Roof Shape Basics

Roof Shape Basics

A roof is one of the critical defining elements of any residential dwelling or building. The shape of a roof is important because it determines how well the structure can withstand certain environmental elements like wind and rain runoff. As industry professionals, it is important to understand the basics of a building’s roof structure.

Typical Roof Shapes

Most roofs can be categorized into three basic shapes: Gable, Hip, and Flat (or Low Slope).


A gable roof is identified by a straight slope falling from the top ridge to the eave where the roof structure meets the upper wall sections. Visually, this creates a triangle shape above the walls on the side, front, or rear of a dwelling.

Below are some basic illustrations of some gable roofs:


A hip roof is easily identified by its “pyramid” shape. On a hip roof, the roof plane breaks along the slope line allowing the roof shape to “bend” or wrap around the structure creating “valleys” at each junction.

Below are some simple illustrations of some hip roofs:


A flat or “low-slope” roof is self-explanatory.  Most building codes require that a flat roof must have a certain amount of slope to allow for rain runoff and to avoid standing water or “ponding”. To the left is a sample of a flat roof.

Additional Roof Shapes

Below are some simple illustrations of other roof shapes that we may encounter as industry professionals:

Eave Details

The eave of a roof system is the outer edge of a roof that encompasses the entire perimeter of the roof.  Most eaves are the “closed” type with a soffit section between the outer edge of the roof perimeter and the building wall.

Below is a breakdown illustration of a typical eave section:

A. Roof – The upper exterior surface of the home.

B. Fascia – A flat horizontal band around a roof’s perimeter.

C. Soffit (Or Box Eave) –An overhang enclosed with a ventilated soffit section that runs horizontally from the eave edge to the side of the building.

D. Cornice –The decorative section just below the roofline. The cornice may be simple or ornate depending on building style.

E. Rake –The pitched edge of a gable roof. Rakes may be close, or extend from the building to allow for an overhang.

The complexity or simplicity of a roof design is normally a combination of engineering specifications and aesthetic preferences, but most roofs that you will encounter as an industry professional with fall within the categories described above.  Resistance to wind forces during extreme weather conditions is also a function of a roof’s design and shape. This is particularly important to insurance professionals during the determination and application of certain credits on a homeowner’s insurance policy. As industry professionals, a working knowledge of roof design is helpful and beneficial to clients.

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