Frequently, after I’ve done a roof inspection, I meet with the customer to explain what I’ve discovered. I have done this a thousand times. I know that if I can convey the information clearly, I’m more likely to get the job, but all it seems to take is one misstep- the use of a roofing term- and my customer’s face glazes over. I might say Oh, it’s not the pan, it’s your cricket that’s leaking. This is meaningless to most homeowners-how are they supposed to know-but every trade has a language, and we forget we are the only ones who use it. So here, informally, is a glossary of roofing terms. Bear in mind that roofers often misuse roofing terms, and that regionally there are variations in language.


Roof: just kidding.

Gable roof: a roof with two main slopes (back and front, or left and right sides).

Valley: where two adjacent roof slopes intersect, making an inside corner.

Valley: this is also used to describe the metal used to waterproof the intersection described above.

Hip: where two adjacent roof slopes intersect, making an outside corner.

Hip-roll: this is a fabricated metal flashing that waterproofs the hip.

Reverse gable roof: two gable roofs, combined at right angles to each other, from above it would look like a cross formation, with four valleys at the intersections.

Hip roof: a roof with four sloping planes, making a pyramid shape, though they do not have to meet at one point. They have four hips.

Mansard roof: a roof that is virtually flat on top, but with short steep roofs around the perimeter. Typically associated with French architecture.

Flat roof: a roof with a very slight slope, usually fabricated from a rubber material or a bitumen, tar product. No roof is flat, since water would not drain from it if it were.

Eave: lower edge of the roof.

Ridge: top edge of the roof.

Rafters: rafters are the wood framing that supports the roof structure.

Sheathing or decking: these are the boards that are attached to the top of the rafters, making the platform on to which the roof is attached.

Rafter tails: these are the ends of the rafters that project over the house walls.

Fascia: this is a trim board that is attached to the ends of rafter tails, usually behind the gutter on a vertical plane.

Soffit: this is a trim board that is attached to the underside of the rafter tails, on a horizontal plane.

Tile, Slate, Asphalt, Rubber, Cedar shake, Tar, Synthetic slate, Concrete: all these find use as roofing materials.

Tile roof: clay tiles have been used for centuries as a roofing material. They come in many forms: plain, glazed, and colored. They are shaped into many different styles, such as Spanish, Interlocking, Roman, etc. etc.

Slate roof: slate is a natural product, a rock that splits easily into sheets. These can then be shaped and holed for roofing use. There are different qualities of slate, most of which last over a hundred years. The oldest recorded slate roof, in England, is 1200 years old.

Asphalt: asphalt shingles are the very common, oil-based product used for roofing. They are called “three-tab”, “architectural”, and by many product names.

Synthetic slate: this is a rubber or plastic based product, intended to resemble slate. It has no properties of slate, however. Over time it discolors and buckles, while slate is an innate rock.

Rubber roof: this is a sheet rubber product, good for low-slope roofs. It comes in different thicknesses and has a longevity of 15 to 25 years.

Cedar Shake or Shingle: Cedar, and in the past, white oak, were used as roofing materials. Cedar shake is a split shingle (rough texture) and Cedar shingle is a sawn shingle (smooth texture). They are used in the same manner as slate but typically have a life-span of 40 years.

Concrete roofs: concrete roofs are a specialized product, usually for structural use in commercial buildings. Jails most often have concrete roofs.

Tar roofs: these are roofs made from rolls of felt or fibrous material that are then soaked in hot tar. Originally they were an excellent covering for low-slope roofs, but depended on asbestos as an aggregate. This material was abandoned due to health risks.


Slate roof language:

Field slate: slate that are part of the main body of the roof.

Ridge slate: slate used at the top of the roof, the last course in the roof. They are also known as combing slate, headers and office slate.

Starter slate: these slate are not visible. They are underneath the first course (row) of slate and are laid horizontally and upside down.

Hip slate: these are the slate that run along the hips.

Boston or saddle hips: these are different techniques used to lay the hip slates.

Valley slate: slate that are adjacent to the valley.

Bibs and hooks: two devices used to fasten replacement slates.

Sweep: when the roof is curved at the eave, it is called a sweep.

Flashing: sheet metal (copper, aluminum, terne or steel), used to waterproof intersections of the roof, around a chimney, against a wall, in a valley , around vent-pipes, against vertical walls of dormers, etc. etc.

Step flashing: sheet metal bent at ninety degrees, one leg on the roof plane, one vertical, against an adjoining wall or through-roof structure, like a chimney.

Counter flashing: sheet metal that is turned into a mortar joint of a wall or chimney and covers the vertical leg of a step flashing.

Cricket: a small structure built behind a chimney, resembling a gable roof, and sheathed in metal. It disperses rain-water rather than leave it rush into the back of the chimney.

Pan: a flat section of roof, usually of sheet metal, at the bottom of intersecting valleys, sometimes behind a chimney in lieu of a cricket.

Drip-edge: this is a length of metal, bent at ninety degrees, that is installed on the lower edge of the roof. It diverts water into the gutter and protects the fascia board.

Rake: this is the sloping edge of a gable roof.

Rake molding: wooden molding that trims the rake edge of the slate with the end wall of the house.

Key-way: the vertical gap between adjacent slate.

Exposure: the part of the slate that is visible.

Head-lap: the part of the slate that extends under the second course (row) above.

Side-lap: the sideways overlap of slate on the course (row) below.

Gusset: I’ve no clue. Roofers use this to mean anything. I had a customer tell me his roofer had tightened up his gusset. Sounded like an operation.

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