A gambrel house is a style of dwelling that features a gambrel roof, which is more commonly found on barns. The gambrel roof features two pitches on either side, each set of pitches at a different angle from each other. The upper pitches of the roof are set at a broader angle than the lower ones, which are quite steep. A gambrel house will feature such a roof, though unlike most barns, the house may also feature gables and dormers as added roof features. The purpose of this type of roof is to maximize usable space within the structure while still taking advantage of weather shedding capabilities.
The steeper lower pitches of the roof of the gambrel house are especially effective at allowing water and snow to run off, thereby eliminating build-up and potentially harmful stresses on the structure. The upper pitches allow for more overhead space, increasing the amount of usable space within the structure. This means the upper level of the gambrel house can be used as a living space rather than simply as a storage space, which is common with the attics of many other styles of housing. The gambrel roof was originally used on barns because it allowed for more storage of hay in the hay loft, as well as overhead space to allow people to work safely in the space.
While all gambrel house structures share the defining characteristic of the distinctive roof, the rest of the structure can vary in design and function. Sometimes the gambrel house can feature more than one roof in the gambrel style, unlike most barns that feature only the one roof over the entire structure. Dormer windows can be installed in the roof structure as well, allowing for more light in the upper levels of the home and potentially even more usable space. Chimneys often protrude through the roof of the gambrel house so fireplaces and wood stoves can be used on the lower levels of the structure.
The lower pitches of the gambrel roof usually protrude over the side of the house itself. This prevents rainwater or snow melt from directly contacting the side of the house, which can lead to damage to the structure and even flooding of the foundation. Modern houses usually feature gutter systems that further prevent water from striking the side of the house or the foundation; the runoff can be guided through the gutters to a safe place for drainage.