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Advantages and Disadvantages of Mansard Roofs

Have you ever wondered why no buildings seem to look exactly the same, even though their main purpose is just to be a space to live? Architectural design isn’t all about engineering and architecture – there’s also a significant amount of art involved! A building’s roof is probably one of the most important elements, both for structural reasons, and for aesthetic reasons. Roofs can be extremely vulnerable to damage, yet provide crucial protection against the elements, such as hail, heat, rain, and snow.

Dampierre en Yvelines Chateau
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

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As for the different types of roofs, there’s really a long list. The Mansard roof style, in particular, surfaced around the 16th century. However, experts say it gained popularity in the early 17th century, then was periodically used in the centuries to follow. Another name the Mansard roof can go by is the “curb roof”, or sometimes, the “French roof”.

The History of the Mansard Roof

This roofing style was first made popular by Francois Mansart, an extremely well known French architect who lived between the years 1598 and 1666. He used this style of roofing in numerous projects. Mansart lived during the Baroque period, which occurred around 1600 to 1750. During this time, he employed this roofing style on luxurious townhouses and chateaus that became trendy among the day’s society.

“Mansard” isn’t just a generic name for this style – it specifically refers to a roof that slopes on all four sides, and where the lower slope gradually becomes steeper tan the upper slope. Today, the term “Mansard” not only refers to roofs, but also to the space directly underneath this roof, which may be an attic or a sloped ceiling.

Despite the information above, Manasart didn’t actually invent this roofing style. That title goes to the architect Pierre Lescot.

Victorian era house in Salem
Source: Flickr

You may have heard of the Louvre Museum, located in France, which is the biggest art museum worldwide. In 1550, Lescot used this style of roofing on a section of the Louvre!

When Paris was rebuilt during the Second Empire, while Napoleon III was in power, the Mansard roof regained popularity.

This roofing style gained so much momentum, its influence extended beyond France. In countries like Italy and England, the Mansard roof began to pop up before reaching areas across all of Europe. Interestingly, Mansard and gambrel roofs can be combined under the same category in places like France and Germany.

Eventually, the Mansard roof reached North American countries like the United States, and Canada. This was partially owing to a very practical and non-aesthetic fact: The Mansard roof’s design made it easier to repair when damaged by hail.

During the Renaissance, architects preferred giving their buildings a flatter appearance in the front. This was due to the popularity of classical design features from Ancient Greece and Rome. The Mansard roof was a way to achieve this flat appearance.

Despite not being initially employed on residential buildings, the Mansard roof began to pop up on homes during the 1960s and 70s. It also made an appearance on smaller commercial towers.

What Is A Mansard Roof?

If you want to get technical, a Mansard roof is considered a gambrel roof with four sides and a hip-style. Gambrel roofs are characterized by having two sides, both of which have a slope. The bottom slope must be significantly more steep than the upper slope. Next, the hip-style roof includes gentle slopes that head straight down on each side, producing a tent-like shape. A Mansard roof combines all these features to create a double sloped, four-sided roof, with a distinctly flatter upper slope.

Mansard Roof House Langport Somerset
Source: Mansard Roof House Langport Somerset

Since the Mansard roof has a flat upper slope, these upper slopes are very difficult to spot when on ground level. They also offer a maximized amount of space underneath. If there are dormer windows on part of a Mansard roof, they tend to form a garret, or a type of living area.

Mansard roofs can also come in different shapes, including concave, straight angled, or convex. Some Mansard roofs can take on a very old-fashioned appearance, reminiscent of barns.

Two main types of Mansard roofs are the double-pitched style and the steep-sided style. A major distinction between the two is marked by the different snow and water drainage systems. If a roof is longer and more steep, with a more aggressive slope, the drainage system will be more efficient. Double-pitched roofs will be a bit less effective.

What materials are used on Mansard roofs?

Typically, these roofs will employ either wooden shingles, or slate tiles. However, other materials can be used on tiles or shingles. These are often chosen for their better durability, which extends the life of the roof and lowers your long-term maintenance needs. Shingles made of copper or zinc can be used to build the steepest part of the roof, but asphalt shingles have also been used.

Mansard roofs don’t just pop up on historic and old buildings, but they’ve also made an appearance on locomotives! The same roof pattern offers similar benefits on trains cars for adding space. Notably, the Australian Commonwealth Railways have hopper wagons that use Mansard roofs.

What Are Some Advantages Of Using A Mansard Roof?

Extra Usable Space: Space is an important consideration for every design. Mansard roofs can help maximize the space underneath a roof, since its vertical slopes allow for extra room underneath. Compared to roofs like Gable or Hip roofs, the Mansard roof definitely offers the most extra room. If you have the luxury of choosing a roofing style for your future home, a Mansard roof can even give you some extra room above your master bedroom.

Dormer Window Mansard Roof
Source: Pixabay

Effective for both Rural and Urban Areas: Mansard roofs work in both urban and rural situations – as long as you’ve got a space to use! Typically, these roofs are favored in more urban areas since space maximization is more valued. They also let you build vertically rather than horizontally, another benefit specific to urban spaces.

Extra light, and more effective heat distribution: Dormer windows are often combined with Mansard roofs. They tend to take up the space along the length of the roof’s bottom slope, which should let extra light in from outdoors. The extra space that Mansard roofs free up will also improve the distribution of heat.

High-class appearance with modern design elements: This style of roof can lend a very classic and sophisticated appearance to your home. After all, it resembles French building styles during the Renaissance. It also addresses very modern concerns, like the need for extra space indoors, and the flexibility to add it. In addition, modern materials and engineering can employ building materials that are heavier and more resistant to rust, wear, and tear.

Save on costs and money – Mansard roofs will actually help you cut down on costs. This is because you can get maximum space for your buck when you add a new room or attic in your home, making the most of the usable space you have. If you are working with a frame made of metal shingles, it will be more durable and improve how well the roof is sealed. Somewhat paradoxically, you might find that building all these elements of your new roof might cost a bit more initially. However, if you want to save money and avoid repairs and maintenance costs, its probably work it. Furthermore, being able to use modern elements and materials will save you some money.

Elegant mansion with a mansard roof
Source: picryl.com

What Are The Disadvantages Of Using A Mansard Roof?

Challenges due to local regulations: Every area might have slightly varied regulations regarding buildings and designs, including some that will involve your roofing. As you may know, the square footage of your home will affect what taxes you will end up responsible for. Since Mansard roofs will incase the square footage of your home, you might see a change in your taxes. Additionally, some areas might have set regulations around how high roofs can be built, to guard against potential structural issues. If you’re looking to a Mansard roof setup, remember to always make sure you can fulfill local regulations.

Long-Time Involvement and High Installation Cost: Unfortunately, it will take you a significant time, effort, and material investment to construct a Mansard roof. One area that will cost you some more money is the complicated structural design of the roof, which will probably require that you consult a professional. If you have a lower budget, you might be wary of this style of roofing. If you plan to use metal to construct the shingles for your roof, perhaps to extend its longevity, this might result in increased costs. However, it will probably reduce your long term needs for maintenance, and thus save some cash.

Low Weather Resistance: Interestingly, heavy rain and snow will not be kind to your Mansard roof. This mostly owes to the flat upper slope of the roof. As a result, this angle makes the drainage system less than optimal. The accumulation of precipitation will cause damp damages and leaking, which can eventually even cause the roof itself to come down. Make sure to be watchful for issues during heavy precipitation if you plan to use this style of roof, lest you get a nasty surprise in the Spring.

High Maintenance and Repair Costs: Since this roof doesn’t have the best track record with heavy weather and wear, you’ll want to keep your roof as meticulously maintained and monitored as you can. This inflates the cost of maintaining your roof over time, especially if you factor in the time you’ll invest as well. If you live in an area prone to storms, the flat area on the roof could accumulate debris like leaves. This debris needs to be removed periodically, or there will be issues like long term damage. This will be a yearly annoyance, especially in the Spring and Fall months.

Houses with mansard roofs, Lower Stondon Humphrey Bolton
Source: geograph.org.uk

In addition, dormer windows stick out from the house. The issue here is that anything sticking outwards or protruding is going to expose it to the elements more, and anything that is more exposed is going to wear down a lot quicker. Wear and tear means structural issues and serious damage if you don’t maintain the windows regularly. Obviously, this is adding to your cost of maintenance, and you’ll probably see issues with your energy bill if your windows are drafty or malfunctioning.

In our assessment, we believe that the most major benefit provided by Mansard roofs are the ability and flexibility you get from being able to maximize space and potential add an extra room under the roof. A lot of people have sprung for Mansard roofs despite being well aware of the potential pitfalls, be it for their practical advantages or their aesthetic look.

At the end of the day, the Mansard roof has made its mark on the architectural landscape, and doesn’t look to be going anywhere in the near future.

If you have any questions or comments, please add them below in the comment section. Similarly, please let us know if you spot any mistakes or omissions. Thanks!

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About the author

Hi I’m Alex, founder of HouseholdMe.com and I’d like to say thank you for dropping by. Like most of you, the first thing I look at before buying something online is reviews or buying guides. By reading what other people say will help me gauge whether or not a product is good or not.  I am trying to help people find answers, solve problems, and get inspired.

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