Gambrel garage and house roofs are commonly found on Dutch Colonial houses and rural countryside barns in the Atlantic region of America. Early English buildings had similar roof shapes, but Americans changed the design a bit as it became popular in the early 17th century. The characteristics of a gambrel roof are that it has a straight ridge in the center, like a gable roof, but there are two flat panels on each side instead of just one. The lower panel has a steeper pitch than the upper panel. A fancier version includes a flared eave, called a “Dutch kick”, which was used to extend the peak out front for shelter over the door. This roof shape received its name because people saw a resemblance between the contour of a horse’s hind leg, called a hock or gambrel, and the hip-like silhouette of the roof. Another difference between a gambrel roof and a gable roof is that the gambrel roof uses two shorter rafters in each spot that holds one rafter on a gable.
One of the advantages of having a gambrel garage is that it takes less wood to build the whole building than a gable roof of the same size. Because the sides of the roof come down a lot lower than the roof of other styles of garages, the sidewalls are shorter and will not need as much wood to build them. This can be a significant savings, depending on the size of the building. This is also helpful if there is a strict budget for the project or a lack of supplies..
Another advantage to having a garage with a gambrel roof is that the snow will fall right off. Buildings with flatter roofs will find those roofs collapsing if the building is in a colder region where it snows at least a few feet a year. This is a major reason why this a gambrel garage roof is most commonly found in the Atlantic region; that area experiences a lot of snow and freezing rain. In keeping with the weather conditions, rain will also drip right off the roof without pooling. This means less moisture, which reduces or eliminates the growth of mold and mildew. The lack of pooling and moisture will also ensure that the wood under shingles on the roof will last longer.
The greatest advantage to having a gambrel garage is that the shape of the roof provides the maximum amount of usable space out of every other roof style. This means more garage storage or more space for an office—perhaps an art studio. The gambrel style roof will easily allow for the option of a second floor in the garage or very high ceilings. At the smallest of sizes, the gambrel garage roof will provide ample head room, which is important for some homeowners. Hundreds of years later, the gambrel garage style roof is still a favorite and continues to be used by designers on barns, garages, and carriage houses.