The two words are often used interchangeably and both are long strips, usually wood, used for the attachment of roofing material. But a “purlin” is applied directly onto the roof rafters, running perpendicular between them, while a “batten” is nailed to roof sheathing or applied over an existing roof for installation of a new roof. The photo above shows battens at a tile roof installation in progress.
Some types of roofs, such as 5V-crimp metal, were once allowed to be installed directly onto purlins, as shown in the photo below, looking up at the metal roofing from the attic. But building codes now require roof sheathing, plus a layer of roofing felt or other approved water-resistant surface over the sheathing, before installation of the roof covering.
The air gap that battens create between the roof sheathing and roof can be helpful as a thermal barrier. Also, rigid insulation can be placed in the space between battens. Some roof installations go a step further, and utilize battens running up the roof, with a second layer of battens running perpendicular over them, to provide ventilation between the roof material and sheathing at the ridge, as in the the photo below.
Another type of purlin is used for additional structural support under roof rafters in an older style of roof framing that predates manufactured roof trusses. To learn more about it, go to our blog post Why is there diagonal bracing at the roof rafters in the attic?
And steel purlins are also used in industrial construction, as shown below.
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To learn more about roofs and attics, see these other blog posts:
• Which are the male and female flanges of a metal roof panel?
• Why is my roof sheathing sagging between the trusses?
• Why is granule loss a problem for an asphalt shingle roof?
• What are the mistakes to avoid when doing attic improvements?
• What causes roof shingles to curl up at corners?
• What causes shingles to buckle along a line on the roof?
• What causes leaks at a fake roof dormer?
• What causes a sagging roof ridge line?
• What causes bubble-like blisters in a built-up and gravel roof?
• Why does it cost so much more to replace a steep roof than a low slope roof?
• What is "ponding" on a flat roof?
• Is an attic required to have a light by the building code?
• How can I inspect my roof for hurricane damage?
• Why is premature curl of roof shingles a problem?
• How can I tell if a roof has more than one layer of shingles?
• What are the common problems with attic insulation?
• What is the life expectancy of an asbestos cement shingle roof?
• What's the average lifespan of a roof?
• Why is it a mistake to replace a roof and not replace its flashings?
• Why is there no attic access hatch in the house?
• What is the building code requirement for an attic access hatch, scuttle, or door?
• Does a roof with multiple layers of shingles last longer?
• What can I do to prevent roof leaks?
• Are roof trusses better than roof rafters (stick framing)?
• Why is a popped nail in a shingle roof a problem? How do I fix it?
• What are the most common problems with wood roof trusses?
• What causes a lump or dip in the roof?
• If my roof is not leaking, why does it need to be replaced?
• How can I be sure my roofing contractor got a permit?
• How many layers of roofing are allowed on a home?
• What are the dark lines running parallel to shingles on my roof?
• Can metal roofing be used on a low slope/pitch roof?
• How can I make my roof last longer?
• What are the warning signs of a dangerous attic pull-down ladder?
• How can I find out the age of a roof?
• Should I buy a house that needs a new roof?
• Should I buy a house with an old roof?
• What are those metal boxes on the roof?
• What does "lack of tab adhesion" in an asphalt shingle roof mean?
• Why do roof edges start leaking?
• Why do my dormer windows leak?
• Do home inspectors go on the roof? Do they get in the attic?
• Should I put gutters on the house?
• How much of a roof truss can I cut out to make a storage platform in the attic?
• What's the difference between an "architectural" and a regular shingle roof?
• What does a home inspector look for when examining a roof?
• Do stains on the ceiling mean the roof is leaking?
• How can I tell if the house needs a new roof?
• Why does my homeowner's insurance want a roof inspection?
• What are the hazards to avoid when going into an attic?
Visit our ROOF AND ATTIC page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.