Roof Types, Designs, Shapes, and Styles

Roofs come in all shapes and sizes, designs, and styles. It’s part of what makes a building unique and gives it character. With so many options available, you might be wondering what style is right for your home?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you begin to fathom all the myriad roof types. But don’t let this stop you from finding a style that works best for you.

As you begin to consider the different roof types, keep in mind: the primary function of a roof is to protect your home from the elements and to provide a safe place for you to live. So don’t get too bogged down with all the details.

You will also want to remember there are important structural and architectural considerations at play when designing the roof besides simply its shape. You’ll also want to consider the attic underneath, what types of vents you will use, and how it will be insulated.

The first step in deciding on the best style of roof for your home is to consider what types of weather exposure it will typically experience. Some roofs are more suited for areas with wet, snowy, or hot climates than others.

The next step is to determine if your roof will be visible from the ground. If you want a roof that complements the overall finished look of your home, consider how its shape will affect its appearance.

As you make these decisions, there are many other factors to take into account:

  • Do you have trees or other buildings surrounding your home?
  • Will it have a dark or light color?
  • What about your budget and local zoning requirements?

All of these factors will come into play when deciding which style of roof is best for your needs. While mulling over all of the options, you will want to keep in mind the importance of the roof’s slope.

The slope of the roof is both aesthetic and pragmatic.

A steeper roof means better drainage, as rain and snow will be able to slide off more easily, but it also means it will be more visible from the ground. This could be good or bad depending on if you like to stand out or prefer to blend in in your neighborhood.

A flatter roof, on the other hand, is less visible from the ground and is generally easier to access for roof maintenance or repair. They tend to be more common in rural areas where buildings are nestled closely together.

As you consider different styles of roofs, keep in mind that no two roofs have to look exactly alike. Nor should they! With all the different variations available, you should be able to find a style that suits your imagination as well as serves your needs.

Gable Roof

The gable roof, which is the easiest to construct and provides the greatest amount of usable space compared with some of the other options, is ideal for most homes. The two sides of the roof are sloped at equal angles, and each slope ends with a triangular portion called the “gable.”

The primary advantage of this style is that it’s simple to install. The roof can also be designed to suit your preference by changing the length of the eaves, altering the pitch of the roof and giving it a different shape.

The pitched (sloping) sections also shed water more easily than flat roofs because rain runs off at an angle into the gutters.

The most common style of roof has one major drawback, however — the ridge. This line of demarcation can make gable roofs look out of place on anything but a simple, boxy house.

The good news is there are ways to minimize the visual impact of this ungainly roof feature. You can add dormer windows just below the ridge-line, or you may opt for a clipped (flattened) peak. The latter option looks great on Spanish-style homes with beamed ceilings or even on Colonial homes that have more vertical proportions.

Clipped Gable Roof

This style combines the functional advantages of a gable roof with the visual appeal of a hip roof. The connection between the two sloping sections is cut off, or clipped, just below the ridge-line to create an interesting bell-shaped end that doesn’t interfere with your views. The look ranges from subtle (the front and back eaves are identical in length) to dramatic (the front portion is shorter than the back).

Dutch Gable Roof

The dutch gable roof is the best of 2 worlds, combining a gable and hip roof together, but in a different design than on the clipped gable. It consists of two intersecting planes that form triangular shapes to form a gable, which is perched atop a hip roof. The lower line of the hip roof is close to the ground for weather protection, while the upper portion of the gable, or “gablet” maintains a steep angle for effective drainage.

Dutch gables are usually one story, although they may have multiple dormers. These roofs can be found on many Colonial Revival houses, but this style is becoming increasingly popular for American-style Craftsman homes as well. They look totally at home on modern houses as well — Dutch gable roofs provide a sleek look that complements contemporary architecture.

Gambrel Roof

Each side of this roof has 2 sloping sections, one shallow and steep, with the shallower and shorter sections meeting at the apex. The result? More usable space for your home. Gambrel roofs are often found on barns and country homes, but they can also be used on other buildings — especially in dwellings built during the Colonial Revival period.

Adding windows to steep sloping sections of a gambrel roof can be done with a dormer or shed-roof windows, or even a bay window. Doing so can bring in an abundance of natural light, and increase utility of the top story.

Although they’re not as common as gable roofs nowadays, old postcards often show pictures of homes with gambrel roofs — just think of your classic red barn, and you’re thinking of a gambrel roof!

Gambrel roofs are usually one story, but they can also be built on two or even three levels with dormers in between. They do have a visual impact because of their slope and width, so you may want to use them only on large houses with traditional architecture.

Hip Roof

Hip roofs are among the most common roof styles in North America. If you’ve driven around the countryside or visited historic city neighborhoods, you’ve seen them: They’re triangular in shape and slope down to the eaves on all sides.

Hip roofs are usually one story but may have dormers. They were traditionally used only on farmhouses, and they remain a favorite of rural home builders today — perhaps because they’re cheaper to build than gables or gambrels. Hip roofs are also a good choice for contemporary homes, especially if you choose a sloping style and top it with dormers to let in extra light.

Mansard Roof

Mansard roofs are a favorite of French architecture inspired by the Renaissance period. Credited to 17th-century architect Francois Mansart for their popularity, they have four sides with two different pitches. The lower level slopes at a 45-degree angle, while the upper portion is steeper — it may even be almost vertical. This creates a look that’s both steep and strong.

Mansard roofs are among the most attractive roof styles for older homes or historic neighborhoods, though they aren’t often seen in modern architecture. For Colonial Revival buildings, mansard roofs are an excellent choice because they reflect the era when architecture was a blend of Classical French style and Neo-Palladianism.

Mansards are one story, and they often have dormer windows for extra light (as well as more storage space). These roofs can be used on any type of house but may not blend well with modern architecture unless the entire structure is done in a French-influenced style.

Shed Roof

A shed roof is just what it sounds like: a sloped structure that resembles the horizontal rafters of an actual timber-framed building. This type of roof has many uses in residential architecture. It’s good for decks, small houses, or even larger structures if you want a lower profile than dormers could typically offer.

A shed roof is essentially just half of a traditional gable roof. It’s angled at only one side, so the other three sides are basically flat. They were originally used on outbuildings, such as chicken coops or sheds for storing tools and equipment. Today they’re popular choices for pool houses or playrooms, but they can also be used to extend a house upward — you may have seen this type of roof on large garages that serve as workshops or storage areas.

Flat Roof

Flat roofs are frequently used on commercial buildings, but in some parts of the country they can be found on houses as well — usually, those built in warm climates. A flat roof has no sloping sides whatsoever; instead it’s just one large expanse of waterproof material that covers everything above it. In other words, a flat roof is just that — flat.

Their main advantage is that they’re very easy to build and install, so they’re a popular choice for houses built on sloping lots or roofs with complicated angles. Flat roofs are also lightweight, which means they can take a lot of abuse without requiring major repairs.

The biggest disadvantages: They can be damaged by severe weather and sunlight, which can crack and discolor the roof surface (and even cause leaks).

Another drawback of flat roofs is that it’s difficult to install vents or other mechanical equipment on them without adding supports.

Roofs can be categorized by slope, shape, and material.

These three characteristics will vary depending on your needs or budget. When deciding which type of roof to install for a new home construction project, consider the location where you intend to live (i.e., is it in an area prone to severe weather?) as well as how much time/money you are willing to spend on maintenance and repairs over the life span of your home’s exterior. Remember that no matter what style you choose, there may be some disadvantages associated with them. Keeping all of this in mind, we believe there is an ideal roof for everyone!