Can You Use Synthetic Roof Underlayment as House Wrap?

When it comes to building or renovating a home, the details matter – and that includes the materials used for critical components like roof underlayment and house wrap. While these terms may sound interchangeable, they serve distinct purposes and have specific requirements. In this article, we’ll explore whether synthetic roof underlayment can be used as a substitute for dedicated house wrap products and what factors you should consider.

Roof underlayment is a protective layer installed between the roof deck and the final roofing material (e.g., shingles, tiles). Its primary function is to act as a secondary moisture barrier and prevent water infiltration in the event of leaks or damage to the outer roofing layer. On the other hand, house wrap is a breathable membrane designed to protect the exterior walls from air and moisture intrusion while allowing vapor to escape, reducing the risk of condensation buildup within the wall assembly.

While both materials share some similarities in terms of water resistance, using synthetic roof underlayment as a house wrap substitute can have significant implications for the overall performance and longevity of your home’s exterior. Proper installation is crucial to ensuring the materials function as intended and meet relevant building code requirements.

Synthetic Roof Underlayment Materials

Synthetic roof underlayment products have gained popularity in recent years due to their durability and ease of installation compared to traditional felt underlayment. These materials are typically made from woven or non-woven polypropylene or polyethylene fabrics, often reinforced with fiberglass or other synthetic fibers.

Some key benefits of synthetic underlayment include:

  • Water resistance: These materials are highly resistant to water penetration, providing an effective moisture barrier beneath the roofing material.
  • Durability: Synthetic underlayment is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, UV exposure, and foot traffic during installation without tearing or degrading prematurely.
  • Lightweight and easy installation: Compared to felt underlayment, synthetic products are lighter and come in larger rolls, reducing installation time and labor costs.

However, synthetic underlayment materials also have some potential drawbacks:

  • Cost: While the installation savings can offset the higher material cost over time, synthetic underlayment is generally more expensive upfront than felt underlayment.
  • Breathability: Some synthetic underlayment products have limited breathability, which could lead to moisture buildup and condensation issues if not properly accounted for in the overall roof assembly design.

It’s important to note that not all synthetic underlayment products are created equal. Manufacturers offer various grades and compositions, each with its own performance characteristics and recommended applications.

House Wrap Purpose and Requirements

House wrap, also known as air and moisture barrier, serves a distinct purpose in protecting the exterior walls of a building. Its primary function is to prevent air and water infiltration while allowing moisture vapor to escape from the wall assembly, a concept known as “breathability.”

Key properties that make an effective house wrap include:

  • Water resistance: The material must be able to resist bulk water penetration from rain, snow, and other environmental factors.
  • Air permeability: House wrap should be designed to allow the passage of water vapor while restricting air movement, preventing drafts and minimizing the risk of condensation within the wall cavity.
  • UV resistance: Exposure to sunlight can degrade some materials over time, so house wrap products must be UV-resistant to maintain their performance throughout their service life.

Building codes often have specific requirements for house wrap materials, including minimum water vapor permeance ratings, air barrier properties, and acceptable installation methods. Failure to meet these requirements can compromise the overall performance of the building envelope and potentially lead to moisture-related issues like mold growth, rot, and structural damage.

Using Synthetic Underlayment as House Wrap

While synthetic roof underlayment and house wrap share some similarities in terms of water resistance, using underlayment as a substitute for dedicated house wrap products may not be advisable or code-compliant in many cases. Here are some key considerations:

  • Compatibility issues: Synthetic underlayment is designed primarily as a moisture barrier, while house wrap must also facilitate vapor permeability and air barrier performance. The differences in material composition and properties could lead to compatibility issues or performance compromises when used in a wall assembly.
  • Installation requirements: Proper installation techniques, such as overlapping, sealing, and integrating with other components (windows, siding, etc.), may differ between roof underlayment and house wrap applications. Using an underlayment product in a manner not intended by the manufacturer could void warranties and compromise its performance.
  • Manufacturer recommendations: Most underlayment manufacturers do not recommend or warrant their products for use as house wrap. Using the material in an unapproved application could potentially void warranties and expose you to liability issues.

It’s crucial to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and consult with building professionals or local code officials before considering using a product in an unapproved manner.

Alternatives to Using Underlayment as House Wrap

If using synthetic roof underlayment as a house wrap substitute is not recommended or code-compliant in your area, there are several dedicated house wrap products available on the market. These materials are specifically designed and tested to meet the required performance criteria for air and moisture barrier applications in exterior wall assemblies.

Some popular house wrap options include:

  • Non-woven synthetic housewraps: These products, made from materials like spun-bonded polypropylene or polyethylene, are designed to provide balanced air and moisture permeability while offering water resistance and durability.
  • Woven housewraps: Woven fabrics, often reinforced with fiberglass or other synthetic fibers, offer high tensile strength and tear resistance, making them suitable for challenging installations or high-wind areas.
  • Rigid foam boards: While not technically a “wrap,” rigid foam insulation boards with integrated moisture and air barrier properties can serve as an alternative to traditional housewraps in some applications.

When evaluating these options, it’s essential to consider factors such as cost, ease of installation, climate-specific performance, and compatibility with other building materials and systems in your project.

Installation Considerations

Regardless of whether you choose to use a dedicated house wrap product or explore alternative options, proper installation is crucial to ensuring the desired performance and longevity of the material. Here are some key installation considerations:

  • Overlapping and sealing: Proper overlapping and sealing of seams and penetrations is essential to maintaining a continuous air and moisture barrier. Manufacturers typically provide specific guidelines for overlap dimensions and approved sealing methods (tapes, caulks, etc.).
  • Integration with other components: House wrap must be properly integrated with other building components, such as windows, doors, and siding, to maintain the integrity of the overall building envelope. Flashing and sealing details at these intersections are critical.
  • Climate and exposure considerations: Different climates and exposure conditions may warrant specific installation methods or additional protective measures. For example, areas with high wind loads or intense UV exposure may require more robust fastening systems or additional shielding.

Following the manufacturer’s installation instructions and industry best practices is essential to ensuring the house wrap performs as intended and meets local building code requirements.

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While synthetic roof underlayment and house wrap share some similarities in terms of water resistance, using underlayment as a direct substitute for dedicated house wrap products is generally not recommended or code-compliant. The differences in material properties, performance requirements, and installation methods make it challenging to ensure compatibility and proper functionality when used in a wall assembly.

If using a synthetic underlayment product as house wrap is being considered, it’s crucial to consult with the manufacturer, building professionals, and local code officials to ensure compliance and proper performance. In most cases, dedicated house wrap products specifically designed for air and moisture barrier applications in exterior wall assemblies are the recommended choice.

When selecting a house wrap material, consider factors such as climate-specific performance requirements, ease of installation, compatibility with other building components, and overall cost-effectiveness. Proper installation following the manufacturer’s guidelines and industry best practices is essential to maintaining the integrity of the building envelope and preventing moisture-related issues.

Ultimately, while synthetic roof underlayment and house wrap may share some similarities, they are distinct products designed for different applications. Using the right material for the intended purpose and following proper installation methods is crucial to ensuring the long-term performance, durability, and energy efficiency of your home or building.


Can I use any synthetic roof underlayment as house wrap?

No, not all synthetic roof underlayment products are suitable or recommended for use as house wrap. It’s essential to consult with the manufacturer and local building codes to ensure compatibility and compliance.

Is it more cost-effective to use roof underlayment instead of dedicated house wrap?

While synthetic roof underlayment may be less expensive upfront than some house wrap products, using it in an unapproved application could void warranties, compromise performance, and potentially lead to costly repairs or moisture-related issues down the line. It’s generally recommended to use dedicated house wrap products designed for the intended application.

Can I use house wrap as a temporary roof underlayment?

Some house wrap products may be suitable for temporary, short-term use as roof underlayment during construction or repairs, but they are not designed for long-term exposure or to serve as a primary roofing underlayment. Always consult with the manufacturer and follow their guidelines for approved applications and exposure limits.

How do I properly seal and integrate house wrap with other building components?

Proper sealing and integration of house wrap with components like windows, doors, and siding is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the building envelope. Manufacturers typically provide specific installation guidelines, including approved sealing methods (tapes, caulks, etc.), overlap dimensions, and flashing details at penetrations and intersections.

Can house wrap be left exposed to the elements for an extended period?

Most house wrap products are designed for temporary exposure during construction, but prolonged exposure to UV radiation, moisture, and other environmental factors can degrade their performance over time. It’s generally recommended to install the final cladding or siding as soon as possible after house wrap installation to protect the material and maintain its intended performance.

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