The Weather Network
May. 28, 2022 | Saturday
Editorials and Opinions
ArchiText: Considering your roof again
An 1870 Second Empire Mansard roof. (Supplied/Brian Marshall)

Managing tax exposure likely started soon after the first taxman was employed in the dawn of human history. I can’t think of anyone who enjoys paying taxes and very few who would not exercise a common legal option to reduce their tax burden.

I suspect our ancestors were no different and suggest that a part of the popularity of Second Empire and Dutch Colonial-styled houses can be directly attributed to their respective hallmark roof forms: Mansard and Gambrel.

You see, in both forms, the top floor of the house is actually within the confines of the roof. So, even if it was a fully finished living space, the area was legally considered an attic. And, wait for it, historically an attic was not taxable space.

Normally an attic is height-constrained by the slope of the roof, but not so under a Mansard or Gambrel form. In both of these roofs, the maximum possible full height attic floor space is created by using a two-slope roof design; the dormer window pierced lower slope is set at an extremely high pitch (in some cases nearly vertical) which is crowned by a low-pitched upper slope.

Named after the early 17th-century French Baroque architect, Francois Mansart, who initially popularized it in his designs, the Mansard roof is actually a highly modified hip roof, which always has two distinct slopes on all four sides. In our backyard, the Mansard roof is most often associated with historical homes of the Second Empire style (1865 to 1880) and the Mansard-styled home, built from 1950 until about 1985.

While no one can say when or who initially designed the first Gambrel roof, it has certainly been in use for many centuries. We do know that there were (and are) Dutch, English, Spanish and Portuguese variants of this two-slope form of the gable roof and the Gambrel was used on some of the earliest colonial homes built in North America.

Niagara’s oldest gambrel roofed residence is the circa 1790 Schram House, but far more common are the Dutch Colonial Revival homes built in the area between 1880 and 1930.