February 15, 2019

Roof Designs: The World’s Most Popular

Different slopes are for different folks when it comes to residential and commercial roof designs and materials. Learn more today!

Time to read:
8 Minutes
Written by
Nicholas Capobianco

A roof is so much more than the top of a house or office. Roofing contributes to a building’s curb appeal and to the overall aesthetic of a neighborhood. Having a roof over one's head has become synonymous with feeling secure. It keeps spaces dry and warm or cool, depending on the season and roofing material.

The right roof can save energy and act as a technology nerve center for an office building. Homeowners can sit on a roof deck and consumers and employees can enjoy food and activities on top of commercial buildings.

Clay roof tiles were introduced in 3000 BC and the evolution of roofing has continued through the ages, influenced by the tastes of the population, climate and weather factors, and industrial improvements. Settlers brought popular styles from Europe to the Americas; new materials sped up production and installation. Time marches on and so do roof innovations.

If you want to feel stylish and smart as well as secure, you should be aware of the various types of roofs, how and why the designs vary, and what type of roof may be best for your own home or business.

Residential roofs

When you choose a home, many factors will affect your decision. Curb appeal is important, but you also want to think about the long-term benefits and liabilities of the roof in terms of energy efficiency, maintenance, and, replacement costs.

For example: if you live in an area that is often hit by hurricanes, you’ll need to consider the impact of high winds on roof longevity when deciding on the roof type and material you use.

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Gable roof

A gable roof is among the most popular roofing styles and is found in American Colonial, Georgian Colonial, and Colonial Revival homes. The simplest of all styles, the gable roof is the type that a child would often draw. Gables can be accessorized with multi-level slopes and detailing. They’re the simplest roofs to build and repair and are usually covered with asphalt, wood shakes, or shingles. Although they are practical for most regions, extreme weather, like hurricanes, can lift the roof from the walls.

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Hip roof

A hip roof is sloped on all four sides and holds up well to rain and snow. It’s second in popularity to the gable style and can be covered with shingles, metal, or tiles. Like many roof styles, the hip roof originated in Europe and is most popular in the South and Mid-Atlantic states. It is sturdier and tends to provide better drainage than the gable roof but is more expensive to build due to its more complex design. Many combination roofs are a mix of gabled and hipped, and cross hipped roofs are also common—imagine two hipped roofs meeting at right angles.

Gambrel roof

Gambrel roofs are seen on homes that look like barns and farmhouses and also on cabins and storage sheds. You may spot them on Dutch Colonial and Georgian style houses too. A gambrel roof has only two sides and is one of the oldest roof styles in America. Some believe that early traders “imported” this aesthetic with them as they traveled. They are easy to frame and construct and allow for extra space, which makes them popular for sheds and garages as well as homes. Annual inspections are recommended for this style because they tend to suffer in areas of heavy rain and wind. Covered in shingles or metal, they are prone to collapse under extreme pressure and must be reinforced.

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Mansard roof

The mansard (or French) roof is a more ornate style which often allows for more living space in garrets and alcoves. It has its origins in French chateaus and townhouses and has a classic and opulent look; it was also used for small commercial buildings in the 1960s and 70s.

The best materials for a mansard roof are asphalt, ceramic, cement, and synthetic and wood shingles. Heavy rain and snowfall can create problems for these lovely historic shaped roofs, and repairs can be complex and expensive. It’s also important to keep in mind that proper attention to ventilation is a must with this roof style. A lack of ventilation can lead to the degradation of the roofing system, condensation and moisture build up, mold, dry rot, and a myriad of other nasty issues.

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Flat roof

Flat roofs give a modern look to a home and are often covered with rubber, asphalt, gravel, tar, TPO, or modified bitumen. The location, climate, weather, and geographical environment determine the appropriate roofing materials. Flat roofs exist all over the world, and in warmer climates, they may be built of masonry or concrete. These materials deflect the heat of the sun and are less expensive and more readily available in certain areas. However, many homeowners choose this style for its unique contemporary flair.

One advantage of a flat roof  is that it can be turned into a roof deck or garden area, transforming it into what’s called a green roof. The downside, however, is that the absorbed heat and water drainage can present more of a problem than with a sloped roof. The key is to plan your green roof in a climate that’s both temperate and capable of supporting the vegetation.

Jerkinhead, bonnet, pyramid, and sloping flat are just a few of the many architectural roofs that are variations on the most common styles and slopes. As with fashion, home trends have evolved over the years and vary based on where you are in the world.

If you’re buying a new home or renovating an existing one, choose a roof that will be timeless and fit with your neighborhood and geography. Be sure to also factor in the long-term cost of maintaining and repairing it.

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Commercial roofs

Over the past fifty years, options for commercial roofing have changed dramatically. Flat roofs are, by far, the most common style for industrial and other commercial applications (e.g. warehouses, shopping centers, hospitals, schools, etc.). Businesses typically have flat roofs because they’re larger than residential buildings and installing a sloped roof on a giant space would be difficult and impractical.

Aesthetics are important, but functionality and cost come into play. Factors like energy efficiency (and LEED certification), plans for future expansion, the length of a building lease, and equipment or ventilation you may need to put on the roof are all factors that must be taken into consideration when planning an installation or renovation. Be sure you’re working with a roofer who has solid commercial experience in your location.

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Stadium roofs

Close to 1,000 stadiums exist throughout North America. Elaborate roof designs have become popular worldwide in recent years and have cost upwards of $150 million. Automation, lighting and natural light, the speed of retractability, and cost/timing of repair are all considerations that come when designing and maintaining a stadium roof. In fact, stadium design and management are so specialized that an online magazine called Stadia is dedicated exclusively to the stadium industry.

Looking at the “why” behind stadium roofs is opening a whole can of worms, but it’s safe to say that much design and engineering effort is behind each of these amazing instances of architecture.

roof designs why stadium

The Roof of the Future

As the needs of society evolve and so does available technology, the roof may play an even greater role in life and business. Solar energy capture, rainwater gathering, the creation of public spaces, and rooftop gardens and farms are all new potential uses for the roof. Roof space, especially in urban areas, is being recognized for its commercial and functional value. In fact, Elon Musk declared the roof “the future of energy.”

The Internet of Things (IoT) will also have an impact on the purpose of roofs, as they will act as “command centers” for the buildings below. IoT will be used to detect and communicate leaks. Roofing professionals will work hand-in-hand with technology experts. Co-botting (installers working with robots and technologies) will result in consistency of production and speedier installation and repairs.

Commercial and residential designers are rapidly preparing for that future and equipping themselves with the knowledge and experience they’ll need to “raise the roof” as we head into the next era.

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