The roof is one of the most fundamental elements of building. Beyond “keeping the rain out,” it also has a big impact on the appearance and style of your home. We’ve compiled this brief summary outlining the various conventional roof types found in residential construction. Use it as a guide to orient yourself in your next home purchase so that you can better understand how your home performs and achieve the right look for the style you desire.
The gable roof is iconic – beginning with the first illustrations we make of our homes as children, the simple triangular shape is one of the most universal images of “house” we can imagine. In essence, its functional merits also provide a clear visual for the design – a single ridge and sloped sides that shed water and snow, while providing attic space on the inside. The gable is simple and effective, which is one of the main reasons why it is so prolific in residential building. It is also one of the most versatile roof types, in that a slight change in pitch (steepness or slope) can give your home a completely different appearance, denoting a key trademark of a particular architectural style. Here are a few examples:
Craftsman style homes are often characterized by a wide, single gable with a very low slope. The wide roof overhangs can be traced back to the style’s origins in the western United States, where shading the coastal sun was a key design consideration.
A steeper slope can give your home a more Contemporary flair. In this example, its simplicity makes a bold statement.
Hipped roofs are sloped on all sides, terminating in either a pyramid-like point or a ridge that spans one direction across the house. Like gabled roofs, their simplicity is a key facet of the design – water sheds evenly to all edges of the roof, making it easy to distribute downspouts around your house and control water drainage on your lot. Because of their shape and assembly, hip roofs tend to be lower and, thus, limit available attic space. The hip shape also limits the amount of exterior finish material needed on your house – if you imagine the “triangle” shape of a typical gable roof being replaced with a hip, you can eliminate all of the siding or brick required to cover that wall surface.
Just as with gable roofs, a change in pitch and overhang can alter the character and style of your home. These variations below are classic takes on the hip roof:
Prairie style homes exude low, horizontal lines. Their roots in the flat plains of the central United States are indicative of the solid, grounded feel these homes possess.
Georgian style homes lie on the opposite end of the spectrum with large, sweeping hip roofs. Their height gives the appearance of grandeur and anchors the symmetrical openings on either side of the central front door.
Another variation on the hipped roof is the mansard. Its popular origins are derived from French architecture in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the government levied property taxes based on the number of stories a building had. The mansard roof was born as a response, tucking a habitable attic space under steep “roof” planes (which function more like walls) that cap the top of the building. Now, mansards are found most typically in urban neighborhoods in an evolved form with ornate details categorized under the Second Empire and Chateau styles. These roofs function just like a hip roof, but have two sloped portions with differing pitches on each side of the home.
The most straight-forward and distilled option in roofing vocabulary is the shed. Every component of the design is rooted in a particular function or consideration – from light and heat, to loads and structural assembly, to interior space and acoustics. Shed roofs are ideal for maximizing ceiling height, natural light throughout your home, and the efficiency of your heating/air conditioning system. They can offer the greatest amount of exposure where you want the sun to hit the house and reduce the heat that’s lost through surfaces on the cold, dark side. In terms of style, shed roofs make their appearance in more Contemporary applications, but were originally seen in the earliest, most humble forms of architecture.
This classification is actually a bit of a misnomer, as roofs really can’t be “flat” and still effectively function as a means to distribute water off the top of your home. As we’ve explained, roofs rely on a positive slope to prevent the pooling of not only water, but also snow, ice, and leaves. The flat roof is a mainstay of Contemporary architecture, expressing the purest, most minimal way to terminate the walls of a building. In reality though, it is actually one of the most sophisticated roof types in residential construction – requiring multiple complex considerations of the way materials, edges, openings, and loads perform together. In the example above, a small wall around the entire perimeter of the home (parapet) conceals a network of subtle ridges that channel water to several deliberate openings (scuppers) that drain off the roof. The result is a hyper-clean look with only a few carefully curated materials and a shape that is equally bold.
Guest blog courtesy of W.C. Ralston Architects, an architecture and planning firm that has built an enduring reputation for design excellence in homes, neighborhoods and communities across the Mid-Atlantic region. Learn more at www.wcralston.com.