Everything You Need to Know About a Gambrel Roof

Your home's roof can be a standout architectural feature that adds value to your property. If you're considering a new roof design or updating your existing one, it's important to choose a unique and attractive...

Your home's roof can be a standout architectural feature that adds value to your property. If you're considering a new roof design or updating your existing one, it's important to choose a unique and attractive structure. Enter the gambrel roof - with its nostalgic look and additional floor space, it's gaining renewed interest among homeowners.

Contrary to popular belief, gambrel roofs aren't limited to barns and sheds. They can also be seen in mansions and Dutch Colonial style houses. In this article, we'll delve into everything you need to know about a gambrel roof, including its history, pros and cons, and how to build one for your home.

What is a Gambrel Roof?

A gambrel roof is a symmetrical structure with two-sided slopes on each side. The upper slope is located at a shallow angle and the lower slope is steeper. It was popularized in the 18th century in North America, particularly in Dutch Colonial homes and barn roofs. The unique structure of a gambrel allows for a wider span and the addition of dormers, providing extra habitable attic space.

Quick History of Gambrel Roofs

The exact origins of gambrel roof designs in the US are still unknown, but it is believed that the first gambrel roof was built in 1677 at Harvard University. This roof design became a standard feature in Dutch Colonial homes and was also adopted by Europeans for their Georgian homes. Gambrel roofs can now be found in various building styles across the world, not just Dutch Colonial and Georgian.

Gambrel Versus Mansard: What is the Difference?

While similar in shape, there are some key differences between a gambrel and a mansard roof. Gambrel roofs consist of two symmetrical roof sides with slopes in opposite directions, meeting at a sharp point. Mansard roofs, on the other hand, have a lower pitch and are four-sided structures without a ridge in the middle.

Gambrel Versus Gable: What is the Difference?

A gable roof is a classic roof shape with two roof sections sloping in opposite directions. Gambrel roofs offer more design flexibility and space. They are particularly suitable for outbuildings like sheds, as they provide larger cubic feet and allow for the addition of more storage space. Gable roofs, on the other hand, have smaller cubic feet and limited design options.

Advantages of Gambrel Roofs

  • Versatility: Gambrels are a popular design not just for barns and sheds but also for contemporary and farmhouse style homes. The top part of the roof is almost vertical, providing space for a third story.
  • Classic Look: Gambrel roofs are a symbol of Colonial America and add a classic touch to any structure.
  • Easy to Build: Gambrels are easy to build as they have a simple structure with no complex valleys or joints.
  • Cost-effective: Gambrels are a more cost-effective option than mansards, saving time and labor during installation and maintenance.
  • Excellent Drainage: Gambrel roofs have steep slopes, ensuring excellent drainage and preventing leaks.
  • Aesthetically Appealing: The unique shape of a gambrel roof catches the eye and adds visual interest.
  • Optimized Space: Gambrels provide ample headspace and allow for the addition of large attic spaces using trusses and dormer windows.
  • Ideal for Outbuildings: Gambrel roofs are perfect for sheds and outbuildings, providing extra storage space on a tight budget.

Disadvantages of Gambrel Roofs

  • More Maintenance: Gambrel roofs require regular maintenance and annual inspections to prevent damage.
  • Poor Protection Against Extreme Weather: Gambrels are not suitable for areas prone to heavy snow or high winds. Proper reinforcement and waterproofing are necessary to avoid leaks and uplift.
  • Lack of Ventilation: Gambrels with attic space can have ventilation issues, leading to moisture damage.

3 Types of Gambrel Roof Designs

  1. Classic Gambrel: This is the most common gambrel roof design, often seen on barns and sheds. The two-pitch design allows for maximum attic space.
  2. Mansard: This French-style roof is similar to a gambrel, offering flexibility in pitch design with an identical shape.
  3. Wall-Supported Gambrel: This aesthetically pleasing design does not have ridge boards but has limited attic space.

How to Build a DIY Gambrel Roof

If you have DIY skills, building a gambrel roof for your shed or home can be a rewarding project. Here's a step-by-step guide:

  1. Build the Roof Trusses: Create a plan and cut the trusses at the right angles using a miter or circular saw. Lock the trusses together with screws and reinforce the joints with plywood gussets.
  2. Attach the Trusses: Secure the trusses to the top plates, spacing them 24 inches apart. Place blocks to fill the spaces between the trusses for added rigidity.
  3. Fit the Gambrel Ends: Install grooved plywood ends and add overhangs for style and protection against rot. Use galvanized screws to secure the components.
  4. Cover the Roof: Apply waterproof felt, overlapping the strips by at least 2 inches. Install the ridge and corner drip edges before adding the roof shingles.
  5. Finishing Touches: Fill gaps with wood filler, ensure proper alignment, and install your chosen roofing shingles.

Building a gambrel roof may seem complex, so if you're not experienced, it's advisable to consult with professional roofers.

Lifespan of Gambrel Roofs

The lifespan of a gambrel roof depends on various factors such as installation, materials, design, maintenance, and climate. Professionally installed gambrel roofs with high-quality materials can last up to a century. DIY gambrel roofs can also be durable, depending on the materials used and proper maintenance.


A gambrel roof offers homeowners a stylish design with ample attic space. Whether for a shed or a home, gambrel roofs provide versatility, a classic look, and optimized space. They are relatively easy to build and cost-effective. However, regular maintenance is required, and gambrel roofs may not be suitable for areas with extreme weather conditions. Overall, a gambrel roof can make a unique statement and add value to your property.

Everything You Need to Know About a Gambrel Roof