The supporting structure of a roof usually comprises beams that are long and of strong, fairly rigid material such as timber, and since the mid-19th century, cast iron or steel. In countries that use bamboo extensively, the flexibility of the material causes a distinctive curving line to the roof, characteristic of Oriental architecture.
The roofing material is primarily designed to shed water. The covering is also a major element of the architecture so roofing materials come in a wide variety of colors and textures. The primary roof covering on houses in North America are asphalt shingles, but some have other types of roof shingles or metal roofs. Tile and thatch roofs are more common in Europe than North America. Some roofing materials help reduce air conditioning costs in hot climates by being designed to reflect light.
Roof framing must be designed to hold up a structural load including what is called dead load, its own weight and the weight of the roof covering, and additional loading called the environmental load such as snow and wind. Flat roofs may also need to be designed for live loads if people can walk on them. In the United States, building codes specify the loads in pounds per square foot which vary by region. The load and span (distance between supports) defines the size and spacing of the rafters and trusses.
Ventilation of the roof deck speeds the evaporation of water from leakage or condensation and removes heat which helps prevent ice dams and helps asphalt shingles last longer. Building codes in the U.S. specify ventilation rates as a minimum of 1 sq. ft. of opening per 150 sq. ft. (1:150) with a ratio of 1:300 in some conditions. Warm air rises so ceiling insulation is designed to have a higher r-value and the insulation is often installed between the ceiling joists or rafters. A properly insulated and ventilated roof is called a cold roof. A warm roof is a roof that is not ventilated, where the insulation is placed in line with the roof pitch. A hot roof is a roof designed not to have any ventilation and has enough air-impermeable insulation in contact with the sheathing to prevent condensation such as when spray foam insulation is applied directly to the under-side or top-side of the roof deck or in some cathedral ceilings.
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