10 Top Parts of a Roof & Roof Terminology

Unless you’ve studied this subject a great deal, it’s tough to know what the parts of a roof are. There’s everything from underlayment to hip and roof valley to understand. With roofing terminology like this, you need a 101 guide to comprehend roofing terms!

Fortunately, we’re here to help — and to take the mystery out of the parts of a roof for you.

To decipher what your contractor is talking about when discussing the parts of a roof, we’ve compiled a list of basic roofing terms and definitions. However, before we begin, let’s talk pitch. No, not a baseball pitch. We’re talking roofing basics here — the pitch of a roof. And you really need to understand your roof pitch more than anything else!

In roofing terms, the pitch of a roof is its “rise overrun.” To understand this roof terminology better, think of it this way. If a roofer tells you that your roof is a 7:12, then your roof “rise” is 7 inches for every 12 inches it “runs.”

We understand this roof structure terminology is not always easy to grasp. If you need more assistance, check out the article “How to Determine Roof Pitch” in the online versions of This Old House magazine.

Parts of a Roof

Instead of starting at the top of the roof, let’s start at the bottom. Underneath to be exact. When a roof structure is created, the base is generally made of wood beams and plywood. That’s the “foundation” of your roof. After that a form of underlayment is added to protect the parts of a house roof from moisture.

Once you start building up on that underlayment, that’s when you actually start to see the parts of a roof from the ground. These can include the shingles or tiles on the roof, plus the different areas where surfaces meet. With that brief explanation (and with the help of this roof parts diagram), let’s delve deeper into roofing terms.

Helpful Terms to Know for Your Roof Installation








Roof Terminology – Roofing Basics

  • Underlayment: This is the beginning of roofing basics. The underlayment may be any sheet material which is installed in between the roof system and the roof deck. The underlayment helps separate the two. In addition, underlayment is generally waterproof and also provides secondary protection against potential weather damage. Want to know more? Then check out this Family Handyman story on “Everything Roofing Pros Should Know About Synthetic Underlayment.” 
  • Tile: A roof tile is one of the essential parts of a house roof. Don’t let the word “tile” fool you. We could be talking about a cedar shake shingle, composite roofing, clay, slate, or even metal roofing. The word “tile” is a generic roofing construction term. It is the basic item used in covering the roof. 

Roofing Terminology – Parts of a Roof

The vast majority of roofs have some slope to them. And, unless they’re a Saltbox style roof with one simple long and one short side, they’re going to have sections to them. This is where roof structure terminology gets fun. Much like the bones in a body, you need to understand the parts of a roof.

  • Ridge: A horizontal line formed by two surfaces at the top of a roof. This is where two slopes meet. Basically, it’s the peak of a sloped roof.
  • Hip: A slanting ridge that forms the junction between two slopes on a part of the roof that comes out at a separate angle from the main section of the roof.
  • Rake: The inclined edge of the roof which is adjacent to the first rafter of the wall.
  • Vents: Openings in the parts of a roof designed mainly for the passage of air, water vapor, heat or other gases. Because your home has to breathe, having vents are part of the roofing basics.
  • Roof Valley: The roof valley is the angle made by the intersection of the two sloping roof surfaces. You’ll find that water collects in the roof valley and then flows down off the roof. (Hint: Check out our story “The ABC’s of Roofing” for more roofing basics on having a closed roof valley versus an open roof valley.)
  • Gable: A triangular area that lies directly beneath the sloping roof.
  • Flashing: Metal pieces used as roof joints to protect against water leakage.


We hope this fast look at the parts of a roof helps when discussing your roofing needs with a contractor.  If you have more questions on roofing terms and the roofing process, we can help. Our FAQ section online is full of roof terminology, along with guidance on color selection and installation details.