What are Eaves in Architecture? - Definition & Design

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

How do you keep rain water off the sides of a building? Architects sometimes use eaves. In this lesson, learn about eaves, their parts, and how they're used in architecture.

What are Eaves?

Have you ever stood under a house's roof edge to get out of the rain? You might have been staying dry thanks to an eave.

An eave is the edge of a roof that sticks out or hangs over the building's side. Sometimes they are over exposed rafters. Eaves are found on the outside of a structure, and sometimes they project or protrude well beyond the edge. The term eave comes from the Old English word 'efes' that means border. And that's what it is: a border between the wall and roof.

Example of eaves on a roof edge
Image with roof eaves

An eave can have several parts. The horizontal underside of the eave is sometimes called a soffit. If the eave has a board running vertically along its end that covers the rafters, that board is a fascia.

How are Eaves used in Architecture?

Eaves have a a long history of use in architecture because they have a practical purpose. They allow water to run off roofs and away from the structure, which helps protect buildings from damage and rot in wet climates. To encourage water runoff, eaves sometimes have hollowed channels called gutters along their edges or attached to the soffit on their undersides.

Eaves can also be decorative and are sometimes embellished with wooden brackets. Some architectural styles feature distinctive eaves. For example, a Victorian architecture styles called Italianate, which was popular in the United States in the mid-19th century, included many elaborate wooden brackets supporting the eaves. Often the brackets include pronounced scrollwork.

Example of an eave on an Italianate building with decorative wood brackets
Eaves with decorative wood brackets

Different Types of Eaves

These are several different kinds of eaves. A closed eave doesn't have much of an overhang, while an open eave sticks out well beyond the roof. Craftsman, an architectural style often used on bungalows in the early 20th century, featured long open eaves.

Open eaves on a train station roof
Open eaves on a train station roof

Then there are flared eaves, which curve upward at their outer edges. Flared eaves are found on Dutch Colonial architecture.

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