Whenever you watch cartoons or see traditional illustrations of houses, you may notice a recurring theme, in the shape of the roof. That angular, “A” shape so strongly associated with a basic house shape is called a gable. Of course, we’ve all heard this term before, but we’ve rarely given it much thought as to what it actually meant, aside from “some part of a house” or “some style of architecture”. The term, somehow, has an antiquated sense to it that would lead you to believe it’s a very old style of something.
It is indeed old – gables date back to at least the Greek and Roman times (called, by them, the tympanum). Over the centuries, this basic shape, accomplished by placing triangular pieces at either end of the house, has seen different stylization applied to it, such as the very steep form of Tudor architecture, or the ornate gingerbread work done on Victorian homes.
The gable is common, timeless, and does shed water very well, bat as we’ll see with a closer look, they’re not the best design when it comes to standing up to wind.
Various Types of Gable Roofs
Gables take a lot of shapes, such as the period styles mentioned previously, but there are a few different modern styles for them too.
The simplest gable roof extends from one wall to the opposite one, ending flush with these walls, at the same height. Sometimes, they may extend a bit past either wall, at which point the underside is enclosed with soffit boards – an approach that seems to have caught on in the 1950s, and is still strong with some styles of house.
Another common style involves one wall being higher than the other, which is called a saltbox. This isn’t that common in newly-built houses but was once common when the style of New England architecture was in vogue.
They can, of course, become more complicated, with L or T shaped houses having two, three, or four sections converging with a central support. This is called a cross-gable and is very common with variations of ranch homes.
Finally, a less common style of gable roof on residences in North America is the gambrel roof, which resembles the roofs seen on barns. These have two sections of pitch, the upper being steeper than the lower.
Gables are so popular and commonplace for three reasons. For one, they’re a timeless style, meaning a gable roof won’t become “outdated” any time soon, so your home’s resale value isn’t going to be impacted by it in most cases.
Second, they’re very effective and optimal for areas with lots of snow and/or rain. The steep pitch means water flows off of them very effectively, not pooling anywhere. Snow, while less of a flowing material, won’t pile on such an incline as easily, and when it does, the shape is very resistant to the weight. Ice dams are theoretically less likely to be as severe with this style of roof, provided you have a good gutter system as well.
Finally, gables are easy. Contractors don’t have to construct the framing of a roof on site, because pre-built roof trusses of a gable form factor can be brought in and installed. These are manufactured on assembly lines these days and are very affordable and standardized. This makes it a cost-effective solution all-around as well.
The gable shape has some architectural and lifestyle benefits that many homeowners take for granted. The triangular shape of the roof allows for an attic space if a floor is built across the rafters. A steeper gable will allow for a more spacious attic as a result.
With enough area at the end of the roof, windows and/or vents can be installed, which allow a lot more air flow throughout this attic space. This adds to the longevity of your roof, as ventilation is something, they need to withstand the many temperatures they may be exposed to from either side.
Unfortunately, like any design, it does have an Achilles heel – strong winds. If you live in an area with winds that often get above 60mph, a gable roof may actually be more trouble than it’s worth. With their pitch, these roofs can often lose shingles/tiles/panels very easily under these conditions.
If it’s severe enough, the wind can even get in under the soffit and lift the entire roof off of the house, as has been seen in severe tornado weather as well as during hurricanes. This is a bit of a rock and a hard place for some of the tropical coastal areas, where a lot of rain falls, but wind storms can get quite severe throughout the year.
In most climates, a gable is a practical, timeless and even advantageous type of roof to choose. To learn more about gables, and some architectural tricks they can allow for lighting and living space, fill out our contact form today!