What Is a Gable Roof?
If this question is "peaking" your interest, read this guide on what they are, how they work and some popular variations.
There are many types of roofs that top our homes, and the popularity of each varies from region to region. Here in the Northeast, we’re big fans of the modest gable roof. It’s practical and offers a classic design that’s easy to work with.
But what exactly is a gable roof, and what makes them so practical? This guide will cover it all.
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What Is a Gable Roof?
A gable roof has two sides that meet and form a ridge in the middle. The angle or slopes of the two planes can vary from house to house, with the ridge running parallel or perpendicular to the front of the house. They form a tell-tale triangle shape under the ridge on either end of the home. These triangle sections are commonly referred to as gable ends.
Gable roofs feature a wide range of materials. The joists and rafters are almost always made of dimensional lumber. The framing is sheathed with plywood, with underlayment material protecting it from leakage and the sun’s heat. The finished layer, commonly known as shingles, goes over the top of the underlayment.
Almost any roofing material will work for a gabled roof except rolled rubber. Asphalt shingles, slate shingles, metal roofing, stone-coated steel and solar tiles are all suitable. These materials overlap each other. Since gable roofs feature significant slopes, water runs down each shingle and onto the next, where it ultimately falls off the eave or into the gutter.
Rolled rubber roofing doesn’t work because it comes in wide, flexible sheets that act as sails in wind blowing across the surface. This will eventually tear off the rubber completely.
Pros and Cons of Gable Roofs
The gable roof is popular in some parts of the world and less appealing in others, because there are pros and cons to this design.
Gable roofs shed snow and rain well. This prevents leaks but also lessens the weight the roof must bear. In some areas of the country (like the snowy Northeast), shedding the weight of snow is the primary reason for its popularity.
Gable roofs are some of the simplest to frame and construct, using basic construction materials. These attributes make them less expensive during construction than other, more complicated designs.
Homeowners can select a wide range of compatible roofing materials. Options like asphalt, slate or solar shingles are on the table, as are stone-coated steel and metal roofing materials.
Gable roofs provide a lot of surface area for solar panels. Without complicated angles or several slopes to deal with, users in the Northern Hemisphere can install a large solar array as long as one of the planes faces south.
Gable roofs are not ideal in areas frequently exposed to high winds. These roofs tend to have a slight overhang that creates a triangle-shaped pocket under the eave. Strong winds from hurricanes or tornadoes that blow into this pocket can potentially peel the roof away from the house.
A gable roof over an attic is fine. But when it’s over a second-floor space, like in a Cape Cod-style home, it can diminish headspace. Homeowners may feel compelled to install dormers to increase the standing room and usable space in these floors.
While the gable roof is strong, there are sturdier options, like hip roofs (see below).
Gable Roof vs. Hip Roof
Like the gable roof, the hip roof is popular in certain parts of the country thanks to some unique characteristics.
A hip roof features four sloping planes. Two large planes that come together to form a ridge. Then two planes, one at either end of the ridge, slope down to the outer wall of the house. This gives the home a somewhat pyramid shape.
Hip roofs don’t catch wind like gable roofs do. Due to their four sloping sides, they’re more aerodynamic and allow strong winds to blow over the top of the home rather than catching the gusts. Also, since there are two additional planes to frame, hip roofs are considerably more expensive to build.
Otherwise, gable roofs and hip roofs share much of the same qualities. Both are good at shedding rain and snow, and both are suitable for most roofing materials.
Gable Roof Design Variations
There are several variations. Some designs can be used in conjunction with one another, creating architectural synergy and functionality.
This consists of two roofing planes that rise to meet a ridge in the middle. They can be steep or shallow. They’re ideal for shedding precipitation and affordable to construct.
Standard gable roofs typically run parallel to the front door, with the shingled sections facing the front and backyards. However, a front gable runs perpendicular to the front door, with the shingled planes facing the side yards.
These resemble standard gables, with one difference: The gable ends extend out from the floor below it to create an overhang. This design provides more interior space, while the overhang keeps precipitation from falling directly in front of the foundation.
This consists of two gabled roofs intersecting each other at a right angle. They may form a letter T or L from the above. The distinguishing feature: Two ridges meeting somewhere along the roof’s highest point.
This looks like a standard gable roof placed on top of a hip roof, resulting in four sloping sides, two small triangular gable ends and irregular roof shapes. Dutch gables provide more headroom inside the home and add an interesting design element to an otherwise standard roofing system.
Along with the standard roof, many homes have gabled dormers. Also called doghouse dormers, these project out from the roofline to create more interior space. They also allow more light through their windows and create an interesting architectural touch. These types of dormers are most common on Cape Cod-style homes.
Saltbox homes are one-and-a-half or two-story homes featuring gabled roofs in standard orientation, with planes of unequal length. While the front of the gable looks standard, the back side extends down toward the yard, giving the home the appearance it’s leaning.
While the asymmetrical design might look strange to folks in some areas of the country, these gabled roofs are examples of some of the earliest homes built by settlers in the Northeast.
Many colonial homes feature smaller gabled sections over their front porches or steps. While this does add a classic charm to the design, it also serves a practical purpose.
These overhangs shed snow to the left and right of the door, preventing the homeowner from becoming snowed into the home. They’re also handy when fishing for keys in a pocket on a rainy day.