The jerkinhead roof’s unconventional shape has made it a favorite for bungalows and cottages, but its benefits go well beyond looks. By combining the strengths of both gable and hipped roofs, it stands up better to inclement weather than either of those styles alone.
The jerkinhead roof goes by many names, including clipped gable, half hip, English hip, snub gable, shreadhead, and bull nose, most of which attempt to describe its truncated shape. The basic form of the roof is similar to a gable roof, but the gable’s upper end points are shaped into small hips that slope back, leaving flattened, or “clipped,” gables. While it’s classified architecturally as a hipped roof with shortened ends, you can also imagine it as a gable roof with hipped ends.
The pitch of these roofs varies according to the architectural style of the house, but most are fairly low pitched. Tile, slate, and shingles are the most common materials for jerkinhead roofs, but they can be built from nearly any roofing material that suits the house’s style.
A Timeless Look With Broad Appeal
The origin of this roof style’s odd name is uncertain. According to one theory, it comes from a variation on the Scottish word “kirk,” meaning church, while another theory suggests it was named after the jerkin, a 16th-century jacket with cut-off sleeves.
It’s a time-honored style, used since at least the 15th century throughout central Europe, as well as in Denmark. It also appeared frequently on the timber framed Wealden Hall Houses built by medieval Yeoman farmers in South East England.
While it fell out of fashion for a time, it regained popularity in England in the late 18th and early 19th century for use on bungalows and cottage-style houses. In the 1920s, jerkinhead roofs started catching on in the United States. Architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, a park lodge designer for the Utah Parks Company and a fan of late 18th-century English architecture, included jerkinhead roofs in many of his rustic designs.
His contemporary, architect Herbert Maier, further popularized the style through the buildings he designed for several national parks. Thanks in large part to their work, jerkinhead roofs became a frequent choice for Craftsman bungalows.
Not limited to rustic cabins, these roofs are also found on Tudor, Stick Style, and Queen Anne houses, as well as more modern English cottage and Craftsman foursquare houses around the country. Churches built between the 1920s and 1950s are also frequently topped with jerkinhead roofs.
Good Weather-Resistance at a Moderate Cost
The greatest advantage of this roof is its reliability. A jerkinhead roof combines not just the appearance, but also the physical strength of both gable and hipped roofs. The system of trusses and rafters used in framing a jerkinhead roof, as well as the relatively shallow pitch, lends it greater stability than a gable roof or even a standard hipped roof.
A gable roof leaves two sides of the house exposed to wind, making the roof vulnerable to wind uplift. With only one ridge, though, it’s unlikely to leak. While a hipped roof lets wind flow over without causing damage, the additional ridges make it more vulnerable to leaks. A jerkinhead roof provides greater wind resistance without the increased risk of leaks, so it’s a practical choice in areas with heavy rains and high winds. It sheds snow as efficiently as a gable roof, and in sunny weather, the clipped gable partially shades the upper floor windows.
Aesthetically, this roof lends the house a friendlier, more approachable air compared to a sharp, towering gable peak. That’s one aspect that made it popular for rustic bungalows. As one of the less common roof styles, a jerkinhead roof gives the whole house a distinctive look.
The style’s main drawback is the cost of both labor and materials. Because it’s essentially a combination of two different roof styles, it’s more complex than either alone and takes more time, effort, and materials to build. Adding to the workload, jerkinhead roofs can be tricky to ventilate, although most still have room for gable vents. Even so, they’re typically less expensive than gambrel or pyramid roofs.
Constructing one takes specialized knowledge, and while it’s not especially hard to find a contractor with the ability, you’ll need to make sure the one you choose truly understands how to frame jerkinhead roofing. Maintaining one also takes some extra effort because the clipped gable is difficult to access for cleaning and repairs.
A low-pitched jerkinhead roof gives you a little less overhead space in your attic than a standard gable roof, but more than you’d get with a hipped roof.
A traditional roof with a twist, the jerkinhead roof looks as good on a stately Queen Anne home as it does on a rustic cottage. If the charm and durability of this roof appeal to you, take the time to find a roofing contractor experienced in the style and have a plan for maintenance once the roof is up.