Gambrel Roof : A Comprehensive Guide

Gambrel Roof – When we look at a house from the outside, it is the roof that stands out the most, because it is the covering, the skin of the building. Therefore, when building or renovating your house, it is of utmost importance that you select a roof type that you like, according to your requirements and expectations of the house.

And if you’re looking for a classy, old-fashioned look that will give you extra attic space, the gambrel roof is for you. A rather old fashioned design, gambrel roofs are gaining more and more popularity nowadays, the gambrel roof is wrongly believed to be only used for barns or garages, while this is not true, as it goes amazingly on houses, and it is commonly seen in the Dutch and Colonial style houses.

If you’re interested, read on, because in this article we will go over the reasons you’d want (or not want) a gambrel roof, and how to build one yourself.

What is a Gambrel Roof?

Gambrel Roof

What differentiates a gambrel roof from a regular one is the slopes. Instead of having a symmetrical structure where both sides have a uniform slope, the gambrel roof has two different slopes for every side, the upper slope at a lesser angle, and the lower slope at a more steep angle. Because of this design, gambrel roofs give you a lot of extra attic space, by having the roof further away due to the slope modification.

Quick History of Gambrel Roofs

The first gambrel roof is believed to have been built in 1677 – the Harvard University. There are many more records of the style afterward – in Dutch Colonial homes, as well as in Georgia. The Europeans took up the style soon after, and now it is common not just in the US, but across the world.

And don’t let the simple look of the roof fool you, because these roofs are known to survive for hundreds of years, due to their design and water seepage. Besides its visually appealing look, another reason they became so popular is that they provided a lot more space for the top story/attic of the building.

Gambrel Versus Mansard: What is the Difference?

Gambrel roofs are double-sided, while mansard is four-sided. With a mansard roof, the upper parts aren’t as steep, which means that the top comes out almost flat, not like the gambrel which has a clearly defined ridge.

Gambrel Versus Gable: What is the Difference?

A gable roof is a standard roof with two equally sloping sides. The reason why you would want to use a gambrel over a gable is the visual benefits, as well as the extra attic space, however, a gable is much better for strong winds or rains, as its shape doesn’t catch the wind as much. However, most of the time, the chances of a strong hurricane are insignificant enough for people to opt for the better-looking and attic-friendly gambrel roofs.

Advantages of Gambrel Roofs

  • The roof is perfect for pretty much any building – from your house to a barn or garage. The extra space is also always useful, no matter what it’s for.
  • When anyone sees a gambrel roof they’re going to think of a classy, Colonial American home, so if you’re looking for something cool and old-fashioned, this is for you.
  • Gambrels are extremely simple to build, as the joints and structure are very straightforward and to the point.
  • Due to their design, gambrels are very affordable when it comes to labor for installation.
  • Because of the way the slopes are built, drainage is perfect, ensuring that all the water seeps down and none gets stuck in the roof or causes leakage.
  • Extra space! You can keep lots more in your attic without worrying that things won’t fit.

Disadvantages of Gambrel Roofs

  • Gambrels require a lot more maintenance as compared to gables, due to their inability to withstand strong winds. At least once a year, a thorough inspection is required to ensure there is no elemental damage.
  • If there’s lots of heavy snow or wind in your area, you might want to think it out if you want to get a gambrel roof, as it isn’t very strong against the elements. Leaks, amongst other problems, might occur often if your house is exposed to tough weather. Sometimes, if not done correctly, the roof can even be lifted off during a hurricane.
  • Due to the structure of the roof, the attic can have a lack of ventilation, which can lead to lots of damage if not taken care of. Sometimes even the inside of the roof structure can become damaged.

3 Types of Gambrel Roof Designs

There are various types of gambrel roofs you can pick from. Here are the three most common ones.

1.   Classic Gambrel

Gambrel Roof

This is the most common style, mostly used in sheds and barns, built to maximize attic space as much as possible.

2.  Mansard

Gambrel Roof

This style originated in France way before the classic gambrel – back during the 14th century. The benefit of this over the classic gambrel is the additional support, which can help prevent the wind from being destroyed during hurricanes.

3.  Wall-Supported Gambrel

Gambrel Roof

If you’re going for a gambrel because of its looks and you don’t care about that extra attic space, the wall-supported gambrel is best for you. However, the design, with a lower pitch, limits the attic space.

How to Build a DIY Gambrel Roof

Gambrel Roof

The beauty of gambrel roofs is how simple they are to build. If you have some basic experience in this area, this should be relatively simple. Below is a basic step-by-step guide to getting you started.

Step 1: Get the plan out, and figure out exactly what size and how you want the trusses to be. Remember that they need to be cut to meet the roof at a correct angle. Get them cut out and assembled.

Step 2: Attach the trusses to the plates firmly with galvanized screws. Make sure everything is properly aligned.

Step 3: Attach the gambrel roof to the structure, using grooved plywood. Adding overhangs is also a great idea, as this will protect the house from rain. Be sure that everything is properly attached, using joints and galvanized screws.

Step 4: Now, you can add the roof’s waterproof covering. See that the felt overlaps properly so that you get a truly waterproof roof.

Step 5: Once you go over all the gaps in the felt with wood filler and are sure that the angles are all perfect, you can install the shingles.

This is a very basic explanation, and if you want more information on how to do this you might want to watch this short video:

What is the Lifespan of Gambrel Roofs?

Like with any other roof, it depends on a lot of factors, such as the materials used, the quality of the job done, and whether proper maintenance is being regularly done.

Professionally made roofs can last well over a century, but it also depends on the materials and regular maintenance.


Do you need a roof which is cheap, and gives you extra space? A roof that is sure to last ages and looks classy? Then a gambrel roof is what you need! Call a professional, or if you’re confident, do it yourself! And be sure to maintain it regularly of course.

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