Although gambrel roofs are not used as much in modern residential design as they were in the past, they still occupy a unique place in historic architecture.
One of the oldest gambrel roofs in the U.S. tops historic Massachusetts Hall at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The roof’s location, as well as its age, are indicative of where gambrel roofs are most widely seen – in the New England part of the U.S. However, in recent years gambrel roofs have been making a resurgence throughout the country with the increasing popularity of modernized farmhouse-style homes, which blend the charm of rustic country architecture with a twist of contemporary elegance.
On this page, you will be able to better understand the gambrel roof style and the many benefits it can bring to a wide range of residential designs.
What is a Gambrel Roof?
Gambrel roofs have an unmistakable visual design – they are two-sided symmetrical roofs with two different slopes per side. The longer lower slope is usually steeper than the shorter top slope. Gambrel roofs are sometimes called Dutch roofs because of their popularity in 16th- and 17th-century European architecture.
Historic roof style for American homes also known as a barn style roof
Mid range cost, in terms of roof framing choices
Good rainwater drainage
Usually provides ample attic or storage space
Gambrel roofs can be found throughout Dutch Colonial and Georgian homes across the New England region – the Rev. Thomas Hawley House in Ridgefield, Connecticut was built in 1713. Gambrel roofs are commonly called barn roofs as well, since they are a popular roofing style for barns, sheds, and farmhouse buildings. They provide more open interior space than other roofing styles and also offer loft storage.
The gentler top slope of gambrel roofs is usually less than 30 degrees, while the steeper lower slope rarely exceeds 60 degrees. Even when these pitches vary quite a bit, the roof should still meet the definition of a gambrel roof. Larger gambrel roofs often have windows and dormers to let light into the interior of the structure.
Types of Gambrel Roofs
There are several different variations of gambrel roofs. We’ve discussed the classic barn style that is commonly found on farm buildings, historic homes and churches because it maximizes the space under the roof. But there are some different forms that still can be defined as gambrel roofs.
Dormer gambrel roof
Homes with larger gambrel roofs often have dormers with windows built into the lower section to increase natural lighting. Dormers project out from the face of the gambrel and have their own roof, typically with a gable-end.
This style of gambrel roof has multiple slopes that meet to form valleys. Most of the time, a valley style gambrel roof will have eight slopes total, with two front-facing slopes. It is a popular roof style for homes because it tends to be very spacious.
The eaves of the wall-supported style of gambrel roof extend past the wall line to create a flat soffit around the wall line. Typically, this roof style has less storage space compared to other styles of gambrel roofs. However, it is a popular style today because of its modern spin on a gambrel roof.
Gambrel Roof vs. Mansard Roof
It is easy to confuse a mansard roof with a gambrel roof and vice versa, since they are so similar in style. They also offer similar benefits, such as more attic space, good rainwater drainage, and historical charm. However, they are considered to be different styles of roof.
A mansard roof is a type of multi-pitched roof that shares many characteristics of a gambrel roof, with one main difference. Gambrel roofs span the entire structure from end to end, so they only have two sides. Mansard roofs on the other hand have four sides, but they still have the double-slope common in gambrel roof construction.
Mansard roofs tend to have a lower slope compared to gambrel roofs. They also have hips where each side intersects, while gambrel roofs have gable ends.
How Much Does a Gambrel Roof Cost?
Many different factors can affect the cost to build a gambrel roof. These include size of the structure, region in which you live, choice of roof materials, and difficulty of installation. For instance, it would be much easier for a construction crew to erect a gambrel roof on a modest 2,000-square-foot home than a 12,000-square-foot barn with 20-foot high walls.
As a rough guide, you could expect to pay around $16,000 to $30,000 just for gambrel roof framing on a 2,000-square foot home. Certain factors could make that figure rise, such as skyrocketing lumber prices or lack of contractor availability in your area to take on your project.
Relatively speaking, a gambrel roof is considered middle-of-the-road in terms of price to build. You will most likely pay less to build a gable roof or flat roof on a 2,000 square foot home, but pay more for a hip roof. According to the Nest, a gambrel roof costs between 15% and 20% more than a gable roof on the same size home.
You will also need to pay for contracrtor labor – which can run from $40 to $80 per hour on average – plus roofing underlayment and roofing materials such as tile, asphalt shingles, or sheet metal. Those costs could run an additional $4 to $20 or more per square foot, depending on the materials you choose and how you want your gambrel roof to be finished. We recommend requesting professional estimates for your roofing project before getting started.
Pros and Cons of Gambrel Roofs
Due to their unique design, gambrel roofs can provide homeowners with many different benefits.
Gambrel roofs are reminiscent of America’s colonial days. There’s simply no replicating the historic visual appeal and rustic charm that gambrel roofs lend to certain types of homes and farmhouse structures.
Unlike A-frame trusses or hip-and-valley roofs, gambrel roofs are constructed without a bottom rafter spanning from wall-to-wall. This design leaves huge sections of the interior open that would be the ceiling in other types of roof construction, allowing for more usable square footage and storage space. This space is often built into an extra floor or attic – think of the hayloft in a country barn.
Gambrel roofs are rather simple to design and build. They do not require any complex bracing or interior structural support since the weight of the roof is transferred to the walls. However, a tall gambrel roof will be much more tricky to build than a small shed, which could impact cost.
The steep sides of Gambrel roofs tend to shed rainwater and snowfall better than roofs with gentler slopes. This can potentially protect your roof from storm damage in the long run.
Dormers and windows
As noted earlier, large gambrel roofs can be constructed with dormers and windows to let in more light and add unmatched visual appeal. There are not many roofing styles that can incorporate windows like gambrel roofs.
Despite the undeniable benefits, there are a few drawbacks with gambrel roofs to note. These include:
Large gambrel roofs, such as those found on barns, can be more prone to damage from strong winds than flatter roof designs. Also, since gambrel roofs have varying angles, it creates uneven aerodynamics across the roof that damage parts of the roof in strong windstorms.
Heat rises, and it can be difficult to provide adequate ventilation to move that heat out of the high headroom common in gambrel roofs.
The flatter top slope of gambrel roofs may be prone to snow accumulation, which could cause problems with the structure in a heavy snowfall.
Gambrel roofs are an open design that does not afford the same kinds of interior insulation common above the ceiling with gable-end or hip-and-valley roofs.
Talk to a Local Roofer
Before starting a new roofing project, no matter which roof material or style you choose, it is always the best practice to speak with a professional roofer. Local roofing contractors will be able to guide you on which type of roof is best for your home and region, as well as how much the project should cost. Also know that there are financing and payment options available to you, should you need them for your roof project.