When it comes to architectural design, it is not simply engineering; it is an art.  For this reason, buildings do not look similar though their sole purpose is to create a living space. A roof of a building is essential both aesthetically and structurally. A roof is the most vulnerable section of a building which protects against the environmental hazards like ice, snow, rain, hail, fire, and heat.

There are various types of roofs, but the Mansard style roofing became extremely popular. Though the Mansard roof style came into existence in the 16th century, it was widely popularized in the early 17th century and made many comebacks even after the period. The Mansard roof is also referred to as a curb roof or French roof.

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An Overview of the History of Mansard Roofs

The Mansard roof was popularized by the famous French architect, Francois Mansart (1598 – 1666) who used this distinctive style in many of his works. During the Baroque period (1600 – 1750), he used this technique of roofing extensively to create chateaus and grand townhouses which caught the eyes of the people. The term “Mansard” means a roof which has two slopes on all the four sides where the lower slope becomes steeper than the upper one and was named after him. You can also use this term to refer to space or attic under this kind of roof structure and not just only the shape of the roof.

However, Francois Mansart was not the creator of this unique style. This accreditation goes to Pierre Lescot (1510 – 1578) who used this roof style in 1550 as a part of the Louvre Museum, the largest art museum in the world in Paris, France. After the initial popularity, the Mansard roof was revived during the re-building of Paris and became an extremely fashionable feature in architecture for most of the buildings during the Second Empire (1852 – 1870), a period during the rule of Napolean III.

The usage of the Mansard roof in architectural designs became so increasingly popular that it was not limited to only in France. It was used in England and Italy and later spread in entire Europe. Slowly, the Mansard roof style was adopted to construct buildings in many other western countries including Canada and United States of America.

This design was used to give the buildings a flatter look to match the exterior of the building, and the Renaissance architects used the ancient classical designs from Rome and Greece intending to promote buildings with a flat front. Though it was not used in the traditional homes initially, it featured in private homes also during the late 1960s and 1970s. The Mansard roof was also used in small commercial buildings.

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What Is A Mansard Roof?

When it comes to technical terms, you can call a Mansard roof to be a four-sided hip-style gambrel roof. A gambrel roof has two sides with two slopes, and the bottom slope is much steeper than the upper slope. The hip roof style features straight, gentle slopes extending downwards on all four sides to the walls. This structure is more like a tent. So, if you combine these two styles and have a four-sided roof with two slopes with the upper slope flatter than the bottom one, a Mansard roof is created.

Being flatter, the upper slope of the Mansard roofs can rarely be seen from the ground, and it provides maximum space beneath the roof. The dormer windows extend on the lower slopes of the Mansard roof typically like the gambrel roof architecture which creates a habitable area often referred to as a garret. The Mansard roofs can be convex, concave or straight-angled in shapes.

This structure gives you a traditional look and most commonly used in barn houses. In Germany and France, both Mansard and gambrel roofs are referred to as Mansards.

The steep-sided style and the double-pitched styles are the two primary styles of Mansard roofs. The drainage system of water and snow makes the key distinction between these two styles. The longer and sharper the slopes are the better will be the drainage system. The double-pitched style, on the other hand, forms a reasonable drainage system as compared to the former.

Slate tiles and wooden shingles are the stereotype materials used for making a Mansard roof and people who love the conventional way, prefer to use these materials while other types of tiles and shingles can also be used for increased durability and cutting down maintenance costs. So, you can use zinc or copper shingles for the steeper part of the roof. If you are using asphalt shingles, you need to use them in a regular pattern.

This design of Mansard roofs is not only used in some famous historical buildings, commercial buildings or private homes but also used in locomotive designs as well because it gives an added usable space in a typical train car. The Australian Commonwealth Railways CL class and two Victorian Railways hopper wagons featured Mansard roofs.

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What Are The Advantages Of Using A Mansard Roof?

  1. Extra Usable Space – You will always want to add a few stories or make an attic inside an existing building with almost zero need for extra support and masonry. The Mansard roof gives you that luxury as it provides you the additional space because of its virtually vertical slopes. Even if you need an extra master bedroom, you will have the flexibility to include one when it comes to comparison with using other popular styles of roofing like the Hip roofs or Gable roofs. So, if you are planning to add rooms in future to your existing home, choosing the Mansard roof will be the perfect choice which will give that extra space required.
  2. Suitable for both Rural and Urban Areas – The Mansard roof is ideal for both rural and urban areas as it suits well in any kind of property creating a usable space. This style is primarily preferred in the urban areas as it gives you the option to expand upwardly because you will generally not get the space to expand your building outwardly.
  3. More light and better Heat Distribution – The dormer windows are most commonly used as they stretch along the full length of the bottom slope allowing more natural light to enter. Also, this additional space created with the use of Mansard roof supports efficient and superior heat distribution which makes the building more comfortable.
  4. High-class look with Modern Design Elements – This classical and elegant style of roofing which is an important part of the French architecture that became increasingly popular during the period of Renaissance not only gives you the option of the flexibility of adding more rooms but also gives a sophisticated look. Modern builders use quality insulation and specialty materials to create Mansard roofs which can last longer than other roof designs while the Mansard roofs of older times primarily used non-resistant and heavy materials. With no need to worry about rusting or parts falling off from the roof, you can enjoy the modernized Mansard roof in your business or home.
  5. Cost Savings – The Mansard roof not only helps a lot to save your costs from building a separate room or attic in the usable space which it creates but also cuts down your heating costs as it distributes the heat evenly in your building with proper shape and sealing. If the framing is made of metal shingles, it increases the durability and also maximizes the sealing of the roof. Though initially, it would cost more for the setup, it will save a lot of money for maintenance in the long run. Also, the modern design elements of the Mansard roof make it affordable for homeowners.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Using A Mansard Roof?

  1. Challenges from Local Laws – There might be different requirements for getting a permit to use this Mansard style of roofing depending on your area. There may be different taxes which are implemented in various locations as the Mansard roofs add to the total square footage of the building. Also, in some locations, there is a restriction set in the height of the Mansard roofs in order to protect any structural damage. So, if you are planning to use the Mansard roof design, you need to research thoroughly about the local laws that apply to this style of roofing.
  2. Long Time Involvement and High Installation Cost – It takes longer to install a Mansard roof with more materials and labor as compared to other roofs. Also, the process to build a Mansard roof is quite complex which requires the involvement of specialists in the field because you will not want the quality to be of a lower standard. These things add to the increased installation costs and difficulties which can be a huge problem for homeowners wanting a Mansard roof with a low budget. If you are using metal shingles for building a long-lasting Mansard roof, it will lead to even higher installation costs though it will support your maintenance costs in the long-run.
  3. Low Weather Resistance – The Mansard roof is not ideal for resisting extreme weather conditions like areas receiving heavy rainfall or snow. Due to the flatter upper slope, the drainage system of the roof is not good enough. Water or snow can accumulate which can result in dampening or leakages from the roof. The roof may even fall off in case heavy snow gets accumulated which can be tragic.

So, the homeowners will have to keep an eye during heavy rainfall or snowing in order to protect their roofing and building.

  1. High Maintenance and Repair Costs – With low resistance to extreme weather conditions, this roofing system also needs to be well maintained and kept in regular check which adds to high maintenance costs. In stormy areas, a lot of debris will get collected on the flatter portion and if not cleared over an extended period of time, it might cause damage in the long-run. As you need experts with this roofing style, it not only adds to higher maintenance and repair costs but for some it might become a hassle too.

The protruding design of the dormer windows causes more exposure to the environment, and so they will often require maintenance. They are prone to develop structural problems or damages if neglected. This will add to increased maintenance costs and will become a burden on your energy costs as well if you have faulty dormer windows.

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As we come towards the conclusion, it is pretty evident that the biggest advantage you get with Mansard roofing is the flexibility of adding rooms in the future due to its distinctive design. Even after knowing all the disadvantages, many people in the modern world prefer Mansard roofs for its advantages and a traditional classy look.

Undoubtedly, mansard roofs are an architectural heritage.

Sudarshan Kar