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Crack the Code of Roofing Terminology with This Handy Guide!

roofing terminology

Hey there, Southwest Michigan neighbors! Let me tell you, as someone who has spent a lifetime (22+ years) in residential roofing services, understanding roofing terminology is just like learning a new language. But guess what? It’s not rocket science, and this guide will help you get the hang of it in no time!

Basics of Roofing Terminology

Why You Should Bother

Ever been in a situation where your roofer starts throwing around jargon and you can’t make head nor tail of it? I’ve seen it happen plenty, and trust me, knowing a thing or two about roofing terms can save you confusion and ensure you’re getting exactly what you’re paying for.

Common Terms

Let’s start with the basics:

  • Shingles: These are the outermost layer of your roof. Picture them as the ‘hair’ of your roof—protecting everything underneath.
  • Underlayment: Think of this as your roof’s ‘skull cap.’ It’s a protective layer under the shingles that keeps moisture away.
  • Decking: This is the ‘helmet’ of the structure and the wood decking is the first layer to your homes roof usually made of Plywood or OSB and ½” thick.
  • Flashing: These are ‘connective protection areas’ for your roof’s joints and valleys, preventing leaks where shingles meet up.
  • Eaves: The ‘overhanging edges’ of your roof. Great for making icicles in winter! Also where gutters are installed on a home.
  • Rakes: The angle running from the eave to the upper point of the roof, often a gable but can be found on other types of roofs as well.
  • Gutters: They’re like the ‘intestines’ of your roof—channeling water away.
  • Vents: They’re the ‘lungs’ of your roof, letting your attic breathe.
  • Dormer: This is a little ‘window bump’ that sticks out from a sloping roof or may be an aesthetic addition to a home.

Advanced Roofing Terminology

Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s dive a bit deeper. Here are some advanced terms that you might come across:

  • Gable: The triangular portion of the wall beneath the edges of a pitch roof, think or an up an over or simple ranch style home often build with a simple gable roof.
  • Hip: A roof with slopes on all four sides. They’re more complex but also more resistant to wind.
  • Valley: This is where two sloping roofs meet. Think of it as the ‘valley’ between two ‘mountains’.
  • Ridge: This is the peak where two slopes meet and often where venting is installed.
  • Pitch: Simply put, this is how steep or flat your roof is. This is rise over run.
  • Drip Edge: A drip edge is a non-corrosive, non-staining material used around the edges of a roof to control the direction of dripping water into gutters or etc.
  • Fascia: This is a vertical finishing edge connected to the ends of the rafters, trusses, or the area where the gutter is attached to the roof. Often wrapped in aluminum but not always, fascia relates to the area more than material.
  • Soffit: This is the exposed siding underneath your roof’s overhang and where inflow venting is installed to bring in fresh air to the home and force warm air up and out thru the properly installed ventilation.

Southwest Michigan-Specific Roofing Concerns

Being in Southwest Michigan, we have a unique set of roofing concerns primarily because of our climate. Let’s decode some terms:

  • Ice Dams: These are ice build-ups on the edge of your roofs. They might look pretty but can cause severe water damage.
  • Roof De-icing: This is a method to melt those nasty ice dams. Definitely something you want to consider for our frigid winters. Often done when occurs using salt tablets or preemptively using heat cables.
  • Wind Resistance Rating: A measure of how well materials can withstand high winds. Crucial for those gusty Michigan afternoons! GAF’s is unlimited….
  • Hail Impact Resistance: A rating of a roofing material’s ability to withstand hail without damage. We sure know how sudden hail storms can get here!
  • Algae and Moss Resistance: A property of roofing materials to resist growth of algae and moss. Yep, we’re looking at you, Michigan’s humid summers mixed with a massive amount of beautiful trees!

Roofing Materials Commonly Used in Southwest Michigan

Let’s now take a look at some roofing materials suited for our Michigan climate:

  • Asphalt Shingles: The most common material, easy to install, and relatively affordable.  There are many types of shingles but in most cases you are looking for a standard dimensional shingle or designer shingle.  3-tab shingles that were used in the past would be like going to Best Buy and getting a VCR to watch a new movie on.  The technology has advanced and the products now have options for any roof replacement and customer.
  • Metal Roofing: Durable and excellent at shedding snow and ice.  These systems need to be installed by experienced roofing contractors and can be much more expensive than a standard shingled roof.  The benefits are not just in the look but also in the impact resistance, fire resistance, and overall durability.  There are tons of new metal product options available so contact a roofing professional after doing your research to find out more, or check out or blog on metal roofing.
  • Rubber Roofing: Great for low-pitched or flat roofs.  Again this product has to be installed properly to perform as it should and last as it should.  These products are great options for their particular applications and corners can not be cut when dealing with flat roofing.  Do your research on who is doing the research for you and be sure to only deal with reputable and experienced flat roofing contractors.  This is also a product that can be now maintenanced instead of requiring replacement which makes it unique and helps save cost instead of having to replace as the life cycle on the flat roofing materials progresses.
  • Tile Roofing: Beautiful and durable, but a little on the expensive side and not made for our market.  I have done (1) metal tile roof to replace a tile roof on a Tudor style home in Holland, Michigan it was a bear of a project and came out beautiful.  However the homeowner spent 4x the cost of any other roof material we quoted just to maintain the look they wanted with that style of roofing.  They were so happy with the final result and my installers almost quit so when the job was done I was also ELATED…Haha!
  • Slate Roofing: Extremely durable and fire-resistant, but also more expensive and a very speciality product in our market.  You can find new alternatives that have this same style but are not made of actual Slate.  These options provide the look without the cost and also help to simplify the installation process to achieve the Slate profile.  There are local companies that provide Slate repairs and installations but you will need to get in line and be sure to bring your bill fold because this is not a cheap roof to install or maintain. 

Understanding Roofing Estimates and Warranties

Don’t you just hate it when you’re given an estimate that’s as clear as mud? Let’s break down a roofing estimate. It should include material costs, labor, waste removal, and permits or licenses. Also, remember, a lower estimate may not always be the best—it could mean subpar materials or inexperienced labor.

The roofing warranty is equally important. Warranties typically cover materials or labor, but the best ones cover both. Understand the terms of your warranty to avoid unexpected expenses later on.  Some warranties may have proration periods and this is imperative to understand the actual coverage period of the warranty you are to receive.  Warranties like the GAF Golden Pledge provide a 50 Year non-prorated material warranty and a 25 Year non-prorated workmanship warranty all backed by GAF in the event the certified roofing contractor goes out of business.

Importance of Hiring a Licensed and Insured Roofing Contractor

Remember that time you hired a ‘cheap’ contractor and ended up with a leaky roof in less than a year, or you heard the story for months from your co-worker? Yep, it’s always best to go with a licensed and insured contractor, always even when you hate to spend a little more for what seems to “be the same”. This ensures that they meet industry standards and that you’re not on the hook for any accidents that might happen on your property including injuries, like oh I don’t know, maybe SOMEONE FALLING OFF OF YOUR ROOF!!!


Phew! That’s a lot, isn’t it? But trust me, being able to talk the talk with your roofer can save you a lot of stress. So next time your roofer says “your fascia looks good,” you’ll know it’s a compliment!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the best roofing material for Michigan weather? Rubber Shingles or Metal roofing are both highly recommended due to their durability and ability to withstand Michigan’s varied climate and storm conditions.
  • What’s the lifespan of an asphalt shingle roof? Typically, an asphalt shingle roof can last between 20-30 years, reference this article (Roof Venting is Crucial) on venting and why it is so important to extending the age and life span of your homes new roof.
  • What does a ‘wind resistance rating’ mean? It’s a measure of how well a roofing material can withstand high winds. This is a nonissue with GAF’s unlimited residential wind warranty check it out by clicking here.
  • Are ice dams harmful to my roof? Yes, ice dams will lead to water seeping underneath your shingles, causing leaks and water damage.  Address these issues by having a qualified professional complete an evaluation of your home to verify if venting or insulation or required to correct the issue.
  • Why is a roofing warranty important? A warranty can save you from unexpected expenses in case of defective materials or improper installation.  In many cases a experienced roofing contractor will have manufacturer certification to provide extended warranties as mentioned above to help cover your roof replacement should there be an issue down the road.

Remember, when it comes to roofing, knowledge is power. Stay safe and dry, and thanks for reading this blog article my fellow Kalamazonians! 

I am a local roofing contractor with a desire to help inform potential clients or just those interested in learning more!  So if you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment contact us at Character anytime!

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