Gables, Hips, and Dormers; Oh My!

So you’re thinking about installing a new roof, but you don’t know where to start? Your roof is a vital element to provide stability to your home and protect you from the elements, but there are so many types of roof designs and it can be overwhelming trying to discern which is best for your house. Not to mention, roofing comes with its own lingo, and it can be helpful to understand the jargon if you plan on installing new roofing or replacing a roof that needs repairs. We’re going to take a look at some of the architectural elements for different types of roofs and pros and cons of each, so you can be better-informed when you communicate with your contractor. 

First, it’s helpful to understand the difference between the two most common types of roofs: hip roofs and gable roofs. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. 

What are Gable and Hip Roofs?

If you drew a house as a child, chances are you drew it with a gable roof. A gable roof is the typical peaked roof, where two sloping sides connect at a peak in an A shape. There are a few terms that go with such a roof. 

The terms common to a gable roof include:

  • Ridge: The peak where the two points meet.
  • Eaves: the overhang for the home’s exterior walls.
  • Gable end: the typically triangular wall connected to the roof’s two pitches. 
  • Rake:  the slanting edge of a gable roof at the end wall.

A hip roof is sloped on all four sides, each with equal length, and comes together at the top to form the ridge (like a pyramid instead of a triangular prism). The “hip” is in reference to the external angle at which the two adjacent sides meet. 

The terms common to a hip roof include:

  • Hip ridge: Just like the gable roof, the hip roof has a ridge. The ridge between sections of a hip roof is called the hip ridge.
  • Hip end: The sloped side of a roof with a peaked top.

Pros and Cons of Gable Roofs

Due to their sharply defined slopes, gable roofs tend to shed snow or water more easily as there is no real place for it to pool. They are simple to design and thus less costly than hip roofs. They also yield more storage and attic space than hip roofs. On the other hand, gable roofs aren’t the best choice for areas that experience high winds, tornadoes, or hurricanes. They aren’t built to withstand strong winds and can collapse if the frames aren’t constructed with adequate supports. 

Pros and Cons of Hip Roofs

Hip roofs tend to be more expensive than gable roofs due to the complexity of their design, but they are also more stable than gable roofs. The way all four sides come together to create an inward slope makes it sturdier. Just like gable roofs, snow and water easily slide off of hip roofs, but they tend to have lower pitches, which means they’re less likely to be degraded by strong winds. However, due to the nature of their design, there are more materials involved in a hip roof installation. In some cases, hip roofs are more prone to potential leaks.

What’s a dormer?

A dormer is the outcropped area of a roof that projects vertically beyond the plane of a pitched roof. They often contain windows. A dormer will add visual interest to your roof. They can utilize a gabled or hipped construction just like the rest of the roof, but there are a couple other dormer designs to consider:

  • A shed dormer: defined by their single-slope which often spans the entire roofline, giving the appearance of a second story. These are usually added to give more space beneath.
  • An eyebrow dormer: This dormer is usually semi-circular in shape, resembling an actual eyebrow, although they can be triangular as well. These dormers don’t add much in the way of room, but can be great for letting in additional light. 
  • An inset dormer: These dormers have one or more walls that are inset, rather than placed on the roof itself.

These are just a couple of common dormer shapes, but there are several others you might encounter, such as polygonal, pyramidal, pedimented, and arched. 

Pros and Cons of a roof dormer

There are many reasons why you might want to add dormers to your roof’s design. For one, they break up the monotony of your roof by adding a visual accent or architectural detail. Unless the dormer is strictly part of your attic space, this applies to your interior too. A dormer can boost your home’s curb appeal. The return on investment for a dormer addition is good, should you put your home up for sale. A dormer can also provide additional light and an alternate view looking outside if a window is incorporated into the design. Consider how a dormer space could be utilized as an additional nook on the interior of your home. Larger dormers, such as shed dormers, can really increase the usable space in your home. 

Dormers also offer improved ventilation in a home. Since they’re built into the roof or second story, they allow for fresh airflow on upper floors where rising heat would otherwise be a problem. Lastly, dormers with windows provide an alternate emergency exit in case of a fire or other calamity. 

Dormers have their disadvantages as well. The biggest one is extra cost. A dormer adds interest to your roof, but the additional visual interest translates to additional building materials and construction time. You’ll need the proper permits and an architect. When you reroof or do repairs on your roof down the line, working with the materials of a dormer are more complex than simply reshingling. You’ll have to care for the window built into the dormer, which will need to be replaced at some point as well.

Additionally, most dormers create valleys on your roof. If you don’t ensure that the proper valley flashing materials are incorporated into the design, leaks can happen. Valleys attract leaks because much more water runs through these areas. Fortunately, an experienced roofing contractor will know how to work around valleys and install the proper materials to fend off leaks.

Now that you understand these common roof types and features, you’ll be able to identify some of the architectural elements you like and how to best use them in your own home’s design. These are just exterior details. To get the full picture of your roof’s construction, you need to understand how the internal components, like the rafters, decking, and underlayment work together as well.