The importance of the roof and the cruel truth of overhangs

The roof is what really gives a house it’s personality. Christopher Alexander writes in the Pattern Language No. 117: “The roof plays a primal role in our lives. The most primitive buildings are nothing but a roof. If the roof is hidden, if its presence cannot be felt around the building, or if it cannot be used, then people will lack a fundamental sense of shelter.”

We had really debated about doing a house without overhangs, which when scouring design sites, we had seen a lot.

McKay Lyons Sweetapple Architects
Bernardo Bader Architects

I really like the look of these types of vernacular houses, and we came very close to building something along these lines. However, we were talked out of it – or perhaps, talked into proper overhangs, by our engineering team, Integrated Design. They were very adamantly against the “no overhang” aesthetic that we were drawn to. Granted they had some valid points including: adequate shading in the summer, protecting the siding and windows from rain and excessive moisture, and keeping water away from the foundation. Grudgingly I did some of my own research and dammit they were right. This article from Green Building Advisor shamed me for doubting the importance of overhangs. 

Although I was drawn to profiles of houses like those in the above photos – our most favourite house is called the “Stockily in Balsthal” by Pascal Flammel Arkitekten.

Stockli in Balsthal

Now those are overhangs. This house is just so badass (granted, this house has very large windows on the gable ends that have absolutely no shading – which would certainly lead to overheating). For our house, being only a bungalow, we could not have as crazy intense of overhangs as this place – but still it served as good inspiration – and also got some good eye rolls from the engineers, when we would tell them, “well, if we can’t build a house without overhangs, then we want this!”

After playing around with solar studies in the computer program and tracing the path of the sun with our GPS location we found that the optimal overhang width – that would give complete shading in the summer, ultimate solar gain in the winter, and still looking badass – was a 48″ overhang. Most roofs in this part of the country are 12-20″ wide so 48″ is quite a statement. I loved that fact that it balanced the aesthetics with the practicality of overhangs.

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Side door rendering

But I was not sure how this would really look until the guys got the rafters up and in place. At 38′ wide and nearly 20′ tall the rafter company had to send a special truck out to deliver them, which I took as a good sign that these were going to pretty be unique.

The day after the walls were framed, we came home to this:

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By the next day the interior walls were framed and roof was nearly completely sheathed.

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Two days later the standing seam metal roof was on. The house was looking pretty darn badass, I’d say.

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3 thoughts on “The importance of the roof and the cruel truth of overhangs

  1. Looks great Kent! I have battled with the same overhang/no-overhang design. We love the look of the no-overhang scottish style roof-line as well. With the west/east overhangs the main use is siding/window protection and keeping rain/snow from foundation. With our house we are planning minimal east and west overhangs and ample south and north overhangs. We will protect/shade the west windows with cedar awnings & grates. These will also help shed snow away from the foundation in the winter. It is a bit of a hybrid design but will give us the modern scandinavian style we love as well as protecting the windows and foundation. Your house is coming together.. congratulations 😉

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    1. Hi Kyle, sounds like we have a very similar aesthetic! Our house is very much inspired by the Scandinavian sensibility and design. We’ve elected to use pine for our soffits and siding and finished with Stockholm pine tar. I’ll be writing about this shortly. It’s pretty great stuff.

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