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Roof Types: What type of roof do I have?

How often do you think about your roof? You know it’s there, and it protects you from wind and rain, but have you really thought about why it’s shaped the way it is and what it’s made from? Honestly, your roof probably doesn’t even register with you as a completely separate part of your house—until it’s time to replace it.

Your roof is probably the first thing people see when they approach your home. Depending on the architecture, it may be just as prominent as the house itself. If you’re not sure which of the roof types you have, or the materials, here’s a handy guide to figuring it out.

Roofing Styles

The Colonial homes that populated the Northern U.S. in the early days had distinctive, steeply-pitched roofs that easily shed snow and ice. Farmhouses in the South had flatter roofs with deep eaves to provide coolness and shade on hot summer days. And in the Southwest, curved red tile roofs made from clay did both—directed runoff from winter snow and summer rain, and acted as an insulator against cold winters and scorching summers.

These are the most common roof types in the U.S. today.

Hip

A hip roof is a traditional style with four equal slopes that meet to form a simple ridge in the middle although some hipped roofs have two shorter sides with eaves, called a half-hip. These slopes make a hip roof a great option if you live in an area where snow and ice are common since the runoff has an easy way down. For parts of the country where wind is an issue, this type of roof is widely considered to be more stable than other designs because of the inward pitch where all four sides meet. In hot weather, the overhanging eaves on a hip roof provide more shade, too. 

The pitch of a hip roof means that it’s quite visible, so you need to keep it well-maintained.

Gable

This is the simplest kind of roof, and the most common. It features a triangle that sits atop the house with two sides rising to meet in the middle. The slope of a gable roof varies with the architecture of the house. A mountain chalet will have a steep slope while a ranch will have an easy grade. Gable roofs can be modified to complement several home styles, with front gables over the entry, or a crossed gable design where the roof lines meet at right angles. There are also two distinct roof types that are offshoots of a gable, mansard and gambrel.

Mansard

This is also called a French roof as it is styled after classic shapes in French architecture. The four-sided roof has double slopes that are flat or curved, and has a fairly low pitch to it. Mansard roofs allow for extra living space in an attic, and many homeowners add dormers for extra curb appeal. Mansard roofs are popular with a more formal style of architecture found in the South, although they are found in urban areas in the Northeast because it’s easy to add rooms vertically when space is at a premium.

Gambrel

A gambrel roof is a type of fancy gable although they’re most commonly found on barns. This roof is similar to a mansard in that it allows for extra head room, therefore adding to the living space in the attic.

None of these gable-type roofs are ideal for areas where winds can be heavy. They can collapse under stress if they are not adequately braced, and the roof materials can also peel off in high winds. If the eaves are deep, winds can also create an updraft that causes the roof to detach from the walls of the house.

Flat

This is the roof type on thousands of mid-century American homes. Builders from the 1940s to the 1970s created streamlined houses with open floor plans and an attempt to blend into the environment. A flat roof can do double duty as a rooftop garden, or converted to a penthouse living space. The almost non-existent pitch of this roof type means that it is a poor choice in areas where there is a lot of rain or snow since there is little engineering for runoff. If you associate this roof with Southern California, that’s because it’s the only part of the country that is dry enough.

What about materials?

There are as many roofing materials as there are roof types. The things to consider when you’re thinking about a new roof are appearance, cost, maintenance, and longevity.

Asphalt Shingles

Fiberglass shingles covered with asphalt and mineral granules are the most popular roofing material in the U.S. They’re lightweight and durable, and the most inexpensive option. They’re also the most adaptable in extreme climates as they can flex with the contraction and expansion of the roof. Asphalt comes in a wide range of colors, and they’re easily replaced if some are damaged. Most asphalt roofs have a 30-30 year warranty.

Standing Seam Metal

Metal roofs are becoming more common in the US, and the standing seam type is popular because the roofing panels meet in raised interlocking seams that prevent moisture seeping through. This is an affordable alternative to slate in regions where wildfires are likely. They’re also durable in parts of the country with heavy snows.

Standing seam aluminum or steel roofs also last as long as the house—some are still going after 75 years. They’re also eco-friendly as they can be recycled.

Wood Shakes or Shingles

Many homeowners long for the aesthetic appeal of wood—typically cedar— shingles (thin wedge-shaped pieces of wood) or shakes (split pieces that are thicker and have a rougher texture). This is the roofing material of choice for luxury homeowners in areas where wildfires are not a problem or where there’s lots of moisture. The average lifespan for a wood roof is 20-30 years in a dry climate. 

Slate

These natural stone tiles are also popular with the luxury homeowner, and they have the advantage of being fireproof. Slate is an attractive–and expensive—option, but it weathers beautifully and will last literally for hundreds of years.

Synthetic slate shingles are a new addition to the roofing materials arena. They’re made from engineered polymers, recycled plastic, and rubber that look like real slate but are lightweight and much more cost-effective than the real thing. Since this composite is so lightweight, it is ideal for larger homes that can’t take the weight of real slate tiles. The warranty on these is pretty good, too—50 years. 

Your Roof Covers Your Home’s Overall Condition

While the esthetics of your roof are certainly important for your home’s curb appeal, don’t forget that the structure and stability are the most critical components. The condition of the roof has an impact on everything it covers—from the rafters to the foundation—so whether your roof is new or has some age on it, it’s imperative that you keep up the maintenance.

It’s pretty obvious that a roof with weak spots around some shingles, or maybe the flashing, is at a high risk for leaks. But what many homeowners don’t know is that a compromised roof can cause problems throughout the structure itself. Even if the roof doesn’t noticeably leak, it can still cause significant damage to your walls, windows, and foundation.

Water is Your Home’s Enemy

How does this happen? When water collects on the roof, it’s naturally going to look for a way down. That’s just gravity. If your gutters aren’t in top-notch shape, that water has to find alternate routes to the ground. Think about how small droplets can be, and ask yourself if your roof, eaves, and flashing are completely impervious to these droplets seeping down and around soft spots. The answer is, probably not. 

Over time, this seeping can cause mildew inside the walls—both in the wood rafters and joists, and the drywall—and weaken the entire structure of your home. When the water comes over clogged gutters and gushes to the ground, it pools around the foundation of your home. This causes damage to the foundation and creates erosion problems.

MasterShield is the Solution

Your gutters are the first line of defense in keeping your home solid and dry. Gutters that clog just force the water to pour over the house willy-nilly, instead of directing the flow through the downspouts and through underground pipes or into the yard. MasterShield is designed with a high-tech mesh that traps leaves and debris before they can gum up the gutters and features a copper-infused technology that kills mold and bacteria before it can wreak havoc on your roof. If you live in an area that gets lots of snow and ice, MasterShield goes the extra mile and even offers heated gutters to help prevent leaks after storms—the weight of snow and ice accumulating in severe weather puts added stress on your roof, and what can’t melt can’t flow through the gutters.

Winter is on the way—don’t delay in making sure your gutters and roof are up to the task of keeping you dry through the seasons.

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