Everything you ever wanted to know about… Roofs

Mansard.jpgWhen poring over the MLS listings and looking for your starter home, your dream house, or your empty nest, you can sometimes get a little lost in all of the terminology: What is a gambrel roof? How are double-hung windows different from other windows? Why do I care if the siding is cement board? What’s the difference between radiant heat and forced air anyway? In this new series of posts, we’re going to explore the house from top to bottom to learn about all of those “house things” you always wanted to know. Today, it’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the roof. Okay, well, maybe not everything — I’m not going to tell you how to raise it — but you will know more about roof styles by the time we’re done. 


A roof can define a house. Who doesn’t notice the red Spanish tile of a southwestern abode? Or the decorative slate shingle design of a grand Victorian? Even Hawthorne was entranced with the many gables of a certain doomed estate. But, while we tend to think that a given roof is merely a part of the overall aesthetic, in truth, many factors, from weather and climate to space maximization, are considered when choosing the kind of roof to put on a house. Depending on where you live and what your needs are, each roof-style has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s start with the most basic.

The Gable:

This is the classic roof-style. If a child were given a crayon and asked to draw a house, this is the roof that she would draw. Sometimes called a “pitched” or “peaked” roof, the gable roof consists of two equal slopes that meet along a ridge at the pinnacle of the house. This roof sheds water and snow very easily, though the flat sides that flank it at each end can become a liability in areas of high wind. A gabled roof provides additional storage space, but the eaves that the roof creates can make the space cramped for living.



The Saltbox:

With its asymmetrical design, the saltbox roof-style is the gable’s slightly more rebellious sibling. One side slopes over the “brow” of the house, while the other, longer side, slopes dramatically downward, like a lean-to. This quintessential New England roof handles rain and snow run-off like a champ, though in high winds, the homeowner ought to take care. The shorter roof line also allows for more livable space on the second floor. Sometimes this style is called the “catslide.” Not sure why, but it’s nice to know.

The Hip:

Not to be confused with “the hipster,” a hip roof is comprised of four evenly sloped sides that come together either at a point — as in a pyramid hip — or along a traditional ridge. Like the gable and the saltbox, this roof-style sheds rain and snow easily. Because this roof also creates less surface area, it’s a good choice for coastal sites or places where high wind might be of concern.


The Mansard:

Sometimes called a “French roof,” this four-sided beauty is not easily forgotten. Each side is comprised of a double slope set around a flat top. This roof creates a “garret” or living space, providing the house with a surprising amount of square footage. Wooden shakes or slate shingles can be used to create elaborate designs along the roof’s expanses. This is not an ideal roof-style for snowy climates though. The flat top is a liability for leaks and overload.


The Gambrel:

This is the classic “barn roof.” Like the mansard, this roof is comprised of dual-sloped sides, but only two, not four. This allows the sides to meet at a ridge along the top of the house and provides ample run-off for rain and snow. Just as in its four-sided counterpart, the steeply sloping sides create welcome additional living space. It also creates more surface area at the front and back of the house. Something to be aware of if you live where winds are wild.


The Sawtooth:

Originally a darling of the industrial era, the sawtooth eventually made its way into home design during the modern era of the mid-20th century. It’s generally comprised of two or more pitched slopes set in parallel. Windows are often placed in the peaks in order to provide natural light to the interior spaces of the structure. Due to the many peaks and valleys of the style, it isn’t ideally suited to wet, grey, or snowy climates — sorry Upstate New York.


The Jerkinhead:

Though the name might be new to you, the style is probably not — storybook Tudors and coastal bungalows often showcase this roof-style. Sometimes called a “clipped gable” or “half-hip,” it is essentially a gabled roof end that’s been sliced off and set back, creating a small, hipped roof end. Pragmatically, this alteration of the gable creates a streamlined surface, protecting the roof from potential wind damage. Like is gabled cousin, the jerkinhead is a pro in wind and snow.


A final word about the Dormer:

If a roof could own a “little black dress,” it would be a dormer. Though technically a roofed window, the dormer is a versatile and vital accessory for any roof-style. A dormer — or two or more — can be added to just about any slope to instantly add light, air circulation, and additional headroom.

All images courtesy of Wikimedia

Gambrel roof image courtesy of DanielPenfield - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23105384