Understanding Roof Terminology: How to Talk Shop With Your Roofing Contractor

Homeowner Learning

Author: Amy Freeman | April 21, 2020

The next time there's an issue with your roof, knowing the right roof terminology can help you and your contractor get on the same page. Being familiar with a few basic structural terms helps you understand what your contractor is talking about when they describe what's going on with your roof or suggest a repair option.

Man and woman on a laptop
Knowing what terms to use with your contractor can help you explain what's going on with your roof.

Here's a quick A-Z guide of basic roof terminology that will help you tell your dormer from your drip edge.

1. Asphalt

Asphalt is a semi-solid form of petroleum that's usually either black or brown. It's not just for paving roads. This sticky material is found in many different types of roofing products, including shingles, felt and roof cement. Asphalt roofing tiles are the most popular choice for U.S. homes.

2. Decking

Decking, or the roof deck, is the base or foundation of the roof. It's also sometimes called sheathing. The roof deck lies under the shingles and is usually made of plywood, but on larger commercial buildings it might be steel or concrete.

3. Dormer

A dormer is a structure that sticks up from the rest of a sloped roof, most commonly to cover a window and add light or make an interesting architectural feature.

4. Drip Edge

The drip edge is a type of flashing, or metal strip, that is installed along the horizontal edges of the roof near the gutters. Its purpose is to keep water from seeping under the roof.

5. Eaves

The eaves are the part of the roof that extends beyond the walls of the house. Eaves help to direct water off the roof and away from the house. They often contain vents to improve air circulation in the attic.

6. Flashing

Flashing refers to metal strips that are installed around edges and gaps to the outside to help waterproof and weatherproof a roof. Drip edges are an example of flashing. You'll also find flashing around chimneys or wall edges and in seams where two corners of the roof join together.

7. Ice Dam

An ice dam is a block of ice on a roof that keeps snow and water from draining away. Ice dams can form on roofs in areas that get a lot of snow and experience temperatures well below freezing, according to Everybody Needs a Roof. Your contractor might reference ice dams when talking about ways to avoid them, like cleaning the gutters or repairing a roof that is shedding shingles or debris.

8. Ridge

The ridge is the highest point on the roof, where the two sides come together.

9. Slope

The slope, or pitch, of the roof refers to the angle of its sides. Many residential roofs are steep-slope roofs, while commercial buildings often have low-slope roofs. The slope of a roof is often expressed as a ratio of vertical rise over horizontal run, such as 6:12.

10. Soffit

The soffit is the underside of the eaves. Usually, it is finished to be aesthetically pleasing.

11. Underlayment

The underlayment is a layer of felt or other material that is sandwiched between the shingles and the roof deck. This layer helps to improve the durability and weather resistance of the roof.

12. Valley

The valley is the depression that forms when two sections of the roof join together. It's usually covered in flashing and meant to help water run off of the roof.

13. Vents

Vents are openings in the roof that help air circulate through the attic. Common places for vents include the ridge or under the eaves. A vent can also be a structure that sticks up out of the roof.

The next time you call a contractor for your roofing project, familiarize yourself with these roofing terms to better understand what they'll be doing to your roof and why.

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