What goes on a Roof: Our Top 15 Items – 

What goes on a roof? From Significant to Superficial

You cannot repair a roof until you know what goes on one. It’s obvious, but not everyone has the stones to ask. For your continual education (and dignity), we present 15 components to a roof. We have divided them into the essentials, the technology of tomorrow, and the extravagant. So what constitutes a roof?

What goes on a Roof – The Trusses

Trusses are to houses what chassis are to cars. Strip away the rest and what’s left are the trusses. Residential homes almost always sport wooden models. Not quite a roof by themselves, though. Let’s start with something familiar.

What Goes ona RoofWhat goes on a Roof – The Essentials

1) Shingles

It doesn’t take a certified roofer to know shingles belong on top. But have you wondered what’s underneath? Shingles are first installed over a felt moisture barrier. The felt in turn is lain over plywood sheets or OSB boards (sheathing). The shingles job is to repel the elements, thereby keeping you comfortable and dry. Felt barriers are a last resort.

Remember this limerick: Let moisture in, the rotting begins.

There are several shingle types. Asphalt is most common, but fiberglass, wood & shake, and slate are available. For information about how hail affects shingles, click here.

  • Asphalt – Used on residential homes. Cost efficient compared with other shingle types. Easy to install and may last up to 50 years. ‘Faux asphalt’ shingles have appearance of its brethren.
  • Fiberglass – Often a composition between asphalt and plastic fibers. Mixed with waterproofing mineral fillers. Fire resistant.
  • Wood & Shake – Made from pine, redwood, cedar, or cypress. Wooden shingles appear seamless whilst shakes have thick ends.
  • Slate – These last a lifetime. That’s not hyperbole! Slate shingles can outlast their owner. Naturally, their cost is considerably higher than common asphalt. Slate is mined beneath the Earth’s surface.


2) Sheathing

You know, the thing that actually covers trusses! A minimum require to have a roof.

We don’t want to trivialize sheathing’s role. Properly installed sheathing mitigates structural collapse. Plywood predates OSB, yet the former is widely used in America today. Plywood is smooth, weather-resilient, and durable. OSB board has the appearance of glued wooden scraps – because it is!

So why use OSB? The Almighty Dollar.

Plywood is double OSB’s cost. You’re still getting an amazing product under budget. From the University of Massachusetts Amherst:

Florida’s Dade county is the only building code district in the country that prohibits the use of osb as a roof deck. Damage to roofs during hurricane Andrew were originally blamed on osb’s poor nail-holding power. Dade’s banning of osb spawned several research initiatives to explore the suitability of osb as a structural sheathing. Research conducted by APA, Chow, LaTona and others have conclusively proven osb seaworthy.


3) Drainage

Exactly what it sounds like. Roof drainage moves rain water in to sewage or a retaining area. Drainage types are as varied as roofs themselves. For example, drainage on wooden decks are wooden sump pans. On rubber roofs, drainage systems span the entire surface area.

Most people notice grated domes on flat roofs. That is a drain!


4) Gutter

Houses are outfitted with gutters to catch leaves.

Just kidding. We do, however, recommend hiring a professional to clean them. Speaking broadly, there is the gutter itself and a downspout.

Fun fact: Canadians refer to gutters as ‘eavestroughs.’

Their obvious purpose is to catch and divert water away from your home. Downspouts should be at minimum 3 feet from the foundation. Splash blocks were designed to prevent lawn soil erosion. Some ingenuitive home-handypeople craft humorous downspout attachments.


5) Drip Edge

Subtle yet important. Rain water runs off healthy shingles in to the gutter. Worn shingles tend to curl in towards a house. There is a small gap where shingles and the gutter meet. Rain water can run off worn shingles and through this gap!

The fix is simple. Install sheet-metal drip edge strips underneath the shingles and partially over the gutters. This guarantees water will run into the gutter despite the shingles eventual decay.

Drip edge offers an unintuitive secondary benefit. Local wildlife (rodents, birds) may burrow underneath shingles, gnaw through fascia, and nest in your attic! Drip edge limits their entryways.


6) Flashing

Flashing simply protects the joints where chimneys, skylights, ventilation, and raised roof portions intersect. Made of thin metal, plastic, or a composite material.

Depending on the look you’re going for, flashing can stick out like a sore thumb. A cool trick is to coat flashing with primer and spread granules over it. Most hardware outlets offer granules matching the shingles of your choice.


7) Ventilation

If not for ventilation, hot air would remain trapped underneath your roof. Talk about a human pressure cooker! The problem is three-fold.

  1. Warm moist air condensates on cold spots in the attic. The structure begins rotting as a result.
  2. In colder climates, hot air buildup creates frozen peaks outside known as ice dams. Water pools behind these dams and eventually seeps in to your home. We have covered ice dams extensively in our hail damage article.
  3. Condensation builds up on window panes. Mold begins growing on structure.

The solution is to cycle air within roof space. Cool air is typically drawn through ‘soffits’ located at the roofs underhang.  Warm air is then drawn outside through higher ventilation. There are several types you are likely familiar with.

  • Whirlybird vent – That spinning dome isn’t for decoration! It generates a vortex that sucks up and expels warm air.
  • Static vent – Installed closer to a roof’s peak. They are rectangular and inconspicuous.
  • O’Hagin vent – Low profile rectangular box with left and right exhaust vents. Shingles can be placed over top. Subtler than traditional static vents!
  • Dormer vent –A raised semi-circle ejects hot air and moisture.
  • Ridge vent – Ventilation that runs along the entirety of a roof’s peak and blends in to the slope. Can be shingled!
  • Gable vent – Can only be installed on wall adjacent roof slope, as name implies. Vary in size.


8) Coating

Shingled roofs need not apply! Roof coating is a substance which seals the surface from leaks.  Roofers can apply coating via brush, roller, or spray hose. Surfaces without coating can be up 100 degrees cooler than plain surfaces! This naturally cuts down on AC bills.

Properly applied coating is seamless.


What Goes ona Roof?What goes on a Roof? – The Technology of Tomorrow

9) Solar shingles

Alternative energy technology has advanced beyond giant solar panels (we’ll get to that momentarily). Solar shingles are flat staggered panels that can partially or completely cover your roof. Builders refer to technology which mimic traditional home installations (shingle, vent, wall, skylight) as building-integrated photovoltaics.

We’ll call them BIPV for short.

Solar shingles manufacturers may even utilize asphalt, fiberglass, wood, and slate. Up to 200 watts is generated from 1 shingle. Ask All-American how you can integrate solar shingles over existing shingles.  Only qualified electricians can hook up BIPV’s.

Check out this YouTube video showcasing solar shingles.


10) Solar panels

The original technology of tomorrow. It takes several years to recoup your investment but solar panels increase your home’s value. In sunny locations it can cover most or all of your energy needs. Colorado offers one of the lowest installation rates in America!

Colorado allows for solar leasing. Instead of paying costs up front, panel providers let clientele to make monthly installments. Solar Power Rocks website rates Colorado’s policies regarding solar energy a solid A.

Solar panels are nifty but have a major drawback in Colorado – hail! Our beautiful state is situated in what meteorologists refer to as Hail Alley. While manufacturers warranties have improved, few cover hail damage.

Panels are not so fragile that they will break after one storm. Industry standard panels withstand up to 5lbs impact force minimum. But catastrophic damage claims are notoriously high in Colorado. Hailstorms cost residents over $3 billion over 10 years!

Replacing your panels every other year may be more trouble than it is worth. For this reason, we presently label solar panels a luxury.

The space underneath solar panels become hot. Always leave room for air to circulate.


11) Rooftop wind turbine

No sunlight? No problem.

Unless the wind isn’t blowing.

Roof-mounted wind turbines vary in size. We will refer to small models for our purposes. That is, any rotor 30 feet in diameter or less.

Whatever the cost to maintain solar installations, wind turbines are considerably higher. For one thing, BIPV’s have no mechanical parts. Green energy distributor Solacity has run budget-busting math. A 6kW wind turbine costs $50 grand to install. 6kW wind turbines are gigantic, by the way. Home owners can install 7 kW worth of solar panels for that amount!

All things being equal, solar panels last 3 decades.

An average 11mph annual wind speed is required to match the aforementioned solar panels. Denver, Colorado, averages only 8mph wind speeds annually. Furthermore, the wind current need be smooth. Even if wind did blow consistently, roof mounted turbines are often too low to benefit.

Throw in natural obstructions and wind turbines make solar look cheap! Oh, and turbines make noise.

Bottom line: Roof mounted turbines look cool. Savings benefits will not cover their installation cost. Don’t expect yours to survive longer than 2 decades without frequent repair. Inspect your wind turbine(s) annually.

Or just install solar panels.


The Extravagant

12) Chimney

Ah, the old brick chimney. Where have you gone? Probably away with open fire places. If you have gas laid on, a chimney is mandatory. Some masonry is pleasant to look at, even if the fireplace has long since been blockaded. Maybe we’re just paying tribute to Santa Claus.

If you intend to use your fireplace, be certain the chimney has a spark arrestor. Spark arrestors prevent cinders from leaving the cavity and starting fires on your property. It looks like a grated cylinder with a rain-blocking lid. Chimneys must have flashing where it intersects with both roof and wall.

Leaning chimneys put neighbors on alert. Moderate leaning is fine. Excessive leaning or swaying indicates structural problems. Refer to a structural engineer in this scenario.


13) Skylight

Skylights should be no larger than 15% of the floor space underneath. South-facing skylights maximize internal gain from natural sunlight. This is a simple method to reduce energy costs. Alternatively, glazing can reduce heat absorption during summer months. Solar blinds are highly recommended because:

  1. They further reduce energy costs.
  2. They provide privacy.

An acquaintance once had nosy neighbors. They affixed a mirror beneath their own skylight to observe its reflection of our acquaintance’s master bed room. Clever and illegal! This acquaintance convinced his neighbor to remove the mirror without involving authorities. Even so, they installed solar blinds afterwards.


14) Gargoyle

A little elaborate for your home, but fun nonetheless. These grotesque figures dispel water away from buildings like a downspout. According to Wonderopolis:

The word gargoyle comes from the French word gargouille, which means “throat” or “gullet.” This probably comes from the gurgling sound of the water as it passes through the gargoyle and out its mouth. Some legends hold that gargoyles also protect against harmful spirits.

Look for gargoyles at home & garden centers or trade craft shows.

15) Batman symbol

Life is too short not to be Batman. Oh, to dance perilously across Gotham’s horizon! Roofing allows us to live out our fantasy, albeit less dramatically. We would wear capes to work if it wasn’t against state regulation!

A military base in Okinawa, Japan took it a step further. The Batman’s symbol can be seen on their roof from Google Maps! They claim it’s because their squadron is nicknamed the Vampire Bats, but let’s be honest: It’s a lame legal defense against a lawsuit from DC Comics.


That’s a wrap!

Now it’s your turn. Did we leave an important item off our list? Tell us what you put on your roof in the comments section below.




Types of Roofing Shingles. Roofpedia. 22 May 2016

Choosing Between Oriented
Strand Board and Plywood.
UMass Amherst. 22 May 2016.

Roof Coating – Different Classes of Coating. National Coating. 22 May 2016.

Mark Romero. “Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles.”
Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 15 July 2015. 22 May 2016.

“Battle brewing over future of rooftop solar in Colorado” The Denver Post. 30 August 2013. 22 May 2016.

Welcome to the 2016 Colorado solar power information page. Solar Power Rocks.
22 May 2016.

Wind Speed at Denver, Colorado.
Weather DB. 22 May 2016.

What Is a Gargoyle? >Wonderopolis. 22 May 2016.

“Batman symbol spotted on U.S. base on Okinawa.”
Stars and Stripes. 20 October 2010. 22 May 2016.

Source Unknown. Funny Downspout