Gambrel Roof Overview: What It Is, Pros, Cons, and Examples

Gambrel roofs are a common feature among modern barns. They also grace the top of Dutch Colonial-style houses and are a popular pick for dormers.

Gambrel RoofView in gallery

These roofs have two slopes on each side, maximizing the area underneath. Gambrel roofs are simple to build, shorten an otherwise tall roof, and have graced myriad American properties since the late 1600s.

If you’re considering adding a gambrel roof to your home or outbuilding, here’s what you should know.

What Is a Gambrel Roof?

What is a Gambrel RoofView in gallery

A gambrel roof has two symmetrical sets of slopes on each side. The top pitch is positioned at a shallow angle, while the lower slope is steep. 

They maximize attic space in homes. In barns and sheds, they allow for a taller loft area. 

Gambrel roofs became popular in the United States starting in the late 1600s and were considered an innovative feature for homes at the time. Builders placed them on Dutch Colonial-style homes, but they also became a staple for Georgian-style houses and farmhouses. 

You’ll also see these roofs as an accent on some mansions.

What Materials Can You Use on a Gambrel Roof?

The material on a gambrel roof depends on the design style. You can use any shingle, including asphalt, wood, or slate. You can also install a metal gambrel roof.

Gambrel Roof vs. Gable Roof

Gambrel Roof vs. Gable RoofView in gallery

Used in Renaissance and Baroque French architecture, gable roofs are among the simplest in design. It is the classic-looking triangle you see in most kids’ drawings of a house. Its design allows water to drain off. And since gable roofs have sharp angles, snow doesn’t pile on them.

They’re also one of the least expensive to build and replace.

Gambrel roofs, in terms of design, are also simple. They come to a point like a gable but have two slopes on each side. These roofs are great at maximizing space but look more decorative than a standard gable. 

Gambrel roofs are also ideal for water drainage. But, because they have a shallow top slope, they give space for snow to pile up. In extreme circumstances, this can be too heavy a load for the roof. 

They’re preconstructed, and builders assemble them in pieces. Since gambrel roofs cover a little more area, you can expect them to be more expensive than a gable roof.

The Pros and Cons of a Gambrel Roof

With its Dutch Colonial roots and simple design, gambrel roofs are a popular option for homeowners, whether you’re adding it to a barn or something grander.. But, like anything else, they have their pros and cons.

he advantages of a gambrel roof:

  • Aesthetics – Gambrel roofs can give your home a traditional feel.
  • Simple Design – The simple design makes building these roofs easier and less expensive.
  • Lots of Material Choices – You can use almost any roofing material on gambrel roofs.
  • Maximize Attic or Loft Space – A gambrel roof will maximize the space on your top floor.

The disadvantages of a gambrel roof:

  • Not Ideal for High Winds – Gambrel roofs may not be the best suited if you live in an area with frequent high winds.
  • Not Ideal for Heavy Snow Loads – The shallow top slope of a gambrel roof gives space for snow to pile up. In extreme circumstances, the load can be too much weight for the roof.

Gambrel Roof Examples

For more than 400 years, gambrel roofs have added a distinctive architectural design element to many types of homes. Here are some examples of houses and outbuildings with gambrel roofs.

A Quaint Cottage with a Gambrel Roof

A Quaint Cottage with a Gambrel RoofView in gallery
Michael Bowman Photography

This cottage has gambrel-style roofs that contribute to the quaint look of the home. The house is made of wood and stone, and the roof has a complementary shingle. 

If you’re building a cottage-style home, this roof is one to consider. It works well if you want your house to look like it’s been standing for centuries.

Attached Garage with a Gambrel Roof

Attached Garage with a Gambrel RoofView in gallery
KOENIG Building + Restoration

The house pictured has an attached garage with a gambrel roof. The area below the roof gives the homeowners space for an accent of wood siding.

Even though the house has a standard gable roof, they’ve chosen a gambrel for the garage, which changes the look and feel of the home.

Gambrel Roof on a Mansion

Gambrel Roof on a MansionView in gallery
Patrick Ahearn Architect

It’s not uncommon to find gambrel roofs on mansions, especially those made with stone, brick, or wood siding. With its ties to colonial America, the gambrel roof conveys a different feel to a gable or mansard roof.

Large Barn with a Gambrel Roof

Large Barn with a Gambrel RoofView in gallery
Sand Creek Post & Beam

The most common new builds with gambrel roofs are barns. A gambrel roof maximizes space while shortening the roof. 

It’s typical to see both older and newer barns with this sloped roof style.

Gambrel Roof on a Shed

Gambrel Roof on a ShedView in gallery
Spang Builders, Inc.

Aside from barns, sheds are the next most common new builds for gambrel roofs. You can find premanufactured sheds with gambrel roofs and building plans for them.

Since gambrel roofs are simple to build and maximize space, they are a top contender for outbuildings.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Are Gambrel Roofs the Same as Mansard Roofs?

Gambrel and mansard roofs are different. The mansard roof is also known as a curb roof and has curved angles on all four sides. A gambrel roof has two symmetrical sets of slopes on two sides. The design of a gambrel roof is much more straightforward than a mansard style.

How long will a Gambrel roof last?

The structure of a gambrel roof will last 100+ years if well-maintained. But, like any other roof, the material you use will determine how often you need to replace it. For instance, a metal roof can last 50 years, while asphalt shingles may last 20.

What type of buildings have Gambrel roofs?

The buildings that have gambrel roofs include large barns and sheds. Gambrel roofs are also the standard for Dutch Colonial homes. You’ll also see them on some Georgian styles, older farmhouses, and some mansions.

Final Thoughts

Gambrel roofs have two slopes on each side. The top slope is shallow, while the lower one is steep. These roofs have a traditional look that ties back to colonial America. You’ll often see them on Dutch Colonial, Georgian, and farmhouse-style homes.

While not as popular for new builds, gambrel roofs are the standard for barns. They maximize space under the roof, are affordable, simple to build, and provide excellent drainage.