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What is a Butterfly Roof?

This is an exterior look at this house with a backyard pool, a balcony and butterfly roof.

It’s the 1940s. TV still isn’t even really a thing. Soldiers are returning from overseas. And all over the U.S., life is booming. Factories are turning out goods at fast speeds, car companies are putting new designs on the roads, people are having lots and lots of children. And in the neighborhoods among the shade trees and sidewalks, butterflies are everywhere.

Only we aren’t talking about colorful flying insects. No, we’re talking about roofing options. The butterfly roof was truly one of the first modern American roof designs and you can still find it in neighborhoods in all 50 states. So what makes this design so special, and what does it mean when you own a home with a butterfly roof?

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Roofing the Atomic Age

The postwar era in the U.S. is known as the Atomic Age, and this was a period when home design truly flourished. Everyone had their eyes on the future and modernism was a huge trend. It was time to shake off the old styles of the past and embrace new looks, new designs. And while everyone else was beginning what would be called the Baby Boom, the roofing had a big boom of its own as designers came up with new, modern styles that had never been seen before.

The most famous of the architects who began experimenting with modern home looks is Frank Lloyd Wright. He was the modern architect of his day, truly embracing the design trends that were shaping homes all over the country. Clean lines, innovative style, and eye-catching design defined the houses of this era. The butterfly roof topped them off with lots of flairs.

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The butterfly roof, a distinctly American design, soon started to replace all those European-influenced styles of the past. The organic, clean style was what everyone wanted and that’s exactly what the butterfly roof delivered.

Many so-called modern designs from this era have since become dated. Now, many design styles from this era are considered retro. Not the butterfly roof. This design still looks incredibly modern and it’s still very popular.

Building a Better Butterfly

This is a close look at a modern building complex with glass walls, balconies and butterfly roofs.

So, what sets the butterfly roof apart from all the others? This roof is created when two adjacent gables slope inward, toward the middle of the house. This creates a central valley along the roof. Meanwhile, the eaves of the roof are angled upward, not downward, a distinct feature that makes butterfly roof designs so easy to spot.

Look closely at a butterfly roof, at the overall lines, and you’ll see exactly why this design is named butterfly. This roof style is made to actually resemble a butterfly in flight, flapping its wings in an upward motion.

Within this basic design, butterfly roof styles can vary greatly depending on the home they’re covering. There are many ways to play with the style and truly create a unique look. That’s why the butterfly roof has been a popular choice for decades and why it was so quickly embraced as a popular modern home design trend.

Practical Benefits of a Butterfly Roof

Sure it’s a great story and there’s a lot of cool history tied up with the butterfly roof. It’s pretty to look at and it’s now a look that’s instantly recognizable. But there are a few other really good reasons that make having a butterfly roof such a great thing.

Because of the valley in the roof, rainfall and snow are captured here and carried away. This is always a plus no matter what kind of climate you live in. You can always collect the rainwater and use it to water plants, something the people who are committed to green lifestyles love.

This is one reason, along with the striking design, why butterfly roof styles are still highly popular with modern home designs. It’s a look that continues to work even though it was first brought to the U.S. in 1945. The butterfly roof is still used by the most cutting-edge, trendy architects. Don’t tell them that they’re drawing on a design that originated in the postwar years!

The design is also incredibly aerodynamic, which makes the butterfly roof style a perfect option in areas that may suffer from high winds. Butterfly roof styles create high ceilings inside the house. This creates an open, airy feeling that’s always popular in modern home design.

Butterly roof styles may also be called V-shaped roofs or inverted gable roofs because that’s what they look like. The style is especially popular in southern California, but you can find it all over the U.S. It always stands out and stands in contrast to so many other roof styles, which rely on a more classic triangle shape to provide a covering for buildings. Any structure looks a lot more striking when you flip that roof inside-and-out and go with a butterfly style.

Living with a Butterfly Roof

This is a look at the side of this house that has a large balcony, glass walls and topped with butterfly roofs.

The butterfly roof does not have to symmetrical. There’s plenty of room to play around with the design and with the placement of those sloping gables. Sometimes, the middle V is offset instead of being placed right in the center. This is why the butterfly roof is still popular with architects and still looks incredibly modern. The butterfly roof works as a topper for a multitude of home designs, everything from log cabins to brick bungalows to sprawling ranch houses.

The rain-collecting design of the butterfly roof isn’t totally trouble-free, however. The biggest problem with having this type of roof is that you can’t neglect your gutters and/or downspouts at all. Any blockage in the drainage system can cause pools of water and put too much weight on the roof and on supporting pillars. Make sure that all the water is flowing the way it should and these roofs are very low-maintenance. But if a problem develops, it’s got to be addressed right away so you don’t face much bigger roofing problems.

Because the roof raises up on either side to create that butterfly look, this design works well for tall windows. This allows for home interiors that are light and airy, with lots of natural light and high ceilings. And that’s pretty much what everyone looks for in a home. Start with the right roof and you’ll end up finding the right feeling inside the house.

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