What is a Clerestory Roof?

This is a home that glows warmly and has a clerestory roof.

If you are looking to give your home that additional aesthetic, maybe a clerestory roof is what you need. Let us help you learn about it and how to build it.

You’ve seen all the standard roof designs and you’ve probably looked right past them. You probably don’t think a whole lot about roofs until you see one that really stands out, a design that’s actually interesting and unique.

And if a roof is ever going to seriously turn your head, it’s probably going to be the clerestory roof. This roof design isn’t so much about the slants or the angles or the dups or the curves it has. The clerestory roof is really all about the windows. In fact, the term “clerestory windows” is used to describe the roof design itself. What, exactly, makes this roof so special? It’s all in the extras.

Identifying a Clerestory Roof

Simply put, a clerestory roof has two sloping sides that are joined by a short, vertical wall. This wall is embellished with a row of even, horizontal windows. The clerestory roof design is totally dependent on the windows. A clerestory roof can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, it can have a hipped design or a gable look.

It can even be made with a single slope, like a shed roof. It’s really just about those windows when it comes to this roof. As long as a roof has a row of small windows in a vertical panel between two roof sections, then you’re looking at a clerestory roof.

The name of this roof style might make a little more sense now that you know what’s really important: the windows. That row of windows forms a “clear story” in the building. The design looks incredibly modern and very now, but this roof style actually dates as far back as ancient Egypt.

In fact, clerestory roof designs were fairly commonplace in ancient Greece and they were used often by the Roman Empire. This roofing technique was used in the ancient world to top large temples and public spaces. The row of windows near the roof was an easy way to get light into these big, cavernous spaces.

This roof style dates to at least the 1500s B.C. This design has been found among the ruins of the Minoan culture that dominated the island of Crete at this time. The design wasn’t restricted to this part of the world, however. Clerestory roof designs have been found in ancient Egyptian temples, which benefitted from the light and air coming through the small openings near the roof.

It’s such a useful design for large spaces and such a good way to introduce light into any space, clerestory roof styles remained in use from the ancient world, through the Classical age, and throughout the medieval era. Clerestory roof styles were used often for churches, cathedrals, and temples for all faiths.

The style has seemingly always been around, but it became highly popular during the Industrial Revolution. Clerestory roofs were used to bring light and air into the big factory and warehouse spaces. In more recent times, clerestory roof styles have become popular in modern homebuilding.

How to Build a Clerestory Roof

A close look at the metal and glass structures of a clerestory roof.

Clerestory roof designs can be made with any materials and covered with anything from shingles to solar panels. There are almost as many options when it comes to the window glass, which is commonly made with a double-glazed design.

You will need a roofing expert to create a clerestory style. This is not one of the most common roof types and it is not easy to build. It may take you some time to find someone who has the knowledge to frame and build this roof and you may pay more for this expertise. Because of the row of windows and the two separate roof sections, it takes a lot of material and a lot of time to build a clerestory roof. You will pay more, compared to other roof designs, to top your home with this style.

This design has come back into fashion among modern homebuilders as a great “green” option. The windows provide ventilation, light, and solar heat that can help reduce energy consumption. However, the positioning of these windows can change everything. Clerestory windows can also cause overheating in the summer and heat loss in the winter.

It’s very hard to find shades to cover clerestory windows and actually control how much light and heat they allow into the home. Make sure you’re working with an expert if you want to design a clerestory roof. The windows should face the sunny side of the house and should be recessed against a thick vertical wall. If you want to use the windows for ventilation, make sure they’re designed to be opened easily.

Why People Want a Clerestory Roof

A close look at a clerestory roof.

Though this roof design can be expensive and a little tricky, posing different challenges than other roof types, many people absolutely love having a clerestory roof. This is an elegant solution when you want to maintain privacy but also don’t want to live in a cave.

The windows of the clerestory roof are well above eye level, so people can’t really see inside. This allows you to leave windows uncovered and open whenever you like, even if you’re just walking around stark naked. You’ll still get light and air from the windows and you’ll still have complete privacy.

The design also looks great and it’s certainly unusual because clerestory designs are still seen most often in religious buildings and not in residential homes. This roof style gives any home a truly standout look that draws the eye. And when installed properly, a clerestory roof can provide some energy-efficient and energy-saving features that are especially prized right now.

There’s no question that a clerestory roof is a great way to bring lots of natural light into any space. Some of the most renowned architects in history have designed buildings with clerestory roof designs, including Frank Lloyd Wright.

Is a clerestory roof the right type of style for you? If you want something a little unusual and a little more green-friendly than other roofing designs, the clerestory may be exactly what you want. But you should only choose this style if you can afford it and you’re sure you want to live with it. Because once this roof is on the house, there’s really no going back!

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