The Mansard Roof and Its Unusual Advantages

A mansard roof has a distinct and old-world quality. It is a roof style that enjoyed a period of popularity that has waned in the current years.

Mansard Roof
Legacy Services

However, there are some obvious advantages with this roof style. In this article, we are going to take you through a brief history and some benefits and drawbacks of this unique roof.

By the end, you will be an expert and will perhaps be convinced that this roof style deserves a comeback.

Mansard Roof: A Brief History and Explanation of Terms

A Brief History and Explanation of Terms
Buffalo Homes

The mansard roof style is an example of how architectural design is important for both form and function. This roof style, also called a curb roof or a French roof, takes its name after Francois Mansart, a famous French architect. However, he popularized the style rather than invented it. 

The first documented use of the mansard roof was in 1546 by Pierre Lescot on the south-west wing of the Louvre museum. This roof structure became more popular in the 17th century and then again during the Second Empire under the rule of Napoleon III in France.

Mansard roofs became an important signifier of French architecture.

Tower house
Walker Zanger

This roof style gained popularity in Canada and the United States and many other western countries throughout the years.

The most important reason that this roof style was so valued was because of the extra attic space that it added. The mansard-style roof allows more head space in the attic. It was a good roof option in both rural and urban areas; however, in urban settings it was valued because it allowed vertical expansion of space without the need to increase land use.

While many acknowledge that it works well in many architectural designs, this type of roof has waned in the current day.

What is a Mansard Roof?

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The mansard roof is a cross between hip roofs that have angles on all four sides and gambrel roofs that have two angled roof sections on two sides.

In short, the mansard roof type of roof has two slopes on every side, the bottom slope pitched at a sharper angle than the upper slope. Like the hip roof, the mansard roof is four sided.

Mansard Roof vs Gambrel Roof

Mansard Roof vs Gambrel Roof

 

Many people confuse the mansard roof type with gambrel roof types; however, these roofs have different styles that you can recognize when you know what features to observe. Gambrel roof architecture is similar to a gable roof in that it has an angled roof on two sides of the house, but the gambrel roof has two slopes on each side rather than one.

While this roofing style is not common, you can see a gambrel roof on barn houses. A mansard roof has the same two angles on each side of the roof, but it has a roof on four sides of the house rather than two sides like a gambrel roof.

Types of Mansard Roofs

Types of Mansard Roofs
cupapizarras

 

There are four types of the most common mansard roof designs.

  • Straight  – This mansard roof type has a long, almost vertical lower slope and a small top slope. This upper slope cannot always be seen from the ground level. Many roofs in this style have the addition of dormer windows to allow natural light and ventilation into the upper floor.
  • Convex  – With this style mansard roof, the lower slope curves outward. This style resembles the curve of a bell shape. This adds a great deal of extra space in the attic rooms.
  • Concave – This roof has a flat upper slope and a steep lower slope that curves inward. This style does not lend as much space as the other mansard styles, but it has a long architectural heritage as it was used in historic mansions and buildings.
  • S-shape  – This is a combination of the convex and concave style roof lines. The roof begins by curving inward and finishes by curving outward.

Types of Shingles on a Mansard Roof

Types of Shingles on a Mansard Roof

The roofing material on mansard roofs is very particular. Not every shingle will work because of the slope, its exposure to extreme weather conditions, and the fact that the steep slope does not allow the shingles to seal together like on a less steep gabled roof.

Throughout history, mansard roofs were finished with slate tiles as a roofer could position these for correct water drainage and because they were attractive. In more recent years, some advocates recommend synthetic shingles or wooden shingles, like cedar shakes, for a mansard roof as these are lighter and will not slide down the roof over time. You can save on costs by using asphalt shingles or metal tiles. However, there are many who feel that asphalt shingles are too heavy for the slope of a mansard roof.

Pros and Cons of a Mansard Roof

Pros and Cons of a Mansard RoofView in gallery
Ontario Architecture

Many people like the look of a mansard roof, but there are important reasons why it is not a popular roofing style today.

Pros

  • Aesthetic appeal – Mansard roofs have an elegant style that is reminiscent of French architecture. Also, they are unique in today’s world of gable roofs.
  • Extra space – This roofing style allows you to expand your interior space in the attic areas. You can use this attic space for regular sized rooms because of the flatter upper slope better than with gable roofs.
  • Heating costs – There is better heat distribution with rooms built into the attic space than with gable roofs. These roofs cut down heating costs by distributing heat evenly throughout the room.
  • Natural light – With the addition of dormer windows there is more natural light and better ventilation in attic spaces. Large windows are much easier to install in a mansard roof than a gable roof.

Cons

  • Weather resistance – The upper panel of the mansard roof has a very low pitch which makes it less weather resistant than other roofs. For example heavy rainfall or snow can accumulate on the flatter portion of the roof creating future problems like leakages and the dislodging of shingles. In addition, most of these roofs have a poor drainage system.
  • High installation cost – These roofs are out of the ordinary and will have high installation costs compared to other types of roofing styles.
  • High repair costs – These roofs require high maintenance and the repair costs are more compared with other roof types.
  • Permitting difficulty – Many locations require special permits to construct this type of roof. Not all areas will grant one.

Homes with Mansard Roofs

The mansard roof type is unique among roofing styles. It has a stately beauty and design that set it apart. In addition, it allows the greater development of interior space. We have rounded up some amazing pictures of mansard roofs, both the exterior and interior spaces.

Mansard Roof Exteriors

You can recognize a mansard roof because of the unique nature of the style. There are both historic examples of mansard roofs and modern versions of mansard roofs.

Concave mansard roof

Concave mansard roofView in gallery
Your Historic House

This large historic home has an elegant and classic style. Many architects combine mansard roofs with other roof features like this one with the cut out for the window. This roof has several large windows to increase light in the loft area.

Straight mansard roof

Straight mansard roofView in gallery
Old House Online

The straight mansard style featured on this cottage has a small upper slope that is not visible from the street level. While this shape might not have the inherent elegance of the more rounded mansard styles, it is a practical way to increase the room in your extra floor.

Convex mansard roof

Convex mansard roofView in gallery
Civiconcepts

This style roof offers the extra space of a straight mansard style roof and the elegance of the rounded form.

Modern mansard roofs

Modern mansard roofsView in gallery
The Modern Digest

While you might be justified in considering the mansard roof a historic style that isn’t used much today, there are still modern renditions of the style. Consider this remodel of a Georgetown residence. The straight mansard roof allows the addition of large windows that add more symmetry and additional space to the home.

Mansard Interiors

Expansion of the interior spaces are one of the best reasons for a mansard roof. When you add a mansard roof, you are not limited in what you can put in the additional living space from a master bedroom to bright artists studios.

Mountain chalet

The Mansard Roof and Its Unusual AdvantagesView in gallery

The Mansard Roof and Its Unusual AdvantagesView in gallery

In this chalet from design alpino, they have expanded the living space under the mansard roof. They finished the ceiling with exposed beams and used organic elements like stone walls to create continuity with the outside world.

Office in an upper loft

The Mansard Roof and Its Unusual AdvantagesView in gallery

In addition, people use the extra square footage space for an office. Notice the large skylights on the flat roof. This space is so bright and light, it is also perfect for an artist’s studio or bedroom.

Cozy hangout

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If you don’t need more bedrooms or office space, use the area under the mansard as a cozy hang-out for the whole family. The sectional fits well under the exposed beams to give the whole design an integrated look.  Bo-design created this space.

Modern loft apartment

The Mansard Roof and Its Unusual AdvantagesView in gallery

The Mansard Roof and Its Unusual AdvantagesView in gallery

The massive windows in this modern loft space set the tone of the stunning style of this space. The designers used glass dividers to separate the area while still allowing it to feel open.

Living suite

The Mansard Roof and Its Unusual AdvantagesView in gallery

The Mansard Roof and Its Unusual AdvantagesView in gallery

The Mansard Roof and Its Unusual AdvantagesView in gallery

This modern loft living space features everything you need in a personal living area. This design, created by raca-architekc, features a bedroom area, office, seating area and bathroom. The tall windows give the whole area a sense of space and light. The warm wood ceiling adds texture to the overall neutral color scheme.

Multi-faceted ceiling

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We love this living space design from ideea. The geometric angles of the ceiling paired with the minimalist style furniture and color palette make this space striking. The many windows and skylights mean that this space will never feel dark and dreary like many attic spaces.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What is the purpose of a mansard roof?

Mansard roofs were first introduced as a way to add more space to the upper story and to avoid the taxes that were levied according to a building’s height. Therefore, clever builders could get around paying less taxes and add more room to the building without adding more height.

Are mansard roofs good?

Every kind of roof has pros and cons. Mansard roofs are good because they offer more additional loft space than hip or gable roof designs. Also, they are beautiful in style. However, they do have drawbacks that are important to understand before you invest in a mansard roof.

Why are French mansard roofs gray?

Many French roofs use sheet metal that is zinc or copper as the primary roofing material. When it is weathered, zinc turns gray and copper becomes light green.

Is a mansard roof a hip roof?

Yes, a mansard is a type of hipped roof. It is a four sided gambrel-style hip roof.

Is a mansard roof flat?

The top of a mansard roof is flat, though it also has two angled sections of roof that extend from the flat middle area. This flat area is the reason for the high maintenance and repair costs as snow and water accumulate causing problems over time.

What pitch is a mansard roof?

The mansard roof has two pitches to consider the upper and lower slopes. The lower slope has about a 70 degree pitch while the upper section has about a 30-36 degree pitch.

Mansard Roof: Conclusion

Mansard roofs have a long and interesting history and a beautiful style that is worth understanding. The style of a building’s roof is an important element in its architectural style.

Whether you are buying an old home with a mansard or looking to add more space in your attic, these roofs have unique characteristics that might work well in some cases.

Mansard roofs do have inherent design flaws that will not work for certain houses and locations. It is worth knowing these before you invest in an expensive remodel or the purchase of a new roof.