Add Distinction to A Roof With Dormers

Few things dress up a bland roof like a good-looking dormer. Use this handy comparison to choose what's right for your home.
Robert Martin / photography Van Chaplin, Laurey W. Glenn, Sylvia Martin

When writing about homes in the South, we often point out whether or not a house has dormers. That's all fine and good, but if you're not quite sure what's what and which kind goes where, we'd like to clear things up for you. Like other features in the architectural and design world, dormers take on many shapes and sizes, depending on the style of home they complement. Get familiar with these most common types.

Dormer Pointers
If you're thinking about adding dormers to your own house, keep these guidelines in mind.  The location of the rafters in your home is crucial because a dormer's sidewalls must rest on top of them. It is best to double up or place two rafters side-by-side for adequate support.

  • Dormers should be constructed so that a single casing board covers the distance between the window jambs and dormer corners without any siding infill.
  • Even if the majority of a house is faced in brick, dormers are almost always sheathed in wood, roofing, or another type of lightweight, synthetic siding. Because brick is heavy and requires more support than wood framing can bear, it should only be used when the dormer is an extension of the exterior wall; these brick versions are also called parapets.

More Roofing Around
There are a couple of other dormer types, such as arched-top, eyebrow, and segmented dormers, which tend to be very style specific. If these particular types are not built correctly, they can appear out of place and clunky.

A Roof-Refining Lineup
For starters, a dormer is itself a tiny house, having walls, a roof, and typically containing a window or roof vent. Projecting from a pitched roof, dormers add extra headroom, light, and ventilation to attics and upper rooms with sloped ceilings. Sometimes they serve no particular purpose other than improving an abode's looks and balance. As a general rule, you can identify them by their roof shape, with the most common types listed here.

Gable
Mention the word "dormer," and this kind comes to mind. Gable dormers can be spotted in almost every neighborhood within any region.
Looks best with these house styles: American Colonial, Colonial Revival, Federal, Georgian, Queen Anne, and English Tudor

Hipped
Having a boxed body similar to gables, hipped dormers are sheltered by side roofs and sloping fronts. Meeting at a common ridge line, they form a pointed cap.
Looks best with these house styles: Shingle, Prairie, and French Eclectic

Shed
Named after simple lean-to buildings with a single-planed, pitched roof, shed dormers provide the greatest headroom and window space.
Looks best with these house styles: English Tudor, Arts and Crafts, Bungalow, and Dutch Colonial

"Add Distinction With Dormers" is from the March 2006 issue of Southern Living.