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Rafters vs. Trusses: Comparison, Uses, Cost & More

Posted on June 28, 2023

Estimated Reading Time : 7 Min.

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Rafters vs. Trusses: Comparison, Uses, Cost & More

When it comes to pitched roofs, there are two primary structural frameworks: roof trusses and rafters. These are crucial parts of a roof that differ in terms of construction, design, and application. Understanding these components will help you make an informed decision about which option is best suited to your needs.

As a roofing specialist at Excel Renovations, I’m here to help you choose the right framework for your roof. I’ll explain the difference between rafters vs. trusses, stating their pros, cons, uses, and costs. All these are crucial factors that you should consider. So, whether you’re building a new house or remodeling your home, this guide to roof rafters and trusses will be immensely helpful.

Let’s begin with the basics of each framework.

What are Rafters on a Roof?

roof rafters

Rafters are an integral part of traditional roof framing. A rafter is a wooden beam, and multiple rafters create a framework that extends from the roof ridge to the wall plate, eaves, and downslope perimeter. A framework of rafters provides primary support for roof decking and all subsequent roofing materials. These sturdy wooden beams are cut and installed on the construction site by professional roofers, but trusses have a different purpose.

What are Roof Trusses?

roof trusses

Unlike rafters, trusses are not built on-site. They are cut and assembled in a factory to form triangular wooden frames by connecting two upper rods, a lower rod, and tiny webs at each corner. 

So, what’s the main difference between the two frameworks?

Rafters vs. Trusses: The Main Difference

With the above explanations of the two frameworks, here’s what I say: The main difference between rafters and trusses is in their framing design and construction, which enables either more customization or less, depending on which one you choose.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each framework, which will include their differences, uses, costs, and more.

👉 The Advantages of Rafters

Using rafters for roof framing offers several advantages:

#1 Customization and On-site Adjustments

Since rafters are cut on-site, they can be customized to fit the specific dimensions and design requirements of the roof. This allows for adjustments to accommodate structural variations or address any gaps or alignment issues that may arise during construction.

#2 Architectural Flexibility

Rafters provide more design flexibility, making them ideal for incorporating unique architectural features and creating visually appealing rooflines. They allow for the creation of vaulted ceilings, church ceilings, and other architectural interior elements.

finished attic

#3 Structural Stability

By using collar ties and other additional components, rafters offer excellent structural stability. These components help distribute the weight of the roof evenly and prevent the roof from sagging or experiencing structural issues over time.

#4 Cost-Effective for Small Projects

For smaller projects or renovations, rafters can be a cost-effective option. Since they can be cut on-site, there is no need for specialized manufacturing or delivery, reducing overall expenses.

If you want to depend on rafters, it’s important to know some potential concerns related to this roof structure.

Potential Concerns with Rafters

While rafters have their advantages, there are also some considerations to keep in mind:

#1 Time-Consuming Construction Process

Building a roof using rafters requires more time and labor compared to using pre-manufactured trusses. The process involves cutting, measuring, and fitting each rafter individually, which can be time-consuming, especially for complex roof designs.

#2 High Level of Skill and Expertise Required

Constructing a roof with rafters demands a high level of skill and expertise from the carpenters or roofers involved. The intricate structural requirements of these roofs require experienced professionals who can navigate the complexities of the framing process.

#4 Limited Spanning Capability

Rafters have certain limitations when it comes to spanning large distances without additional support. In cases requiring longer spans, additional vertical beams, posts, or weight-bearing columns or walls are necessary to provide adequate support and prevent sagging.

#5 Reduced Design Options for Large Projects

For larger projects, such as commercial buildings or expansive residential properties, rafters may not be the most practical option. The need for longer spans and increased load-bearing capacity often necessitates the use of triangular trusses, which can provide essential structural support.

Now, let’s understand the pros and cons of constructing a roof with trusses.

👉 The Benefits of a Truss Framework

Trusses offer several advantages that have made them increasingly popular in modern construction:

#1 Speedy Installation Process

Trusses come pre-manufactured, which significantly speeds up the installation process. They can be quickly assembled and pitched on-site, reducing labor costs and construction time.

#2 Structural Strength and Stability

Are trusses stronger than rafters? Well, trusses are engineered to be stronger structurally and more stable than individual rafters. The interconnected webbing design creates a rigid framework that can withstand heavy loads and external forces, such as wind and snow.

This brings me to whether or not they can handle larger loads:

Trusses vs. Rafters: Load-Bearing Power

Trusses excel at handling large load-bearing capacity for large areas, while rafters contribute to the primary roof structure, reinforcing its shape and stability. The triangular arrangement allows trusses to bear significant loads, making them ideal for spanning long distances without requiring additional support.

On the other hand, rafters are individual beams that support the roof structure. While rafters can handle moderate loads, they are typically used in combination with other components, such as ceiling joists or collar ties, to provide additional support and prevent roof sagging.

#3 Design Flexibility for Large Spans

Trusses allow for greater design flexibility, especially when it comes to spanning large distances. They can be customized to accommodate various roof shapes and configurations, making them suitable for complex architectural designs.

#4 Cost-Effective for Large Projects

While trusses may require additional manufacturing and transportation costs, they can be more cost-effective for larger projects. The economies of scale associated with truss production make them a practical choice for commercial buildings, large residential properties, and homes with large or high-pitched roofs with unfinished attics.

With these benefits, trusses have some drawbacks when it comes to creativity and other factors. Let’s have a look.

Potential Drawbacks of Roof Trusses

If you want to incorporate this triangular framework into your roof design, here are some common concerns you should know about:

#1 Limited On-site Adjustments

Once manufactured, trusses cannot be easily modified or adjusted on-site. Any alterations made to the truss system may compromise its structural integrity, making it essential to ensure accurate measurements and design specifications before manufacturing.

#2 Additional Equipment and Expertise Required

Installing trusses requires specialized equipment, such as cranes, to lift and position the trusses. It also requires expertise in handling and assembling trusses to ensure proper installation and structural integrity.

#3 Potential Scheduling Challenges

The delivery and installation of trusses involve coordination between manufacturers, suppliers, and contractors. Delays in any part of the process, such as late deliveries or the unavailability of cranes, can disrupt the construction schedule and lead to costly delays.

#4 Less Design Flexibility for Smaller Projects

For smaller residential projects or renovations, trusses may not provide the same level of design flexibility as rafters. Their standardized designs and limited customization options may not be suitable for homeowners seeking unique architectural features or intricate roof designs.

And when it comes to remodeling or building a new roof, it’s crucial to understand the costs. 

👉 Rafters vs. Trusses: Cost

Replacement or installation of roof trusses costs between $5 to $14 per square foot, and for rafters, the cost ranges from $7 to $30 per square foot. 

Generally, the cost of rafters, purlins, and joists is more expensive because they are constructed on-site. If you are looking for customization options, it will also add to the cost of building a rafter framework. As for factory-made and assembled trusses, they are made in bulk and don’t need additional labor. So their quick installation and ability to span longer distances save you money on materials and labor.

However, your choice between rafters and trusses should not solely depend on their cost. You need to consider many other factors, including the size and complexity of your desired roof and the availability of labor and materials. While rafters may be more cost-effective for smaller projects like attic or ceiling work, trusses may offer more long-term benefits for larger projects like complete roof replacements, home renovation projects, and commercial and apartment roofing projects.

Let me share some insights into choosing the right roofing framework.

👉 Choosing the Right Roof Framing Method

Deciding between roof trusses and rafters ultimately depends on your specific needs, budget, and design preferences. Here are some factors to consider when making a decision:

  • Architectural Design: If you have specific design requirements for your attic or want more creative freedom, rafters can be a better option.
  • Project Timeline: Truss frameworks offer faster installation times, making them ideal for projects with strict timelines or unpredictable weather conditions.
  • Budget: Trusses are generally more cost-effective due to their efficiency and reduced labor requirements.
  • Structural Considerations: If you have a large area to cover, trusses are a better choice for extra support.
  • Local Residential Building Codes: It’s crucial to go through your local residential building codes and follow the requirements for roof framing. This will ensure the safety and longevity of your home and avoid legal, and insurance claim issues.

Roof trusses and rafters are both viable options for roof framing, each with distinct pros and cons. While trusses offer efficiency and structural stability, rafters provide design flexibility and customization options. 

To get started, it’s best to consult with a roofing contractor to ensure your roof framing meets the necessary structural and design requirements. The professionals will also help you pick a sturdy and beautiful roof design based on your home’s architecture and your personal taste.

If you’re looking for a skilled and reliable roofing contractor in Plymouth, Minnesota, Excel Renovations is here to help you.

Free Consultations & Estimates on Roof Replacements & New Roof Installations

At Excel Renovations, we’re proud to be a part of the Minnesota community and do our best to help fellow homeowners build safe and beautiful homes. That’s why we offer a free consultation and estimate on roofing projects to all homeowners. If you’re looking for roof replacement service in Plymouth, Minnesota, call us at (612) 439-5005. We’ll help you achieve the roof your home needs, making sure everything goes safely and meets all your requirements.