What Is a Gambrel Roof? A Hallmark of Dutch Colonial Revival Residential Architecture


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Do you remember that spooky house from the movie The Amityville Horror[1]? With its bright attic windows they made to look like eyes and an air of mystery, it positively haunting.

The creepy vibes put off from that Dutch Colonial revival house – and it still gives me the creeps today! – was built with a gambrel roof!

But what exactly is a gambrel roof?

A gambrel roof is a type of roof characterized by two sides, each of which has two different slopes. The upper slope is positioned at a shallow angle, while the lower slope is much steeper. The design of the gambrel roof provides extra headroom and storage space inside the building. Gambrel roofs have a distinctive appearance and are often used in traditional and colonial-style buildings.

Despite the sinister connotations of that infamous movie and that specific house, homes designed with a gambrel roof line are actually quite elegant and beautiful.

If you’re curious about what exactly a gambrel roof is, then this article is for you! I’ll explain what a gambrel roof is, why it’s used, and the implications it has on home aesthetic, and how it’s still in use today in modern residential architecture.

By the way – before we get too far along here, if you want to connect with other homeowners and builders and get more great ideas for your home to make your space the best join my free private Facebook group, Remodel Reality here.

What is a Gambrel Roof?

Gambrel roofs are an architectural style of roofing design that utilizes two distinct slopes on either side, with the lower portion sloped at a much steeper angle than the upper portion. This design helps to maximize the usable space in attics and upper levels of buildings, allowing for more storage or living area. The gambrel roof draws its name from the 17th-century French term “gamberel,” literally meaning a hook or crook-like stick which resembled its design influence – the hind leg of a horse.

Gambrel roofs are commonly seen in barns, garages and sheds due to their design advantages in allowing for plentiful overhead space and volume. They have also been incorporated into Dutch colonial-style houses as well as other residential dwellings worldwide.

Additionally, they’re especially popular in places where heavy snowfall is common but we’ll talk more about why that is below. Their efficient angled shape and sloped roof is beneficial when facing high wind speeds by providing an aerodynamic structure that reduces excessive drag force on buildings.

Design and Features of Gambrel Roofs

The Gambrel roof is a distinctive style of roofing distinguished by its divided slopes, with the lower slope being steeper than the upper. This angle variance ranges typically between 20-35 degrees for the upper slope and 30-45 degrees for the lower.

The steeper lower slope provides greater efficiency in water runoff, protecting against buildup that can potentially cause damage to the structure. The shallower upper slope increases headroom and storage space within the home or building, making this design particularly popular when space is required in higher floors.

Atop each side of a Gambrel roof lies a central beam referred to as a ridge beam. This beam spans along the entire length of the roof and supports its weight, providing crucial stability and strength to the structure. In addition, trusses are installed underneath to further support and evenly distribute said weight throughout walls. These are usually made from wood for enhanced durability.

Popular amongst Dutch colonial homes and barns, Gambrel roofs provide an elegant yet simple look which adds character to any building’s appearance. Though applicable to other styles, this unique shape creates a stand-out quality that makes it easily identifiable amongst standard roof designs.

How Gambrel Roofs Impact Design Choices & Aesthetics

Gambrel roofs are an increasingly popular choice for architects and homeowners alike due to their distinctive style and versatility. Compatible with a variety of building materials, gambrel roofs can be constructed using timber, metal, asphalt shingles and more; allowing for an individualized aesthetic to each building’s design. As a result, they’re favored in both traditional and modern architecture, aptly suiting residential, commercial or agricultural structures.

The unique shape of the gambrel roof gives way to further incorporate other architectural features such as dormers or windows; adding depth and dimension to any building which creates a visible three-dimensional silhouette from a distance too. Building elements such as gables or porches are often accentuated by the gambrel roof’s structure while wood and stone can be used to great effect to provide a cohesive and harmonious aesthetic.

Gambrel roofs offer a multitude of benefits that can bring significant impact on the overall look of any structure regardless of its use. The selected blend of materials provides designers substantial creative liberty to devise individualized designs suited especially for their client’s needs, while the distinctive shape adds an impressive significance when coupled with other visual elements. With these advantages combined, gambrel roofs offer architects flexibility while providing homeowners greater opportunity when choosing their desired style.

Gambrel Roof vs. Gable Roof and Mansard Roof

When it comes to roofing and architectural design, there are all kinds of roofs to choose from, each with its own unique design and features. Among the most popular types are the gambrel, gable, and mansard roofs, which are often used in residential and commercial construction projects.

Features Gambrel Roof Mansard Roof Gable Roof
Design Two-sided roof with two slopes on each side, steeper on the bottom, flatter on the top Four-sided roof with two slopes on each side, steeper on the bottom, flatter on the top Two-sided roof with a single slope on each side
Space Efficiency Provides more headroom and storage space than other types of roofs Offers an extra living space in the attic Provides standard attic space
Stability Strong and stable design, especially against wind and snow loads Highly stable design, capable of supporting additional living space Not as spacious as other roof types, but still reliable and stable
Aesthetics Popular for barns and farmhouses, as well as some modern residential buildings Often used in French-inspired architecture and historic buildings Simple and classic, fitting with a variety of architectural styles
Construction Cost Less expensive than mansard and some other roof types More expensive than gambrel and gable roofs due to complex design Less expensive than mansard roofs, but can require additional support depending on the design
Energy Efficiency Good at shedding snow, but not as energy efficient as mansard or gable roofs Offers a high level of energy efficiency and insulation, making it an ideal choice for colder climates Provides standard energy efficiency
Material Options Can be constructed with a variety of materials, including wood, asphalt, metal, and tile Can be constructed with materials such as slate, asphalt, and metal Can be constructed with a variety of materials, including asphalt, metal, and tile

Differences between Gambrel and Gable Roof

Gambrel and gable roofs are two common roof designs. A gable roof consists of two slopes that meet in the middle at the ridge, forming a triangular shape. They are simple and cost-effective to construct, making them a popular choice for many residential buildings.

On the other hand, a gambrel roof has two distinct slopes on each side of the roof: an upper section with a shallow slope and a lower section with a steeper incline. The break between these two slopes is called the gambrel. This type of roof offers more interior space than gable roofs, making it ideally suited for taller structures such as barns and other farm buildings.

Differences between Gambrel and Mansard Roof

Gambrel and mansard roofs may look similar, but they have distinct features that differentiate one from the other. Mansard roofs have four sloping sides that join together at the apex, and are usually used in cities to maximize living space on a small lot. Gambrel roofs only have two sloping sides, and are typically found in rural areas such as barns and farmhouses.

Mansard roofs tend to be more flat than gambrel roofs, since the top of a gambrel roof has a ridge that runs its length.

In addition, mansard roofs tend to have a steeper angle than gambrel roofs (usually for aesthetic purposes). Mansard roofs are more often seen in townhouses and urban buildings, while gambrel roofs are more suitable for rural structures such as barns and farmhouses.

Benefits of Gambrel Roofs

Gambrel roofs have been a popular roofing option for centuries due to their unique design and many benefits, so let’s take a look at the biggest ones.

Extra Space and Volume

Gambrel roofs are becoming increasingly popular in residential and commercial construction projects due to their numerous benefits. One important advantage of a gambrel roof is that it provides more space and greater volume than other types of roofs, including mansard roofs. The unique design of the gambrel roof allows for more efficient use of the under-roof space providing more headroom and usable space in what’s traditionally considered attic space, which can be used as extra storage or even transformed into living space. This extra room is one of the primary reasons why gambrel roofs are so popular in barn construction.

Cost-Effective Design

The gambrel roof design also offers cost-saving advantages due to its structure. With its steep upper slope, the gambrel roof allows for more efficient shedding of snow and other debris, reducing the risk of damaging or costly repairs that may be associated with less steeply pitched roofs. Additionally, the gambrel trusses that make up the gambrel roof require less material than other truss types, making it a budget-friendly option for any building or construction project.

This is because the gambrel truss utilizes shorter members than other types of trusses, which reduces the amount of material needed while maintaining structural integrity.

Efficient Snow Shedding

The gambrel roof design is an effective way to help reduce the risk of damage caused by heavy snowfall. Its steep upper slope helps the snow slide off the roof more efficiently than other types of roofs, meaning less time and money spent on repairs. This feature can save property owners from having to take costly preventative measures or make expensive repairs in the future by helping keep their structures safe and secure during periods of heavy snow accumulation. In addition, this efficient snow shedding helps remove excess weight from the roof which can be beneficial for its stability over time.

Strong and Stable Design

The gambrel roof is an extremely sturdy and reliable design that can stand up to rough weather. Its uniqueness lies in its double-sloped shape – the two slopes of the roof help to distribute weight evenly and enhance the roof’s overall strength and stability compared to other roof designs. To further ensure stability and durability, gambrel roofs are equipped with gambrel trusses which add extra rigidity and strength. This makes the gambrel roof a great choice for those living in areas prone to extreme weather conditions.

Materials Used in Gambrel Roofs

Gambrel roofs can be made with a variety of materials that depend on several factors, including the climate zone of the building, the cost of the materials, and the desired aesthetic look.

Roofing Materials

When constructing a gambrel roof, there are several different types of materials that can be used. Asphalt shingles are the most widely used due to their affordability, ease of installation, and durability. Metal sheets also offer high durability and require minimal upkeep but have the added benefit of being energy efficient. Tiles, although more expensive than other options, provide a luxurious, high-end look and are commonly seen in upscale residential and commercial buildings.

Truss Materials

Gambrel trusses are the trademark of gambrel roofs, and are usually crafted using wood, steel, or engineered materials such as laminated veneer lumber (LVL) or glued laminated timber (GLT). Wood trusses provide a natural look, but require more maintenance for upkeep. Steel trusses are sturdier and require less maintenance. For those seeking both affordability and structural integrity, engineered trusses offer the best of both worlds. They combine strength with stability at an undeniable value.

Structure and Framing Materials

The construction and framing of gambrel roofs are typically crafted from either steel or wood. The structure of the roof is composed of its ridge beam, rafters, and purlins. The framing elements such as wall studs and joists can be created using either steel or wood to suit the design of the building as well as its desired level of strength and stability. In more modern buildings, engineered wooden items like LVL and GLT are preferred over steel because of their superior strength, stability, and environmental sustainability.

Gambrel roofs require materials that check the necessary boxes in terms of strength, durability, affordability, and above all else, aesthetics. The selection process involves a careful consideration of the building’s specific requirements and needs, the budget allowed for the project, as well as a desirable design and appearance. Materials must ensure that these demands are met in order to deliver a successful roofing solution.

How Gambrel Roofs Stack Up Against Other Roofing Styles In Terms Of Energy Efficiency

When deciding which type of roofing to install, it is important to consider the energy efficiency of the different designs. Gambrel roofs offer an energy-efficient option due to their unique shape, which allows for effective insulation and ventilation. The combination of two sloped sides with a steeper upper slope and shallower lower slope creates an ideal space for insulation that helps reduce heat transfer into or out of the building, reducing the energy needed for heating and cooling.

In comparison, gable roofs are not as efficient in terms of energy conservation as they have only one slope per side of the roof. This makes creating insulated and ventilated attic spaces more difficult. While still more efficient than gable roofs, mansard rooftops do not offer quite as much insulation due to their shallower upper slope when compared to gambrels.

Gambrel roofs can also incorporate natural ventilation through roof vents, reducing the need for mechanical systems to maintain air flow. This feature brings additional energy cost savings by avoiding high electricity consumption associated with conventional mechanical airflow systems.

Overall, gambrel roofs outperform other roofing styles in terms of energy efficiency due to their design and integrated natural ventilation capabilities. If one of your areas of focus is on conserving energy and reducing your carbon footprint while keeping comfortable living conditions in your home or business premises, a gambrel roof would be an excellent choice.

History of Gambrel Roofs

Gambrel roofs have been used since the 17th century, when Dutch settlers brought this classic style to America. It originally developed in the Netherlands and was widely used for barns and other agricultural structures due to its particular design that provides more internal space and greater volume than other roof styles. This proved to be a great benefit to farmers while storing their crops and livestock, and it soon become popularized across America.

Origin and Early Use

The origin of the gambrel roof dates back centuries, and its earliest designs featured wooden trusses covered with thatch or wooden shingles. As technology progressed, materials used to construct the roof evolved as well, beginning with heavier wood trusses and eventually moving on to asphalt shingles, metal roofing, and clay tiles. Today the gambrel roof is commonly found in various settings and is renowned for its distinctive shape and sturdiness.

Popularity in North America

Gambrel roofs experienced a surge in popularity in North America during the early 20th century, with architects and builders drawn to its aesthetic attractiveness, efficient design, and cost-effectiveness. The style was often associated with the countryside and had a nostalgic charm that increased its appeal. Building with gambrel roofs allowed for more space due to the distinctive shape, as well as great efficiency when it came to shedding off snow during winter. This style of roof has solidified itself as an iconic symbol of American architecture, proving popular even until today.

The house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York, is one of the most infamous examples of a home with a gambrel roof. The events that inspired The Amityville Horror book and movie series, lead to the style becoming well-known for its “eye” windows design featured on the book cover and movie posters and has become iconic in popular culture. Despite its reviled background, it has seen numerous renovations since its initial construction including (thankfully!) the removal of the attic’s signature “eye” windows.

Evolution of Gambrel Roofs in Home Design

Today, gambrel roofs can be seen on a variety of buildings, from barns and commercial buildings to residential homes. The design has become a classic feature of American architecture and continues to be used by architects and builders across the country. With its unique shape and practical benefits, it’s no wonder that gambrel roofs have stood the test of time.

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amityville_Horror

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Rob Orr

Me and my family have lived through a nightmare of a remodeling project gone wrong, making countless mistakes including placing trust in the wrong hands. Despite these setbacks, we took matters into our own hands for many aspects of the remodel, ensuring quality workmanship guided by expert advice. Through my personal experiences, I've created RemodelReality.com. My mission is not only to share the pitfalls we encountered but also the successes we achieved by combining our efforts with trusted professionals. By sharing both the highs and lows of our journey, I aim to help others navigate their own remodeling projects with greater confidence, ensuring they benefit from our lessons learned.

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