What is a Jerkinhead Roof? - Definition & Design

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson introduces the jerkinhead roof design, along with the two styles contributing to it, pros and cons of this design, and its architectural history.

What's in a Name?

The jerkinhead roof goes by many different names, including jerkinhead, jerkin head, half-hipped, clipped gable, and English hipped roofs. These names all attempt to describe the roof as a combination of the two more common roof styles of gable roof and hip roof. Although it has a funny-sounding name, it offers homeowners an interesting aesthetic while tackling some of the common problems more traditional roofing designs experience.

Complex roof with Jerkinhead examples
Complex roof with two jerkinhead examples

Basic Roofing Terms

As this lesson discusses some of the technical aspects of roof construction, an important first step is to describe a few key terms. While this is not a vocabulary-of-roofing lesson, these four terms will help in explaining the jerkinhead roof.

• Eaves: The underside of a roof where it extends over the exterior walls

• Pitch: The slope of the roof measured as an angle's degree from a horizontal plane

• Ridge: The line along which two planes of the roof meet at an upward pointing angle

• Hip: The sloping roof side created by an additional plane intersecting two additional roof planes.

A Combination of Two Styles

A gable roof, the most common type found in the U.S., is a simple design of two pitched sides resting atop the exterior walls. The triangular space created above the top floor is walled by a triangular extension of the side wall. The space created beneath the roof is usually used as an attic.

Gable roof
Contemporary house with a gable roof

A hipped roof does not require an extension of side walls as each side of the house is covered by a section of the four-sided roof. Often, two of the four sides are slightly smaller, creating a truncated ridge along the top. Leaks would be more common if all four sides were equal, meeting at a singular point that would be difficult to cover with waterproofing materials.

Hipped roof
Tower with hipped roof

The jerkinhead roof combines the best elements of both styles by creating a very small hip at either end of a standard gabled roof.

Jerkinhead roof
jerkinhead roof close up

Pros and Cons

This combined roofing style addresses the most common problems found in both parent styles. The gable roof experiences significant problems in regions of high wind, such as Tornado Alley, a part of the Midwest prone to tornadoes, or hurricane-threatened coastlines. Strong or frequent winds can penetrate the edges and peel off shingles. Additionally, if the eaves overhang too much, especially at the ends where the two planes of the roof meet, high winds can push the roof upwards, causing it to detach from the walls and blow off or collapse. The hipped roof avoids this problem as all sides are sloped, yet it is more prone to water leaks. Any seam in a roof, the ridges and valleys, creates a vulnerability to water, and the hipped roof has more linear feet of seams than any other style.

The jerkinhead roof easily navigates these issues by protecting the vulnerable ends of its gable-style roof with very small hips at each peak end. This prevents wind from penetrating the shingle layer or creating uplift detachment. By only hipping the very ends of the roof, the additional ridge length is only slightly more than on a gabled roof and significantly less than on a hipped roof. It also softens the harsh appearance of the sharp angles on a gable roof while adding an interesting look to the home. The only drawback to the jerkinhead roof is the cost of construction as more complex designs always add to the expense.

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