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Which Size Rafters to Use in a Flat Roof?

David Dunning

The rafters in a flat roof serve as ceiling joists for the space below. They are nailed securely to exterior wall plates and to each other. The size of rafters for a flat roof depends on the horizontal span of the building, the type and grade of timber used and the load on the roof.


Completely flat roofs typically present weather proofing problems, so the rafters, or joists, of some flat roofs are laid at a slight angle for drainage. If this is the case, the slope of the roof is also important.


In some localities, provisions need to be made for high winds, snow and earthquakes when specifying the size of rafters for a flat roof. The American Wood Council provides span tables for joints and rafters under different load conditions.


If the rafters of a flat roof need to span 18 feet, with a deflection limit of their length divided by 360 (L/360), they need to be 2 inches by 10 inches or 2 inches by 12 inches, depending on the type and grade of timber used. These dimensions take into account a snow load of 20 pounds per square foot (psf).