Roof Decks: Don’t Underestimate the Backbone of the Roof System

NOTE: This article is intended to provide general information while conveying the importance of the roof deck as an integral part of a roof system. Additional information about specific effects and concerns in regard to roofing can be found in The NRCA Roofing and Waterproofing Manual and various roof-cover manufacturers’ design guides.

Wood plank decks can provide a dramatic exposed roof deck.

Wood plank decks can provide a dramatic exposed roof deck.

The roof deck is the backbone and an integral component of all roofing systems. Its main function is to provide structural support for the roof system and, therefore, is a building element that needs to be designed by a licensed design professional because proper support of the roofing above is critical to the roof system’s success.

Roof decks also add thermal performance and fire resistance and ratings, provide slope for drainage and enhance wind-uplift performance. They must accommodate building movement and often determine the attachment method of the vapor retarder, insulation and membrane.

Roof Deck Types

There are many types of roof decks being installed today:

  • Steel
  • Precast concrete panel
  • Structural concrete
  • Cementitious wood fiber
  • Wood planking
  • Plywood/OSB
  • Poured gypsum

Some decks are covered with topping fills that become the base for the roof system and may also be an integral structural component:

  • Concrete
  • Lightweight insulation concrete topping
  • Lightweight aggregate concrete topping

Other deck toppings are available, such as poured gypsum and lightweight concrete with integral insulation, but these are considered substrate covers and not roof decks.

The most prevalent roof deck in the U.S. for commercial buildings is steel. On the West Coast, plywood/OSB is very popular. In addition to the roof decks already mentioned, in the course of roof-replacement work the designer may come in contact with the following:

While the “plate” test is not a preferred method, it can quickly and inexpensively give an indication of retained moisture in lightweight aggregate concrete roof deck covers.

While the “plate” test is not a preferred method, it can quickly and inexpensively
give an indication of retained moisture in lightweight aggregate
concrete roof deck covers.

  • Book tile
  • Lightweight precast concrete planks
  • Precast gypsum planks
  • Transite

Collaboration with the Structural Engineer

Because a roof deck is the foundation for the roof system, the designer needs to coordinate the roof system design requirements for the roof deck with the structural engineer to ensure the performance of the roof system. For example, the roof deck may need to extend to the roof edge. In this example, the roof deck may not need to extend to the roof edge for structural concerns but is needed to support the roof system; the roof designer must address this. If the roof deck is structurally sloped, the designer and engineer must determine whether the low point is a potential drain location. Are there steel beams in the way of the drain location? The roof deck must be attached to the structure to prevent uplift. And the designer and engineer must determine what the deflection of the roof-deck span may be between structural supports. For example, steel deck is sometimes installed with spans of 7 feet between joists and flexes (deflects) under foot traffic. This typically is not a good condition onto which a ridged roof system, such as a bituminous one, should be installed. It cannot be expected to accommodate such deflection. PHOTOS: Hutchinson Design Group Ltd. [Read more…]