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The Only Guide You’ll Need To Learn About Your Roof System

Roof Systems

If you’re figuring out how your roof works and what all the parts to it are called, then we’ve put this guide together just for you.

The Permanent Parts of a Roof System

There are permanent features of your roof that are kind of like its bones. These give the roof its shape and complexity.

Hip beam and rafters on a framed roof

Main Surface Area – The Field or Facet

Any flat surface area over four square feet or more on your roof, those are fields, also known as facets.

There are 6 facets on this roof.

The fields of your roof are usually on a pitch.

The amount your roof inclines is the pitch.

The number of inches (or feet) your roof rises vertically for every 12 inches your roof extends horizontally will give us your roof’s pitch.

The number of facets on your roof will tell you how simple or complex your roof is.

In roofer speak, your roof may have 8 facets or it may have 18 facets. The more facets a roof has, the more complex it is.

Simple roof
Complex roof

Hips & Ridges

The parts of your roof that meet at an apex and create long horizontal lines, those are ridges.

A ridge line (with ridge vent)

The parts of your roof where two facets meet and create an incline like a pyramid, those are the hips of your roof.

Two hip lines on a roof

Roofing material plays an important role in creating a watertight condition at these long joints over the long haul.


Valleys play a key role by draining high volumes of water at a time, multiple times a year.


On many homes, they’re responsible for draining more water than any other part of your roof.

[Ask us about gutters]

Eaves & Rakes

The eaves of your roof are the horizontal lines that hang over the exterior walls.

Two eaves (along with several rakes)

The rakes of your roof are where two edges rise and meet to create two sides of a triangle.

Rakes (along with a partial cornice return and eaves)

Together, the eaves and rakes on your home make up the roof’s perimeter.

Roofing material plays a critical role at a roof’s perimeter by locking the roof system in place, creating a seal against wind and rain.

Sheathing or Decking

The foundation of your roofing system, the base layer that connects the roof to the house is the decking, also known as sheathing.

Sheet of OSB being fastened to rafters

Roofs are sheathed most commonly with one of two types of wood: OSB and plywood.

Cornice Returns

Cornice returns, partial or full, are architectural details designed to make an eave on a roof connect to a rake.

Two partial cornice returns
A full cornice strip

It takes attention to detail to get these right.


Flashing plays a vital role in waterproofing your roof.

Step flashing

It’s a thin-gauged sheet of metal that is fabricated to a specific shape and designed to direct water flow away from critical areas. It’s fastened in areas that have a higher probability to leak, especially places where roofs and vertical surfaces intersect.

The Materials of a Roof System

Along with the permanent features of your roof system, you also have the materials that can be replaced.

There are six standard components that make up the system and finished look of your roof.

Ice & Water Barrier

After an old roof is removed and the decking is bare and swept clean, ice and water barrier is applied in areas most susceptible to water damage.

Ice & water barrier in a valley

This component functions to repel water and protect the decking from water damage. The areas highest at risk for leaks are vent, exhaust and window penetrations, valleys, around chimneys, and along roof-to-wall transitions.

Ice & water barrier around the base of a chimney

Synthetic Underlayment

Synthetic underlayment is the component that sits between the decking and shingles on your roof. It’s a lightweight, water-resistant and water-shedding moisture barrier.

Synthetic underlayment

There are various reasons why we use synthetic instead of felt underlayment. Felt paper is about 12 pounds per 100sf. Synthetic is about 2 pounds per 100sf.

Synthetic means is that it’s made of woven plastic and resin materials bonded through a process that results in a sheet that will not stretch or tear.

Felt paper will soak water and dry just like construction paper. A soaked section of felt paper will transfer moisture to the decking.

Felt paper that has been soaked

When underlayment is applied, the roof is considered dried in. Think of putting on a rain coat. In a sense, you’re dried in from the elements by the coat. With underlayment properly fastened, the roof could rest exposed to the elements up to 60 days in most cases.

Synthetic underlayment on two facets

Drip Edge

Drip edge is a piece of metal flashing installed on the entire perimeter of a roof (eaves and rakes) that keeps water from getting underneath shingles and protects wood trim from rotting.

Drip edge in black

The way this works is determined by the way water works. As water runs off shingles, it doesn’t all run off the edge of the shingles (shingles hang over the perimeter of your roof by up to three quarters of an inch).

Since water has strong adhesion forces, it will want to stick to the underside of the shingles and run back up the shingles towards your home. So now water is running back towards your home on the underside of your shingles.

Without drip edge, water will migrate between shingles and sheathing, causing the deck to rot. This sort of damage could go hidden for a long time.

No apparent drip edge was installed

And still much of it will also adhere onto your fascia trim board going downward, causing it to rot as well, which will be visible.

Extensive wood rot without drip edge

Drip edge stops water traveling the underside of your shingles and diverts it downward.

Starter Shingles

A row of starter shingles

Starter shingles are long narrow strips installed on the perimeter of your roof. They’re the initial shingle product installed on a roof replacement.

Their role is to lock in the entire shingle system.

They seal down onto the drip edge beneath and give the first row of shingles above a way to seal down for ultimate adhesion. The first row of shingles then fortifies the rest from wind uplift, shingle blow-off, and moisture migration.

Field Shingles

Field shingles in brown

Asphalt shingles are probably the most common roofing material in Central Texas.

They’re available in a wide range of colors, textures, styles, and profiles. They’re designed to mimic the look of slate, cedar, and wood roofing.

Aside from being cost-effective, asphalt shingles are also durable.

Three Types of Asphalt Shingles

Three Tab
3 tab shingles

Lines of three tab shingles are made as either 20 or 25 year shingles. In low-wind and no-hail conditions, they will last that long.

The exposed portion of the shingle consists of three separate tabs.

Architectural Shingles
Architectural shingles

Architectural shingles are also called laminated shingles. That’s because these shingles consist of two or more basic shingles bonded or laminated together.

They’re described as being architectural because they’re designed to create an architectural interest in the roof by means of dimension and cut as well as color contour and depth.

Architectural shingles on a complex roof
Designer Shingles
Designer shingles

Designer shingles are designed for enhanced aesthetics and protection.

Among these three types of asphalt shingles, these do the best job of withstanding strong winds, extreme heat and excessive downpours.

Their beauty, curb appeal and distinction are unmatched. These shingles will be there to remind you of your investment every time you come home.

Malarkey designer shingles

Hip & Ridge Caps

Hip and ridge shingles are also known as caps. That’s because that’s how they function. They cap the long intersections where two facets meet on your roof.

A hip not yet shingled

These caps are important because they provide a protective bridge that ties two sides of a roof together to create a weather tight enclosure.

Hip caps

The hips and ridges on your roof require these shingles to do something unique. They have to flex and bend permanently over hips and ridges.

This exposes these caps at three different points: the left and right sides along with the crest. The crest is exposed to more impact risk because of minimal surface area.

Three Types of Hip & Ridge Caps


The most common approach to installing hip and ridge caps is to manipulate 3 tab shingles.

3 tab as hip caps

As far as 3 tab shingle roof systems go, using the same shingle product on the field as well as hip and ridges is standard.

The problem is when roofer use as hip and ridge caps on architectural roof systems.

Those are two different materials from two different shingle systems. Expecting 3 tab shingles to perform like a proper hip and ridge cap in an architectural roof system would be like baking your boots and expecting muffins.

That doesn’t stop them from being used as cheaper substitutes for proper hip and ridge caps on nearly every roof we replace.

The consequence of using 3 tab shingles as ridge caps
Low Profile & High Profile

Hip and ridge caps come in two types.

Low profile  
High profile

Hip and ridge caps are perforated and designed to remain in shape to protect all hip and ridge lines.

They also match the unique look of the color of the field shingles.

Low profile caps provide protection to last as long as the field shingles.

High profile hip and ridge caps are designed to enhance the lines on your roof. They have the affect of making your roof look like the system is secured and protected.

How can you use this for your own future reference?

Bookmark this page and name it Guide to Roofing.

To Learn More

Follow these links

On field shingles


Owens Corning

On hip & ridge caps

Roofs Restored

On starter shingles


Bill Ragan

Digital Roofing Company

Roofing Magazine

On drip edge

Bill Ragan


All Season Gutter

Mr. Roof

On synthetic underlayment


Owens Corning

Long Home Products

Semper Fi Exteriors

On ice and water barrier

Bill Ragan


Digital Roofing Company

Owens Corning

On decking

Red River Roofing

Expert Home Report

On flashing

Bill Ragan

Infinite Roofing

Eagle Watch Roofing

Long Home Products

On cornice returns

Fine Home Building

This Is Carpentry

On eaves and rakes

The Spruce

Polaris Roofing Systems

Signature Exteriors


On valleys


On hips and ridges

Roofs Restored

On roof anatomy

Owens Corning


On the 3 types of asphalt shingles


Long Home Products

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Request Info or a Free Estimate!

Have An Emergency? Get Immediate Help On Your Roof.