A pitched roof is designed to shed water and snow, and to avoid leaks into the living area by avoiding backups of water, ice and snow. The pitch of a pitched roof can vary from 3:12 (dropping 3 inches for every 12 horizontal inches) up to 12:12. Older houses tended to have steeper pitched roofs, partly because they were not as well insulated as newer houses, and more prone to ice jams at the eaves.
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Rafters are the basic support for a pitched roof. Traditionally, pitched roofs were built with angled rafters that met at a ridge beam. The rafters were secured to the ridge beam on opposite sides, and the ridge beam prevented the pairs of rafters from tipping. Most modern houses are now built with trusses. Trusses are triangular shaped wood constructions that are prefabricated then lifted into place on top of the house, and support the roof.
Sheathing is the material, usually plywood, that is installed directly onto the tops of the rafters or trusses. Sheathing helps to stabilise the roof, and provides a strong base for the exterior cladding of the roof, whether that is shingles, tiles, slate, or metal. 4-by-8 foot sheets of ¾-inch plywood are most commonly used for sheathing on pitched roofs. In most houses built prior to the 1940s, roofs were sheathed with 1-inch boards. For barns or when metal roofing was used, these boards were sometimes put on with spaces between them to save on materials and to allow circulation in the roof. For asphalt shingles, the boards had to be tight together.
The type of insulation used in a pitched roof depends on the house design. If the house has a cathedral ceiling, there will generally be 6-inch batts of fibreglass insulation installed between the rafters. If the house has a flat ceiling with an unheated attic, it will usually have loose cellulose insulation over the ceiling, and no insulation in the pitched roof itself.
Most houses today are roofed with asphalt shingles. These are easy to transport, relatively inexpensive, and will last for several decades. Pitched roofs can also be covered with cedar shingles, ceramic tiles, slate or metal. The choice of roofing materials depends on the budget and aesthetic tastes of the owner, the climate of the house location and the availability of materials.
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