Basic components of a standard roof and their functions

prevent roof ice melt problems

Without any prior experience, most people believe that roofs are simply layers upon layers of shingles. In reality, a roof is a carefully designed system made to withstand years of harsh weather. So, if you are a new homeowner, and you want to gain a better understanding of what a standard roof is all about, we are going to cover the basic components of a standard roof and what its functions are.

The basic components of a standard roof

Before we get into the basic components, it is essential to make a clear distinction. There are different ways to categorize roofs. And, depending on the categorization, different roofs can have various components. Unfortunately, we cannot cover all the different types of roofs in a single article. So, for this one, we will mainly focus on pitched, standard roofs that you can see on almost any house in the U.S. That way, whether you already live here or if you have decided to relocate to Denver, you will have a decent idea of how roofs functions and which parts play which role. So, the basic components are:

  • Shingles.
  • Flashings.
  • Underlayment.
  • Water and ice protectors.
  • Roof frame.
  • Roof’s edge.

If you have decided to move to a new home, you need to know all there is to know about one of the most critical elements of your home structure: the roof. Therefore, before you organize your relocation and call Denver-based experts to assist you with the move, make sure you do your due diligence. Read a bit about roofing and inspect your home. If you have some background knowledge, you will understand what the inspection results say, which will help you make the right decisions.


There is a good reason why when people think of roofs, they usually think of shingles. After all, they are the most distinct feature of a roof and the most visible one.

A standard U.S. home.
Shingles are easily the most recognizable basic components of a standard roof.

Throughout history, people have used different materials for shingles, from wood to stone and iron. But, for the past century or so, asphalt shingles have become pretty much the norm in North America.

  • 3-tab shingles – These are considered traditional, standard shingles. They all come in the same shape and the same size, giving the roof a uniform look. The main reason why they are so widespread is that they are relatively durable and quite cost-effective. So, in most cases, they do turn out to give you the biggest bang for your buck.
  • Architectural or laminate shingles – The main visual feature of these shingles is the dimensional appearance. The roof made out of these shingles usually has them in different sizes and even with shadow bands. Such features tend to add character to the roof, which (when done correctly) can give an interesting look.
  • Designer shingles – Start from architectural shingles and take a step further in aesthetic enhancements, and you get designer shingles. With a bit of research, you will see that there are tons of options for the shape and the look of your shingles.
  • Hip and ridge cap shingles – When professionals install roofs, they usually need to place specialized shingles along the roof ridges and hips. These shingles need to be tailor-made for the roof in question to conform to the shape.
  • Solar-reflective shingles – Modern technology allows us to make our homes much more energy efficient. One way to do so is with solar-reflective shingles that help keep your attic cooler.


Now, let’s move on to a lesser know part of the roof. When roofers connect vertical surfaces to the roof, they need to use a thin metal sheet called flashing. The most common place for them is a chimney. But, if the roof in question has any other vertical surfaces connected to it, you can rest assured that there is flashing involved. Flashing serves to help prevent water go into the shingles attached to the vertical surface. They can also help with ventilation and cover any weakness that the added surface can instill into the roof. Apart from chimneys, professionals also use flashing for:

  • Skylights – Most skylights come with built-in flashing.
  • Plumbing vents.
  • Roof vents.
  • Valleys on the surface of the roof.
  • Dormers.


Bellow the shingles and the flashing lies the underlayment. This is a fabric-like barrier usually made out of synthetic. Not long ago, we used to make it from asphalt-saturated felt. But, synthetics proved to be an overall better option. The primary function of underlayment is to serve as a water barrier in case it gets below the shingles. It also protects the shingles from the resin that the decking may release. And it can even provide a certain amount of fire resistance to the roof. The final role of the underlayment is to protect your roof from “picture framing”. This happens when the wooden panels under the roof deck either expand or contract, which can occur during winter. Without underlayment, this movement would cause ridges and bumps in the roof. This would not only make the roof look uglier but would also compromise its effectiveness.

Roof’s edge

To help guide water from your shingles to the ground, you need one extra step. And that step is primarily focused on the roof’s edge, as roofs are designed to guide the water to it.

A gutter on a home, showing one of the basic components of a standard roof.
No roof could properly function without gutters.

There, professional roofers will install a drainage system that will help protect your roof from ice dams, clutter, and unwanted moisture. The standard drainage system is made out of three parts:

  • Drip Edge – Upon reaching the edge of the roof, the water will first encounter the drip edge. This metal strip serves to guide the water into the gutters. Without it, the water could absorb into the exposed edge of your roof and cause considerable problems to the entire structure.
  • Fascia – The topmost vertical component where the exterior meets the edge is called the fascia. It connects to the rain gutter.
  • Gutters and downspouts – Downspouts are pipes that take the water away from the roof. Gutters are the pipes that connect the downspouts to the edge of the roof.

Roof frame

And finally, we come to the last basic components of a standard roof: the frame. This wooden frame serves as the roof’s skeleton, on which all the other parts rest.

A roof frame.
The roof frame serves to hold everything in place.

The decking then covers the roof frame. These are the pieces of wooden sheets that cover the frame. When making the decking, manufacturers usually use either oriented strand board (OSB) or plywood just under half an inch of thickness.


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