Skip to main content

«  View All Posts

Roofing materials

Roofing 101: The Components and Materials That Make Up Your Roof

February 9th, 2022 | 9 min. read

Roofing 101: The Components and Materials That Make Up Your Roof

Print/Save as PDF

If you’re like most homeowners, you probably don’t think about your roof until it’s time for a new one. When that time eventually comes, there’s a lot of research involved and information you need to absorb. 

The hardest part of doing this research is knowing where to start your roofing education. So, let’s start with the basics. 

For over 30 years, Bill Ragan Roofing has helped homeowners like you understand every aspect of their roof and future roofing project. Now we’ll do the same for you by starting with roofing 101: the components and materials that make up your roof. 

This article contains 9 crucial roofing materials and components every roof needs. I also include some information about its function and why it’s important to your roof. 

Keep in mind all of these components and materials impact the price of a new roof. If you want to go more in-depth, I provide links throughout, or you can wait until the very end to get a free guide with all the information you’ll ever need about a roof replacement. 

Roof decking (roof sheathing)

Roof decking (also called roof sheathing) is the wooden boards (plywood or planks) that make up the foundation of a roof system and that the rest of your roofing materials are installed on.

roof decking

If your roof’s decking is rotten or can’t handle the installation of your new materials, it’ll need to be replaced when getting a new roof. Just know your roofing contractor won’t know if or how much will need replacing until your old roof is torn off

Drip edge

Drip edge is metal flashing installed at the roof’s edges (eaves and rakes) to keep water away from your fascia and from getting underneath your roofing components.

drip edge

Without it, your fascia board and roof decking will rot. Drip edge is also required by building codes and must be installed correctly to ensure your home passes an inspection. 

Ice and water shield

Ice and water shield is a waterproof membrane that protects your roof from ice and water damage. Its main purpose is to protect the decking if water happens to get under your roofing material (asphalt shingles, metal roof, etc.).

ice and water shield

Your roof should have ice and water shield installed on/around certain potential problem areas, like roof valleys, around penetrations, and roofs that have a 2/12, 3/12, or 4/12 pitch. 

Roof underlayment 

Roof underlayment is a felt (15 lb, 30 lb, or synthetic) between your roof decking and your shingles to provide an extra layer of protection from the elements. 

roof underlayment

Underlayment is installed directly over your roof decking. Just like ice and water shield, it protects your roof decking if water gets underneath your roofing materials.   

Starter shingles

Starter shingles are a pre-cut row of roofing material installed underneath the first course of shingles. They have an adhesive to ensure the first row of shingles are sealed at the eaves and along the rakes to improve resistance against strong winds.

starter shingles

Starter shingles also make sure that there's material between the joints where the shingles butt against each other. 

Roof flashing

Roof flashing is a metal (aluminum, steel, or copper) material that directs water away from certain areas (walls, chimneys, roof valleys) of your roof. It’s one of the most crucial roofing components that every roof needs to have. 

roof flashing

No matter what kind of metal you choose for your roof flashing, it should outlive the original roof it was installed on. But if your roofing contractor finds the integrity of the metal is compromised, the flashing will need to be replaced. 

Ridge capping

Ridge capping is the trim installed at the top of where two slopes of a roof meet. Ridge capping is pre-bent, so it can perfectly form to the ridge of a roof.

ridge capping

Be aware that some roofing contractors use 3-tab asphalt shingles as ridge capping to cut down their costs for an asphalt roof replacement. They’re not meant to be used this way and will lead to a leak. 

Roof vents

Roof vents allow your attic and home to breathe properly. Without a proper ventilation system, your roof’s life is cut drastically short due to trapped heat in the summer or cold in the winter. 

power vent

The two ventilation systems (active and passive) have different roof vents you'll choose from for a roof replacement. If you have an active ventilation system, you’ll choose turbine vents, power vents, ridge vents with a baffle, or solar-powered vents. 

For a passive ventilation system, you choose from static vents (box vents), ridge vents without a baffle, or gable-end vents. I recommend an active ventilation system for performance reasons. 

Roofing material

The biggest part of your roof system is the roofing material you choose. The 5 most popular types of residential roofing materials are asphalt shingles, standing seam metal roofing, cedar shake roofing, synthetic roofing, or slate roofing. 

Just know the roofing material you choose has one of the biggest impacts on the cost, look, how long your roof lasts, and more. So, it’s important to pick the right one for you. 

Below is a little overview of each type of roofing material, including links that give you an opportunity to learn more.  

Asphalt shingle roof

The most commonly used roofing material in the United States is an asphalt shingle roof. An asphalt roof is made up of primarily asphalt shingles and other asphalt roofing components. 

the three types of asphalt shingles(Left to Right: 3-tab, architectural, luxury)

There are three types of asphalt shingles to choose from: 3-tab, dimensional, and luxury. Each type of shingle has a specific look, and they all come at different price points. 

Standing seam metal roof

There are two types of metal roofs, but a standing seam metal roof is recommended for residential roofing. A standing seam metal roof system is a series of metal panels locked together at the seams or seamed mechanically. 

standing seam metal roof

This allows for the metal panels to expand and contract freely when the metal heats up. While not as common as asphalt, standing seam metal roofing is becoming more and more popular in the roofing industry. 

Composite (synthetic) shingle roof

Composite (also known as synthetic) roof shingles are made of recycled materials or engineered polymer. Composite shingles are designed to look exactly like cedar shakes or slate tiles. 

composite (synthetic) slate and cedar shake roof(Left: composite slate, Right: composite cedar shake)

Manufacturers use molds of actual cedar shake shingles and slate tiles to make them look as close as possible to the real thing. 

Cedar shake roof

A cedar shake roof is a premium roof system made of natural wood (cedar) materials and is one of the most aesthetically pleasing roofing materials on the market. To make the actual shingles, cedar trees are cut into 2-foot sections and hand split or sawed into a tapered thickness (tapersawn). 

cedar shake roof

Hand split gives you a more rugged look, while tapersawn is a much smoother look. You also need to be aware that the quality of a cedar shake roof depends on the grade of the cedar shakes you get. 

Slate roof

A slate roof is a premium roof system made primarily out of natural slate tiles and other slate roofing materials. The slate itself is mined (mostly in Italy) and cut into square tiles that have to be installed one at a time. 

slate roof

Because of the weight of the materials, your home must be built, framed, or retrofitted to hold a slate roof. A slate roof has one of the highest curb appeals, but it’s also the most expensive roofing material

Continue your roofing education journey with this guide

Now you know the components and materials that make up your roof. This is roofing 101 and is only the beginning of your roofing education journey. 

There’s even a lot more to learn about that we specifically covered in this article. But where do you go from here? 

You can continue to research different topics, but this can be time-consuming. I understand your time is valuable, and jumping from site to site can be overwhelming, if not confusing. 

That’s why we created a buyer’s guide that gives you all the information you need about what’s covered in this article, plus how to find a great roofing contractor, the cost of a roof, and so much more. By continuing your roofing education with this guide, you can count on being the most informed homeowner in the industry. 

And when it comes time to buy a new roof, you’ll have all the power to make the right decisions and find a trusted roofer in your area. Graduate from roofing 101 by getting The Complete Guide to Purchasing a Roof now.  

Since 1990, the team at Bill Ragan Roofing has provided high-quality roofing services to thousands of homeowners in Nashville and surrounding Middle Tennessee areas. No matter what you need, we’re confident we can take care of your roof, so you’ll never have to worry about it again. 

Here’s The Complete Guide to Purchasing a Roof to continue learning everything you, and homeowners like you, need to know about your future roofing project.

the complete guide to purchasing a roof

Table Of Contents

Related Articles