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Trusses vs Rafters: What’s the Real Difference?

To the average eye, all new construction looks the same. Wood on top of the wood in beautiful patterns of triangles and rectangles. But skilled carpenters and seasoned contractors can immediately see the difference in construction.

To the average eye, all new construction looks the same. Wood on top of the wood in beautiful patterns of triangles and rectangles.

But skilled carpenters and seasoned contractors can immediately see the difference in construction. They use words like “truss” ad “rafters” purposefully, whereas the common man just recognizes a building is going up in the neighborhood.

When it’s time for you to build a house, you’ll have dozens of important decisions to make. Among the first of them comes the construction of your building. And you will need to understand the basic difference between trusses vs rafters.

Keep reading to learn about trusses and rafters and why their difference matters.

Trusses vs Rafters

At first glance, trusses and rafters look similar. They’re both referring to roof construction. Both are used to construct a triangular-shaped roof or a pitched roof.

Their construction sets them apart from each other.

Truss Construction

Trusses are webbed triangular-shaped wood pieces used to support a roof on a building. They consist mostly of wood. Contractors have trusses prefabricated in a factory setting before they bring them out to a building site.

The trusses look like big wooden triangles with wooden webbing inside them. The webbing distributes the load of the roof along a bigger area, making the building sturdy and giving the exterior walls support.

Trusses do not require a ridge board as rafters do. Instead, contractors will use collar ties to keep the walls from spreading.

Rafter Construction

Roof rafters vs trusses look a bit different. They consist of long planks usually either 2 x 12x or 2 x 10s. The planks stretch from the central ridge beam and intersect with the outside walls.

Rafters hold up the roof. They also help support the exterior walls. Often contractors will refer to rafters as “stick framing.”

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As a whole, rafters look simpler than trusses because they do not have a big triangle shape with the webbing. They’re just beams holding up the roof.

Pros and Cons of Attic Trusses vs. Rafters

When it comes to roof rafters vs trusses, there are more similarities than differences. Contractors choose one method of building over another for specific reasons. Here are some reasons why.

Price

Prefabricated truss packages cost significantly less than rafters. Experts claim that trusses for a 2,000-square-foot home will cost between $7,200 and $12,000.

Rafters for the same home would cost between $7 and $16 a square foot or $14,000 to $28,000.

Rafters typically cost more because they require expertise. Builders construct the rafters on-site and need to measure them precisely. The amount of labor increases significantly and thus the cost follows.

Accuracy

Trusses win the accuracy war as well. Contractors make fewer mistakes with trusses because factory workers construct them in a controlled environment. Engineers load specified measurements into a computer that directs machinery to cut and construct the rafters.

Thus the computers use precise measurements, and each truss meets the required specifications.

Rafters require skilled laborers on-site to factor in angles. Older builders have more skills with rafters since they’ve worked with them more. Few builders can produce severe rafters with the exact specifications needed without making small errors here and there.

Time of Construction

Contractors can place trusses on a 2,500-square foot home in about a day. They move quickly because the trusses are prefabricated and ready to go.

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Rafters, on the other hand, can take up to a week to construct. In that time frame, the builder has to hope that no inclement weather slows him down or spoils the building he’s working on. You want to have a roof on your structure as quickly as possible, so trusses work best when you’re working within a time limit.

Structural Integrity

Trusses consist of smaller pieces of lumber. However, their webbing gives them excellent structural strength. Roof rafters can hold your roof up but do not have the same structural integrity that trusses provide.

Plus trusses can span farther. Some trusses can reach up to 60 feet. Rafters can span to maybe 30 feet at the most without support.

Weight and Installation

Some people will argue that contractors can install trusses much more easily than rafters. After all, you’re putting up an entire construction of wood webbing versus one rafter.

Plus, trusses come with detailed instructions on how to place them.

However, others will argue trusses are more complicated because they’re heavier. A semi will have to deliver them, and this raises their shipping cost.

You will also need a crane or a room to move them to your roof. They’re far too heavy for a couple of strong construction workers to move them on their own. This also means you need dry ground conditions to move your trusses since heavy equipment cannot work in mud.

Access

If you’re planning a building in a remote location, trusses may cause some problems. You need an open road where a semi can travel to transport the trusses. So typically island or mountain retreats will require rafters as opposed to trusses.

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Aesthetics

If you want a wide-open ceiling look, then rafters make the most sense. Rafters allow you to see up to the roof of your building and give your room some open aesthetics. You end up with a far more dramatic look when you use rafters as opposed to using trusses.

If you want to have an attic you can move around in, then rafters make the most sense as well. You cannot have an open loft or attic with trusses.

When to Use Trusses

Trusses are a great option if your home is a traditional home easily reached by heavy machinery. You’ll need a location that semis can get to as well as other heavy machinery that you need to move the trusses.

Also, trusses work well if you do not care about attic space or open, vaulted ceilings.

Finally, if cost is a major factor, go with trusses.

When to Use Roof Rafters

Rafters work best if you want to maximize your living space. You have the option of having an additional roof with attic space or of creating a dramatic effect by opening your rooms up to the roof.

Rafters work best also if you plan on a more secluded space, no easily accessible by semis or other large equipment needed to transport trusses.

Roof Wisely

Now that you understand the difference between trusses vs rafters, you can make an informed decision on what will work best for your dream home.

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