Roof types: choose the right shape for your home
When it comes to different types of roofs, there are dozens of different styles that depend on the climate where you live, the architectural style of your home, and your personal preferences. In this helpful guide, we explore the most popular roof styles in America, the types of roofing materials that work best for each, and the regions of the USA that each is best suited to.
On this page:
- Gable roofs
- Hip roofs
- Dutch gable roofs
- Flat roofs
- Butterfly roofs
- Gambrel roofs
- Mansard roofs
- Skillion or Clerestory roofs
- Saltbox roofs
- Jerkinhead roofs
- Which roof type is right for your home?
Here are the ten types of roof we’ll be covering:
Let’s get started with the most popular roofing options and work our way down.
Known for: Easy construction, classic clean lines
Where you can find it: All across the USA
Best materials: Asphalt shingles, metal, tiles, wood shake
When a child draws a picture of a house from the front, it’s a good bet they’ll draw a gable roof on top. This classic triangle-shaped design creates a peak with a long ridge and two rectangular roof faces. The gables are the vertical triangular sections at the ends of the roof.
This type of roof makes construction very simple. All the roof trusses can be equally sized, and building a rectangular roof face is very easy. Because of this simplicity, gable roofs cost less to build than other roof types. Gable roofs are also very good at shedding snow, which makes them very popular in northern climates, especially as metal roofs.
Several sections of a gabled roof can be combined in a T-shaped pattern called a cross gable roof, which adds complexity, but also increases stability. This type of roof is often used on Cape Cod-style houses and can be combined with dormers to turn attic space into livable upper-story rooms. If a gable roof is crossed or has dormers, it’s essential to ensure the valleys are properly flashed to prevent water from seeping into the roof deck.
Unfortunately, gable roofs have the disadvantage of being susceptible to damage from high winds. The overhangs of a gable roof can catch the wind, which causes uplift that can cause the roof to be torn away from the walls. In high wind areas, it’s important to make sure your roofer uses the appropriate braces.
Known for: Increased stability, aesthetic appeal
Where you can find it: All across the USA
Best materials: Asphalt shingles, metal, slate tiles, clay tiles
Ancient civilizations around the world chose the pyramid as an ideal shape for their most important buildings, and their wisdom rings true across the centuries.
On top of a square-shaped house, a hip roof looks like a low-slope pyramid. Stretch it out along a rectangle-shaped home, and you have an extremely sturdy roof with two triangular faces and two trapezoidal faces, combined at five ridges that provide excellent support. Because of this supportive structure, hip roofs can have a lower pitch than gable roofs, meaning they create less usable space under them but are safer to work on.
One unfortunate thing about hip roofs is that they are a bit more complicated to construct than gable roofs, and when adding separate crossed sections and dormers, the complication level can rise quickly from “a bit” to “extremely”.
With that level of complication, it’s important to ensure watertightness with valley flashing and ridge cap protection. That’s why asphalt shingles are truly ideal for hip roofs. The flexibility and ease of installation of an asphalt roof is unmatched. While other roofing materials can work, and metal roofing is comparable to asphalt, the added complications of tiles or shakes means added expenses. That being said, a natural slate roof in this style is unmatched for curb appeal.
Another disadvantage of hip roofs is that they reduce the available space for solar panels. If you’re interested in adding solar panels to your home, you’ll need a fairly large, unobstructed, south-facing roof surface, which is more difficult to find on hip roofs. Solar panels are rectangles, so it’s harder to fit many of them on a triangular or trapezoidal roof face.
Dutch gable roofs
Known for: Combining the best of gable and hip roofs
Where you can find it: All across the USA
Best materials: Asphalt shingles, metal, tiles
Combining the best of hip and gable roof, the Dutch gable, or “gablet” roof isn’t as popular in the US as it is in Europe and the UK, but maybe it should be. The Dutch gable roof is hipped at the edges of the roof, with gablets that rise above two of the four sides to allow for extra attic or upper-floor space.
The Dutch gable roof provides extra stability from the angled surfaces on all the corners, and the style has the added benefit of increasing the available roof space on what would have been the trapezoidal faces. This extra space makes it easier to add solar panels to a Dutch gable roof.
Of course, adding gables where there would otherwise be hips means the construction process is more complicated, making the Dutch gable is a somewhat more expensive roof to install.
Known for: Modern look and low cost
Where you can find it: All across the USA, especially in warmer climates
Best materials: EPDM rubber, TPO, modified bitumen, concrete
Although these types of roofs are called flat, it is more accurate to say they are “low-slope” roofs. Water needs somewhere to go, and a truly flat roof would not do a good enough job of moving it away from surfaces. Instead, a low-slope roof looks nearly flat but channels water to drains either in or on the edges of the roof.
Choosing a flat roof for your home has several advantages. Most importantly, a flat roof is easier and less costly to install than a pitched roof because it uses fewer materials and is easier to work on. It also creates an upper floor without the sloped walls that are found in homes with pitched roofs. Finally, a flat roof can provide a space for growing plants, either as a green roof or on a rooftop patio.
That doesn’t mean flat roofs are ideal. If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, you’ll either need to reinforce your roof to deal with the increased weight or face the possibility of collapse. Even though low-slope roofs are designed to move water, they are more susceptible to leaks over time.
Because of these concerns, flat roofs need regular check-ups and more frequent re-roofing jobs. The lifespan of the average flat roof is about 10 years before needing to be re-covered, and waterproofing may have to be performed more often than that.
Known for: Unique design, eco-friendly water management
Where you can find it: Modern homes across the country, especially in coastal areas
Best materials: Solid membrane, standing-seam metal
Want to have a house that looks like a butterfly in mid-flight? This might be the roof for you. The striking modern design of the butterfly roof isn’t just for show, though, as its unique central valley is designed to channel water runoff from the outside parts of the roof to a single channel, which is often connected to a cistern or rain barrel to be used later.
Butterfly roofs make it easy to create interesting spaces with long sloping ceilings and large windows on the exterior walls of your home, which is a great advantage over traditional pitched roof designs. This aerodynamic design allows the butterfly roof to withstand high winds that tend to kick up in coastal areas.
Unfortunately, the price of uniqueness and modernity comes at a high cost. Butterfly roofs need to be well-constructed and take additional labor to make sturdy and watertight. In addition, butterfly roofs often have a somewhat reduced pitch, meaning you have to inspect them frequently to reduce the chance of water damage from clogged drainage valleys.
Known for: Looking like Colonial homes and barns, providing lots of upper floor space
Where you can find it: The northeastern US, mostly
Best materials: Metal, asphalt shingles, wood shingles
Depending on the part of the country you live in, you may associate the gambrel roof with important Colonial buildings from the late 17th and early 18th centuries, or you might just think it looks like a barn. Either way, you’re probably right!
The reasons people chose gambrel roofs for those buildings still apply to homes today. Whether you want a newer home that looks like it belongs in a neighborhood full of old colonial houses or you just want a design that maximizes the amount of usable space available on your upper floor, a gambrel could be right for you.
Gambrel roofs are quite easy to build, and therefore cost less than other styles, but they do come with disadvantages. They can be susceptible to wind damage because their steeply-pitched lower surfaces are not aerodynamic. This design can also make the upper floors more difficult to ventilate unless you add windows along the pitched sides to provide some cross-breeze. Finally, the low-sloped upper portions of the roof will retain snow, so if you live in a very snowy area, this style of roof may not be ideal for you.
Known for: Refined style that recalls French classical architecture, maximum interior space
Where you can find it: Eastern and Southern United States
Best materials: Asphalt shingles, slate or metal tiles
Originally developed in the 17th century by a French architect named Francois Mansart, the mansard roof gained popularity in France and the United States in the latter half of the 19th century; a time known as the Second French Empire.
Mansard roofs are a defining feature of Second Empire style homes. They are characterized by having two roof faces on all four sides of the home, with the outermost face either highly pitched or concave. This style leaves a lot of space for dormered windows or even small balconies to be built into the steep sides of the roof.
Homeowners looking to re-roof an existing mansard roof can’t go wrong with asphalt shingles, which remain the most popular choice. If you want to choose an upscale look, go with slate roofing tiles. Metal tile roofs can look very nice on a mansard roof and add durability while reducing cost, but be careful what color you choose.
Skillion or Clerestory roofs
Known for: Clean lines and a modern look
Where you can find it: Modern neighborhoods across the USA
Best materials: Asphalt shingles, metal
A skillion roof is a very modern choice for homes, which allows for some truly unique design options. One of those options is called a clerestory, which is a vertical face under the eaves of one level of the roof and above another. The clerestory contains windows that add lots of natural light to a room above eye level, creating beautiful interior spaces with high ceilings.
Because skillion roofs have only one face per side, they are low-maintenance and easier to construct than many other types, yet still maintain an elegant, modern appearance. Each face of a skillion roof is large and rectangular, making an ideal space for installing solar panels (as long as they don’t face north).
One drawback of this style is that water can only be channeled onto one side of each roof face, so the home needs to have robust gutters that can handle the increased runoff. Skillion roofs are also not very aerodynamic, and so are not ideal in areas with high winds. Finally, the fact that one side of the roof is a great deal lower than the other means that homeowners need to be comfortable with restricted space on the low side or extra unusable space on the high side.
Known for: Having a second story only on one part of the home
Where you can find it: Mostly colonial New England or places with moderate to heavy rainfall
Best materials: Asphalt and wood shingles
A saltbox roof is a gable roof with one of its faces extending lower than the other. This style gets its name from its extended face, which is reminiscent of the sloping lid of antique saltboxes that used to hang on the kitchen walls of homes in the colonial United States.
The saltbox style is an older one, and few new roofs are built this way. If you’re in love with this style, you’ll get a roof that handles snow and heavy rain with aplomb. The extra-long side of a saltbox house also provides additional stability in heavy winds compared to a traditional gable roof.
Drawbacks of the saltbox style are reduced second-story space compared to the home’s footprint, as well as slanted interior ceilings on those parts of the second story that are present. Finally, the extended sloping portion of the roof is somewhat more difficult to build than a traditional gable roof, requiring extra materials and extended trusses.
Known for: Combining the best features of gable and hip roofs, unique looks
Where you can find it: Early 20th-century neighborhoods in the east and midwest
Best materials: Asphalt shingles, tiles of any sort, and metal
While it might sound like someone just called your house a rude name, a jerkinhead roof is something positive, not negative. Also known as a “clipped gable roof,” a jerkinhead roof reduces the structural problems of a gable roof by adding “half hips” on the ridge ends. These mini-hips both increase stability and help reduce the force of wind uplift while keeping the wall space under the roof eaves open to hold windows.
This design is, unfortunately, more complex than others, making it more difficult to construct and maintain. They also have the side effect of reducing interior space underneath them.
Which roof type is right for your home?
Whether you’re considering a roof replacement to match the architectural style of other homes in a historic neighborhood or looking for a striking new style for your architect-designed dream home, you have a lot of options. Now that you know more about different types of roofing, look around at homes in your area to see what catches your eye. You will likely find that many include more than one of these roof shapes.
As you consider your choice, be sure to note which roof styles work best in your climate, and keep in mind your needs for interior space. If you have any questions, seek out roofing contractors near you and ask what they think are the best roof types for your part of the country.
With modern techniques and materials, you can find a roof shape that suits your home and your neighborhood, with a wide variety of colors to match your style, whether you want to stand out or blend in.
Author: Ben Zientara | Solar Policy Analyst and Researcher
Ben is a writer, researcher, and data analysis expert who has worked for clients in the sustainability, public administration, and clean energy sectors.