A gambrel is a symmetrical roof with two slopes on either side. It’s a classic in pioneer history, where it often provided extra accommodation for large families in the roof space.
However, it may not be a wise choice in Calgary in a cold snap when the snow packs hard, and the wind blows. Read on, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about gambrel roofs from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
The Classic History of Gambrel Roofs in a Name
European settlers may have brought the design with them when they settled along the southern American coastline, where snow seldom falls. Wikipedia thinks the name comes from the Middle English for a horse’s leg.
American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes penned these words in 1858, or so we are lead to believe:
Know old Cambridge? Hope you do … Born there? Don’t say so! I was, too
Born in a house with a gambrel-roof … Standing still, if you must have proof
Gambrel … gambrel? Let me beg … You’ll look at a horse’s hinder leg
First great angle above the hoof … That’s the gambrel; hence gambrel-roof
How Gambrel Roofs Entered North American Culture
Timber and thatch were fairly common out on the prairies when settler ranchers arrived. They were easier to work than stone, and as for bricks they might have had to wait for a century.
Gambrel roofs eliminated the need for masonry walls above the first level. They created cheaper space for kids that were born every year, if we are to believe the movies.
Having a gently-sloping upper roof, flowing into a steeply sloping lower one maximized the headroom, while lowering what would otherwise have been a tall roof. Mansard roofs were similar, except they sloped on all four sides of the building.
The Fundamental Structural Weakness of Gambrel Roofs
The triangle is one of the strongest structural shapes, because the fixed angles support one another. If something applies pressure to one side, the other two help absorb it. This is why most pitch-roof types have triangular cross sections.
Gambrel roofs are an exception to this rule. As a result, they do not resist side pressure from winds, or downward pressure from snow packed above as effectively. They may look great on traditional barns far out on the prairie. But we can’t recommend them with one voice for the suburbs of Calgary.
This information comes with the compliments of Valiant Exteriors in Calgary, Canada. We are the excellent roofers for Calgary homeowners who care for their investments.