The two International Residential Code (IRC) standards that apply to cutting a birdsmouth in a roof rafter are:
1) "Notches at the ends of the member shall not exceed one-fourth the depth of the member" (IRC R502.8.1). That would be a max of 1-3/8” for a 2x6, 1-3/4” for 2x8, 2-1/4” for 2x10 and 2-3/4” for 2x12.
2) "The ends of each rafter or ceiling joist shall have not less than 1-1/2 inches (38 mm) of bearing on wood or metal and not less than 3 inches (76 mm) on masonry or concrete” (IRC R802.6). Rafters on a block wall are usually installed over a nominal 2-inch thick wood plate on top of the wall, making the 1-1/2” bearing the one that’s applicable in most cases.
So the two controlling factors are the minimum 1-1/2” bearing and depth of the birdsmouth cut not exceeding 1/4 of the depth of the rafter.
Cutting the birdsmouth to the maximum 25% depth of a low slope (4/12 or less) rafter can cause the seat to be wider than the top plate, which weakens the rafter near the bearing point and increases the likelihood of a split. An exaggerated example of that is shown above, with a 2x12 rafter on a owner-built home addition that cut away 2/3 of the rafter depth and created a comically long seat. Conversely, on a higher slope roof it may not be possible to get bearing over the full surface of the top plate, but as long as you meet or exceed the 1-1/2” minimum it’s fine.
Also see our blog posts Are roof trusses better than roof rafters (stick framing)? and Why is there diagonal bracing at the roof rafters in the attic?
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To learn more about roofs and attics, see these other blog posts:
• 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?
• Why is my roof leaking?
• 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.