How to Span With Trusses

A truss is two elements joined with internal supports to make a stronger and more rigid structure.
Roof trusses ready for installationRoof trusses ready for installation
Trusses may be made of steel, aluminum or other material, but the most common versions are wood. Trusses are the most popular form of roof framing and are used on about 80 percent of new houses. Trusses also may be used to form floors. The advantage of a truss is that its internal, usually triangular, bracing allows it to withstand forces that would damage or break a single board. Trusses must be calculated for the span or distance they will cover.

Step 1

Measure the distance to be spanned across a house or other structure. The span is the distance from one outer wall to the other. Determine the type of lumber to be used. Truss strength will vary among lumber types, such as white pine, yellow pine, cedar or fir, which are the most common woods. It also will vary with lumber grade, such as No. 1 or No. 2 white pine.

Step 2

Determine the spacing of trusses. Trusses spaced 16 inches apart will carry greater loads than those spaced at 24 inches; 24 inches is the normal spacing for roof trusses in a house but conditions may dictate a narrower spacing. Figure a roof pitch or slope; that angle will affect the length of the truss from peak to outer wall, which in turn will affect the strength needed. A truss of 2-by-4-inch lumber for a steep 6/12 pitch that rises 6 inches in 12 feet will cover almost twice the span as on a 2/12 roof, which slopes only 2 inches in 12 feet.

Step 3

Calculate the load for the truss. This includes the weight of the roof decking and the shingles. Shingle weight can vary with the type of material and thickness used. Figure a "snow load," using Weather Bureau information about the maximum amount of snow a roof might be expected to bear and wind loads, maximum wind force on a roof. Consult truss tables for variations according to the size of lumber used in the truss; a truss framed with 2-by-6-inch lumber will span about a third more distance with the same load factor than one with 2-by-4-inch lumber.

Step 4

Consult local building codes. Most jurisdictions have codes that regulate the size of lumber, the length of truss, the type of internal bracing required and other factors that affect strength of a structure. The codes also will cover floor trusses, which are used in raised floor systems such as pier and beam foundations or on concrete stem walls or basement walls.

Things You Will Need

  • Tape measure
  • Span calculator

About the Author

Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.