What is a Gambrel Roof? - Design, Style & Construction

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.

Have you ever climbed into a roomy barn attic and looked at the roof suspended over your head? In this lesson, learn about the design and construction of gambrel roofs, the type that enables all that extra space.

A gambrel roof is a symmetrical two-sided roof in which each side has two slopes, one steeper and one shallower. Think of a typical barn roof, the most common gambrel roof most people see. This style is also a standard roof design found in Dutch colonial houses, and some historians suggest that early Dutch traders in Southeast Asia saw the style and brought it with them when they traveled to other places. The peak of a standard gambrel roof is normally built at a 30-degree angle, with the second slope at 60 degrees, but (as with so many things) it can be customized according to an individual builder's wants and wishes.

Example of a gambrel roof on a barn
Example of gambrel roof

Gambrel roofs are easy to build and they offer more storage space under them than typical pitched roofs (the triangular roof shape we see so often). They also require less materials to build than roofs with extra support beams and columns. Because the gambrel provides more space, they are often seen on storage sheds, barns, or other similar structures.

Gambrel roofs used in houses and residential buildings often include a dormer (an additional space that juts out from the building with its own roof parallel to the larger roof) and double-hung windows to allow light into the space.

Construction of a Gambrel Roof

A gambrel roof is framed out, which means that the builder constructs a series of individual trusses with the identical measurements. This can be done with wooden two by four boards assembled on the ground or a flat surface. Each side of the roof truss has two roof beams that are reinforced with a simple gusset plate (a triangular wood or metal plate that reinforces the joint, usually screwed into place). When all the trusses are done, they will be raised into place on the top of a building and secured to the floor. The trusses are then covered with the roof deck, which could be composed of wood, metal siding, or shingles. The number of trusses needed depends on the size of the roof being built.

Example of individual roof truss
Example of individual gambrel roof truss

Example of series of gambrel roof trusses
Gambrel roof trusses

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