The roof is a large part of the building envelope and therefore has a significant impact on the flow of energy in and out of buildings. Consequently, in order to create an energy-efficient and comfortable environment, it usually takes more than just the installation of thermal insulation.
Whereas insulation reduces heat transfer, a vapor retarder primarily serves to control the migration of moisture through the roofing assembly. It eliminates the risk for moisture build-up from condensation and thus ensures the thermal performance of insulation. In addition, a well-installed vapor retarder can also provide airtightness and thus assist in controlling energy losses.
In cold climates, the vapor retarder is usually located on the warm side of the roofing assembly, directly on the deck with insulation and roofing membrane above it. There are exceptions such as in cold storage buildings.