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Roof Sheathing 101: Types, Installation, and Maintenance Tips

Posted on March 19, 2024

Estimated Reading Time : 6 Min.

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roof sheathing

A roof cannot exist without roof sheathing. Though not visible from the ground, roof sheathing is a crucial component of any roofing system. And it can never be ignored when installing a new roof. You can think of roof sheathing as a flat, sturdy platform that supports the roofing materials. It lays the foundation of your roof and provides a stable surface for roofing materials to be installed. 

Homeowners installing a new roof must understand the importance of roof sheathing, its various types, installation methods, and maintenance tips to cut out frequent repair costs. Therefore, in this blog post, we will provide you with the most important information about roof sheathing. 

What Is Roof Sheathing?

Roof sheathing, also known as roof decking, refers to the solid foundation beneath the roofing materials. Though not visible from the outside, roof sheathing provides sturdy support and a platform for roofing shingles to be installed. It is a rectangular layer of long plywood or plank boards that are installed directly on the roof rafters or trusses. These long plywood or plank boards form a flat, sturdy foundation or backing for roofing materials when installed side by side. The most popular types of roof sheathing include plywood and oriented strand board (OSB). Providing support and ensuring the durability of your roof, the roof sheathing protects your home from harsh weather conditions and provides you with peace of mind. 

The Importance of Roof Sheathing For Structural Integrity

Roof sheathing serves as a fundamental component in the architecture of any building. When carefully chosen and correctly installed, roof sheathing offers several significant advantages, from improving your roof’s stability to enhancing energy efficiency.

1. Enhance Roof Stability and Durability

The roof sheathing acts as the backbone supporting everything above it: shingles, tiles, metal panels, or other roofing materials.

Quality sheathing bridges the gaps between the rafters or trusses to create an even surface onto which these roofing elements attach securely. By doing so, it provides critical structural integrity that enables roofs to withstand massive wind loads and heavy layers of snow without damaging under the pressure. 

2. Protect Against Moisture Infiltration and Leaks

Besides providing support to your roofing materials, roof sheathing acts as a robust barrier that prevents rainwater or melting snow from penetrating your house’s interior. This, in turn, preserves the integrity of your roof and the rafters, and will also contribute indirectly to maintaining healthier indoor air quality by preventing mold growth.

Moreover, high-quality or specially designed roof sheathing materials with enhanced resistance to moisture are available. 

3. Improved Insulation and Energy Efficiency

Another important contribution of roof sheathing is improved insulation and, consequently, energy efficiency. Undeniably, the roof decking protects your home interior from heat, harmful UV rays, and thunderstorms. And when added with good quality roof insulation, it preserves the heat and maintains the temperature within the home. This thermal protection translates into reduced strain on HVAC systems during sweltering summer or chilly winters.

Two Main Types of Roof Sheathing

There are two main types of roof sheathings available on the market: plywood roof sheathing and OSB roof sheathing. They are known for their sturdy and reliable support. 

1. Plywood Roof Sheathing

Plywood roof sheathing

You might have even seen plywood sheathing before. These wide and long wood boards are engineered from thin wood layers and glued together under high pressure. Apart from their material composition, their manufacturing process significantly contributes to their strength and durable nature. 

Additionally, plywood roof sheathing exhibits impressive insulation properties that contribute to increasing the home’s energy efficiency. Its load-bearing capacity protects it from being damaged under the load of snow and the forceful events of nature. 

2. OSB Roof Sheathing

Osb roof sheathing

Another popular roof sheathing material is OSB. OSB is composed primarily of three layers: a dense outer layer for optimal structural strength, a softer inner layer enabling flexibility during installation, plus waterproof adhesive bonding. 

These all together create resistance against moisture penetration, making it a reliable roof sheathing material. However, it’s important to note that prolonged exposure to damp conditions can result in swelling. 

How To Select The Right Roof Sheathing Material For Your Roof 

Because of the fewer options available on the market, it is often easier for homeowners to choose the right sheathing material. 

A. Key Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Plywood and OSB

1. Cost: Plywood is generally more expensive than OSB. However, the choice between plywood and OSB should not depend solely upon expenses; you must also consider durability, strength, and resistance.

2. Moisture Resistance: Both plywood and OSB can withstand light rain during construction, however if subjected to significant amounts of water over an extended period, plywood may fare better. It tends to dry out faster than OSB.

3. Strength & Durability: In terms of structural strength, both plywood and OSB roof sheathing offer significant load bearing capacities that certify their usage as reputable materials. 

B. Recommended Roof Sheathing Thickness For Roofing Projects

Determining the best roof sheathing thickness will differ based on the roof type:

1. Flat roofs or low-slope roofs: Low slope roofs usually require thicker sheathing due to their inherent tendency to retain rainfall or snow loads longer than sloped roofs. 

2. Steep slope roofs: They may not need increased thickness because they can shed water easier, all thanks to their geometry and design. However, when making a final decision, it is essential to consider your local area climate and the frequency of rain and thunderstorms. 

How To Install Roof Sheathing

Installing roof sheathing isn’t just about laying down the panels on the rafters. If you aspire to achieve optimal performance for your roof, proper alignment techniques are non-negotiable.

1. Proper Alignment and Installation

Before installing roof sheathing, it’s essential to place the boards straight onto the rafter or truss section. This step might sound basic, but proper alignment serves as the backbone of a durable roof. You can use chalk lines to guide placement if necessary. 

Remember, you must opt for a systematic installation approach from bottom to top, one row at a time. Gradually work up towards the peak to ensure uniformity over your roof. 

Lastly, maintain adequate spacing between the plywood or OSB sheets. Because wood expands under varying temperatures, you should leave approximately 1/8 inch gap to prevent buckling during expansion. 

2. Use High-Quality Fasteners and Adhesives

Good materials are essential, but the success of your project often hinges on the fasteners and adhesives that hold them together. These materials keep everything in place and ensure structural integrity, even in harsh weather conditions.

When it comes to installing roof sheathing, roofing nails are the best choice. However, the length of the nail will depend on the thickness of your chosen sheathing material. Make sure the nails extend about an inch into the underlying support for optimal results.

To further increase holding power and wind resistance, it’s a good idea to apply construction adhesive before fastening the sheets onto joists or rafters. This is especially important if you live in an area that is prone to strong winds.

3. Understand Roofing Codes

Before installing roof sheathing on your home, it’s crucial to keep in mind the codes and regulations involved in the project. These laws can vary significantly depending on your location or jurisdiction and ensure that all roofing work meets industry standards for safety, durability, and performance.

The most important of these regulations are building codes, which are usually set by local or state governments based on international guidelines. These rules govern the type, application, and minimum thickness of roof sheathing. 

For example, per the 2021 International Building Code (IBC), roofing nails securing the sheathing material must penetrate the rafters or trusses by at least 1 inch.  

Also Read: Is Your Roof Decking Up To Code? 

Another important area governed by these codes is fire resistance ratings. These ratings determine whether a building material can resist burning when exposed to extreme heat or flame. 

Understanding these regulations can help you make informed decisions about the materials you choose for your roof sheathing. 

Trust A. Fricker Roofing and Waterproofing In Tulsa, OK, For Your Roof Installation

Now that you know the basics of roof sheathing, its types, installation techniques, and the importance of local area building codes, you can proceed with your new roof installation with confidence. 

At A. Fricker Roofing and Waterproofing in Tulsa, OK, we ensure the sturdiness of your new roof installation by using high-quality roofing materials. As a roofing company serving home and commercial building owners, we have gained an immense reputation in the area for our workmanship and installation techniques. 
We have professionally trained roofers who understand the local area building codes and work in their compliance. So, if you want to install a new roof or replace an existing roof, don’t hesitate to contact us. Give us a call today at (918) 402-7167 and consult a professional for your roofing needs.

roof sheathing