Armchair Builder

Rafters versus Trusses – Which is Best?

Roof Rafters

Rafters for Roof Framing

When it comes to building a new home, is it better to use rafters or roof trusses?  You may be wondering what the difference is between these two.  Here we will discuss the pros and cons of each.  We hope to give you some guidance as to which will be a better fit your new home project.

Traditional Rafters

Back in the old days, all homes were built with traditional rafters (see picture above).  You know, where you use dimensional lumber (i.e. 2×8’s or 2×10’s) to support the roof.  The board at the peak that the rafters tie into  is called the ridge board.  The horizontal members about half way down are called collar ties.  These collar ties work to hold the rafters and roof planes together.

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So why don’t we use rafters as much in new homes today?  It’s primarily because roof trusses have replaced rafters in most home designs because they are less expensive.  Roof trusses have smaller wood members that are engineered to provide a similar strength without all the expensive wood.  It’s really about being efficient with both materials and labor.  The trusses are built in a manufacturing plant that provides a controlled environment to give the highest quality output.  And because many of these plants are automated, they can build the trusses for less than it takes to install rafters on site.

Roof Trusses vs. Rafters

Roof Trusses

Time Savings

Rafters take a tremendous amount of time to install at the job site compared to roof trusses.  Experienced carpenters can install the roof trusses on an average home in the U.S. in a day.   Rafters 0n the other hand could take as much as a week to install.

Rafters for Open Design

One of the major benefits for using rafters today is the open space they create.  If you plan on creating a vaulted space, rafters will help you maximize the open area.  Trusses can create vaulted ceilings but they are not quite as efficient at opening up a space as traditional rafters.

Rafters are also useful for creating an open area for living space.  The picture above is actually going to be a master bedroom closet over a garage.  You can see how the rafters open up the space to provide maximum storage.  The only area taken up by the rafters is the actual depth of each member.  The insulation will go between the rafters and drywall will be applied directly to the face of each member.  Again, trusses can create this same open area but not quite as efficiently.

Lead Times

One other benefit to using rafters over trusses is the lead times.  Roof truss systems require engineering and drawings.  This can take several weeks.  Therefore, if you have a project that you didn’t plan on starting, rafters can help you get started faster.

Rafters for Small Projects

When a job is small, rafters are many times the only way to go.  For example, if you are putting a small addition on your home, it may not make sense to go through the hassle of creating a roof truss design and layout.  A garage is another example of a small project where you may want to just use rafters.

 Remote Projects

Sometimes it makes sense to use rafters based on the location of your new home project.  If your lot is on an island or way up in the mountains, it may be difficult to get roof trusses out to the building site because of their bulk.  Depending on the roof configuration, the trusses can be quite long and wide.  Even the average home built with roof trusses will need an 18 wheeler wide load for delivery.


When it comes to quality, there really is no difference between rafters and roof trusses.  Unless you are going for an exposed rafter look, the end result will be the same whether you go with roof trusses or rafters.  So, your decision to use one over another really comes down to cost.  Be sure to price out both options to a minimum of three carpenters, three lumber suppliers and three truss companies.  Have your carpenter figure the cost of the crane to set the roof trusses on the bid and make sure the truss companies include the delivery fee in their price.  This should allow you to decide if rafters are right for your project.

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