaps or holes develop. This underlayment is crucial for safeguarding the roof structure from water damage and ensuring the integrity of the roof system by providing a barrier against leaks and moisture intrusion.

5. Roof Covering

Roof Covering

The most visible part of a roof is the outer covering of weatherproof materials. The roof covering is responsible for waterproofing and protection and can be various materials, including asphalt shingles, clay tiles, slate, metal panels, and wood shakes. 

The type of roof covering you choose for your home depends on several factors, such as aesthetic appeal, the kind of home, local weather conditions, temperatures, and homeowners association (HOA) regulations. Proper roof covering selection is significant for the roof's functionality and longevity.

6. Starter Shingles

Starter Shingles

Starter shingles are the first roofing material installed in a shingle roofing system, covering the roof edge and providing protection against water intrusion. They are the initial shingles installed on the roof before the other roof shingles, ensuring complete water-shedding coverage. 

Starter shingles typically match the style and color of the rest of the shingles and have a sealant strip for added protection. These are crucial for creating a secure seal and reducing the risk of leaks and potential damage caused by wind-driven rain. 

Starter shingles are integral in the overall wind resistance and roof protection, providing a foundation for the roof shingles to be installed.

7. Flashing


Roof flashing is thin strips of waterproof material, typically aluminum or galvanized steel, installed at roof intersections with vertical surfaces such as walls, chimneys, skylights, or vents.

Flashing directs water away from these intersections and prevents leaks. It is bent and shaped to create a waterproof seal between the roof and any protruding structures.

8. Drip Edge

A drip edge is a thin piece of metal flashing laid along the margins of a roof where the shingles or other roofing material meet the eaves and overhangs. It is installed under the roofing components, extends slightly over the roof's edge, and includes a flange that bends away from the fascia. 

This design helps to create a small space between the edge and the roof of the building, which directs water away from the fascia and into the gutters. They offer excellent protection against water damage and help prevent pests from entering and nesting on the roof. 

Drip edges are available in different materials, such as galvanized steel, aluminum, and stainless steel, and come in various finishes to coordinate with your roof and trim. 

9. Fascia


The horizontal board that connects the ends of the rafters or trusses to the lower borders of the roof is called the fascia. 

Fascia can be made of wood, metal, vinyl, or PVC and fulfills several essential purposes. First, it gives the roofline a polished and seamless appearance. Second, it supports the gutter system, as the gutters are attached directly to the boards. 

It also prevents water infiltration and shields the outside and inside of the house from damage caused by moisture. Although fascia boards are a crucial part of the roofing and gutter system, they are sometimes concealed behind the gutters, making them less noticeable. 

10. Soffit


The soffit is the material that encloses the underside surface of a roof overhang. It spans the gap between the roof's edge and the house's exterior walls. Soffits are among the vital parts of a roof due to their functional and aesthetic purposes. 

Their primary role is ventilation - soffits are often vented with intake vents or perforations to allow outside air to go into the attic or rafter space. This airflow is essential for removing heat and moisture that can build up in those areas. Without sufficient roof ventilation, excess heat and humidity can deteriorate roof framing and sheathing over time. 

Proper soffit ventilation works with exhaust vents at the roof's peak, like ridge or box vents, to create continuous airflow. As cool, dry air enters through the soffit vents, it replaces the hotter, humid air exiting the top vents.

Beyond ventilation, soffits also conceal and protect the exposed rafter ends along the roof's overhang, giving a finished look. Soffits require periodic inspection and maintenance, as clogged vents, pest nests, or damage can impair their venting ability. 

11. Gutters and Downspouts

Gutters and Downspouts

Although not technically part of the roof, gutters and downspouts are critical roofing system  components. Gutters are shallow troughs that run along the roof's edges to catch rainwater. By channeling the rainwater and melting ice, gutters protect other parts of a roof from water damage.

Downspouts are the vertical pipes that carry this water down from the gutters and direct it away from the home's foundation. Proper gutters and downspouts protect the roof, walls, and foundation from water damage.

12. Roof Vents

Roof Vents

A roof vent is a way for your home and roof to breathe. It allows extra heat to escape and pulls fresh air through the attic. They are available in various types, including wind turbines, box vents, soffit vents, and gable vents.  

Many roofs have a ridge vent running along the horizontal peak where the two sloped roof surfaces meet. A slotted vent covers this aperture, letting moisture and heat from the attic escape.

Ridge vents work with soffit vents to create a balanced ventilation system, reducing heat transfer and any moisture in the attic, which can lead to energy inefficiency and damage to the roofing system. 

No matter the type you have, roof vents are an essential roofing component, providing several benefits, including reduced energy consumption, improved interior comfort, extended roof lifespan, and enhanced curb appeal.

13. Vent Pipe

roof Vent Pipe

A vent pipe allows gas to escape from a sewage storage tank. It regulates the air in a plumbing system and prevents pressure differentials that can affect connecting fixtures. A vent pipe is among the mandatory parts of a roofing system, and can be made of metal, plastic, or other materials. Vent pipes are an essential part of a roof for every home, regardless of the climate, as they help regulate the plumbing system. 

14. Skylight

A skylight is a window installed on the roof's surface to bring natural light into the interior space below. Skylights are available in various sizes, forms, and styles, including flat and domed designs.

Proper skylight installation requires cutting an opening in the roof decking, building a structure to mount the skylight frame, and adding flashing and sealants around the frame. 

Older skylights were prone to leaking over time, but newer models are more dependable when installed correctly. Skylights are best installed during a roof replacement to minimize flashing issues.

15. Chimney 


A chimney is a vertical structure containing a vent or passageway that removes smoke, gases, and other materials from a fire or furnace. Proper chimney flashing is intricate but vital to prevent water leaks around this significant roof penetration. 

Step flashing interweaves with the shingles on the roof, while counter flashing is placed over top to ensure a watertight seal. Finally, a cricket or saddle piece is added at the back side of the chimney to divert water away. 

Regular inspections are needed as this flashing can fail over time due to building movement or corrosion.

16. Ice & Water Shield

An ice and water shield is a waterproofing underlayment installed beneath the roofing materials. It consists of a rubber-based adhesive layer with a waterproof polymeric surface. 

An ice and water shield is applied along the roof eaves and valleys and around roof penetrations to prevent water infiltration caused by ice dams or wind-driven rain. This added layer of protection is critical in cold climates where melting snow can refreeze and force water underneath shingles, leading to costly leaks. Many building codes in these areas now require an ice and water shield.

17. Roof Valley

Roof Valley

A roof valley is a V-shaped channel where two roof slopes intersect, allowing water to flow down your roof. It is a crucial part of the roof system and is prone to leaks due to the amount of water that flows through it.

Roof valleys can be open or closed, and the type of roof valleys you have will determine the material installed to prevent leaks. Open valleys have no roofing material installed over the valley, while the roofing material covers closed valleys.

Both valleys need suitable materials installed to avoid leaks, such as ice and water shields or metal flashing. Roof valleys are prone to leaks because they are regularly exposed to running water, and debris can collect in the valley, causing damage to the roof surface. 

18. Hip

Hip roof

In a hipped roof design, the hip is the slanted ridge formed where two roof planes intersect at an external corner or angle. 

Hipped roofs have no flat gable ends, with all of the sides sloping downwards to the walls. The hip rafters project outwards from this external peak at either end. While more labor-intensive to frame, hipped roofs can provide extra strength and roof surface area. 

They also have a smoother, pyramid-like geometric aesthetic. Proper hip framing and weatherproofing at these intersecting ridges are crucial to prevent leaks.

Final Thoughts

While a roof may seem like just the visible shingles or tiles on top, it is an intricate system made of many components. Each part of a roof plays a role in the roof's structural integrity, water protection, and ventilation. We’ve covered just some of the different parts of a roof that are standard and essential. From the rafters providing the shape to the underlayment and flashing preventing leaks to the ridge vents allowing airflow, all these parts of a roof work together and make a structure that safely shelters and protects your home for years.

Call The Best Roofing Company In Pittsburgh For Your Roof Replacement Project

At McClellands Contracting and Roofing, we understand the importance of a secure roofing system for your home. We have a team of experienced roofing professionals, and we are known for our top-quality workmanship. We are here to assist you if you need roof replacement services. Feel free to call us at (412) 353-5660 today!

Schedule A Consultation

Footer Form

By submitting, you allow McClellands Contracting and Roofing LLC to contact you by phone, email, or text for more information. You can opt-out at any time. We will never share your personal information with third parties. Standard message/data rates may apply, and your consent is not tied to making a purchase.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Instant Quote Icon


Get a quote for your roof in under a minute!