Roofing Tidbits

Roof Dormers

Roofing Tidbits for Non-Roofers

June 21st (The Longest Day of the Year)

Us Northerners in Madison know June 21st is guaranteed to be a long one! For many in the workforce, this just means you’re prepared to enjoy the sun well past 8:00 PM tonight. But for us roofers, we need the extra daylight to ensure some jobs get done right! In all likelihood, our guys are going to be out a little later today because we finally have some forgiving sunlight. (Not to mention its going to rain tomorrow!) So, it’s important that we start our roofs early today and stay late to ensure they are done.

Our docket is always pretty full from incoming rain storms to damage over time. Believe it or not this year, we even had to repair a hole caused by an unknown animal hopping onto the roof! But one thing I’ve learned from being in the roofing industry is: people want to know more. And I think they should! It’s important to know more about your roof because it helps you make better choices long term. Not only with your contractor, but also with your own lifestyle. Simple chores like cleaning out the gutter or maintaining the temperature of your home will have meaning if you understand the logic behind it.

So, today I plan on giving you some small tidbits for non-roofers. If you own a roof, you’ll probably want to read this! Hopefully by the end, you’ll understand where roofing construction originated and why it is so complicated now.

Roofing through the Ages

The word “roof” has an interesting unknown history. We can vaguely trace it back to German origins, but it’s said that English has pretty much turned the word into it’s own meaning entirely. Originally, “roof” was pronounced “rhof” and it meant “boat shed”. Unless you have one of these Image result for wheel of a ship icon in your home, then you’re probably surprised. Don’t worry, you should be. Apparently no one has been able to find a connection between boat sheds and roofs. But somehow the word “rhof” quickly became “hrof” in English, which means “the highest point of something” or “heaven”. Now, roofers are probably happy to call a roof “heaven”, but I’m sure to a non-roofer, it seems like something a little…. lower down.

But in its most basic sense, a roof is the highest point of something. The peak of a mountain is a roof, the peak of your home is a roof, and the top of an umbrella technically is, you got it, a roof. When roofs were first built they started out as banana leaves and sticks on top of a frame. Nowadays, we place all kinds of materials on our roofs: wheaten straw or seagrass to laminated glasscopper (see: copper roofing), wood, aluminium sheeting and pre-cast concrete.

Roof Material

The first thing you should know is what are most roofs made from? In the commercial side, it’s usually metal roofing like copper or aluminium. The alternative side of things is residential homes. They are typically coated in asphalt shingles. But what is a shingle? You’ve never gone deep into a forest and stumbled on a bushel of shingles have you? So where do they come from?

Image result for asphalt shingle layers

Asphalt Shingles were first invented in the very turn of the century, 1901. By 1911, millions of shingles were being produced. When they were originally working on shingles, they tried pretty much everything you can imagine to make them more durable. They coated them in various hard materials: sea shells, slate dolomite, mica and more. They were basically just coating sheets of cotton (which is now rubber) in something hard. The goal was to meet various requirements:

  • Solar Reflecting
  • Wind Damage
  • Hail Damage
  • Fire Resistance
  • Algae Resistance
  • Locking Shingles
  • Durability

Nowadays, we use rubber or asphalt as an insulator and for durability / flexibility. That sits in the base. Then we cover it in other layers to help with insulation, help with high impact (hail) and help with fire resistance. Lastly, we deal with the topmost layer made of the hard granular material. This is to help with durability, appearance, solar reflection, and more.

So, the answer to the question “what is a shingle made from?” Boils down to pretty much rubber and rock. That should be the layman’s interpretation. Rubber gives it durability and flexibility because your house actually expands and contracts all year round. Rocks give it durability to withstand years of rain, months of snow, and days of hail.


Roof Slang

You ever feel like an idiot when you go to the car shop and the guys start calling out O-rings and asking you about gauges and gaskets? I definitely do. Same thing happens with roofing. Experts come up with names for various portions of roofs in order to make their job easier and faster. This one photo will cover about 80% of the terminology so the next time an estimator comes to your home and starts mumbling about pitches being off on ridge, you can nod along without a glazed look in your eye.

That’s it! That’s all you need to know in order to understand the basics of roofing slang. Here are some neat tidbits about the names.

Valleys are places where rain water is going to meet and cascade down your home (much like a valley in a mountain). You’ll often see downspouts right where a valley meets the eve because you need to move that water away from the gutters as quickly as possible. Often times it means you’re getting significantly more volume that any other side of the home.

rake is an architectural term for an eave or cornice which runs along the gable end of the roof of a modern residential structure. It may also be called a sloping cornice, a raking cornice.

Dormer is derived from the Middle French dormeor, meaning “sleeping room”. So when you think of dormer, you can think of dorm room or room where people sleep. Even though most of the time, dormers are just windows or small jutting out sections of a room, that helps me remember what a dormer looks like.


Hopefully next time you have a roofer come to your home you can show off your new knowledge. When I’m driving down the suburbs of Madison, I like to use these terms to talk about what I like and dislike about a home. Dormers in Madison are especially popular in some of the older homes and I really enjoy a robust dormer!

Go ahead and tell us what you like about homes around Wisconsin in the comments!


  • Really interesting tit bits about roof, specially the history part and how they came to be called what they are now, roof. I read a lots of articles on roof, most of them are similar but this one stands out in every aspect. Brilliant job!

  • This is a great post

  • Thank you for sharing roof’s history and some facts about it. Roofs come in many varieties today and homeowners can freely choose what they want for their house. Of course, it also depends if the roof material goes with the house. Stylish roof also make houses or establishments attractive. Roof also gives us safety and security from the harmful elements brought about by the different weather condition.


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