Dormers are like the eyes of a house. Resting on rooftops, they add headroom and light to upper stories and add interest to an otherwise plain roofline.
I remember spending the first spring in our little bungalow sitting on the roof restoring the two eyebrow dormers that were almost rotted away. It was exhausting work being on that steep slope day after day, but when it was finished, the pay off was incredible. Our house no longer had two black eyes.
Dormers receive their specific name by the style roof they sport. In this post, I’ve compiled a list of the most most common types and pictures to help you identify which is which. But before we get to the list, there are a couple things specific to dormers that you should know.
Rules For Adding a Dormer
- Keep Consistent Style – Rarely, if ever, does a house contain two different types of dormers. If you come across a house with more than one type then the chances are good that one of them was added at a later date by a contractor who never went to a design class. If you plan on adding a dormer, be sure to keep it the same style as any existing ones.
- Keep Consistent Size – Not only is the style usually constant, but so is the size. Other than occasionally finding a larger central dormer, sizing should be consistent throughout a building. The massing (sizing) of dormers should always be small enough that they don’t overshadow the story upon which they rest. A massive dormer on top of a small cottage will look like it is going to crush the house below it. Even if you need the extra space, consider other ways to get it than adding a massive new dormer.
5 Types of Dormers
1. Gable – A simple gabled roof on your dormer helps shed water away from the window and down its sides. These are found on most any type of house, and are probably the most common dormer style because of their simplicity and the fact that they add the most vertical headroom of most dormers. You’ll often find these in groups of multiples like 3, 4 or even 5 across a roof.
2. Shed – These dormers can be just a small addition for some added light, but often they are almost as large as the entire roofline (as in the cape style house in the photo). Shed dormers often blur the line between a dormer and simply being a second story.
3. Hipped – Almost as typical as the gable dormer, these hipped roof dormers are one of the defining characteristics of the American Foursquare.
4. Eyebrow – Whether it is a half circle or a triangle, eyebrow dormers do more to make an architectural statement than add headroom. They serve to add light to the upper stories and are often found with a decorative fan light (as in the photo) or other unique window element.
5. Segmental – A segmental dormer is essentially a fancy way of saying “arched roof dormer.” I guess the architectural books liked the term “segmental” better than “curvy roof bump”, but you can decide.
In case these photos aren’t good enough, there is this handy little graphic that is floating around the internet to help you decipher which type of dormer you’re looking at.
Now, the next time you’re looking at a house with dormers, you can speak up and impress the folks with you by naming off the specific architecture of the dormer you’re all marveling at. That’s why you read this blog, right? To impress other people with your old house knowledge?…You know it’s true.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.