If you were one of the many people who read the “Game of Thrones” books, or maybe “Lord of the Rings,” then you’re already familiar with the word “parapet.” Pretty much every single book set in any sort of medieval-like era mentions this word.
The thing is, parapets aren’t just for thousand-year-old castles in Europe…or Middle Earth. You can get a parapet roof put on your house right now. It probably won’t look like the parapets you see in movies about kings and queens, but it does have a lot of cool advantages even if you don’t need a siege fortification on your roof.
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What is a Parapet?
They’re called parapetto in Italy, parapeto in Spain, and orbrustwehr in Germany, but parapets are the same in any language. Parapet roof designs were originally created for temples, castles, and towers as a defensive structure. By technical definition, a parapet roof is an extension of a wall that’s at the edge of a roof, balcony, terrace, walkways, or structure. It’s a short, vertical wall that runs the roofline of any building. And though the style has changed quite a bit over the years, parapets roofs are still used in all sorts of houses.
In modern home building, parapet roof additions are a safety feature. They also add a stylized, finished look to any roofline. Modern parapets are made to look more like a railing around the roofline, a nice finishing touch that’s highly decorative.
Parapet roofs do look good and they do add distinction to any building, but parapets are not simply about looking good. This roof design actually has a lot of practical functions…even if your home is in no danger of having arrows hurled at it from medieval invaders.
The parapet design is strongly associated with medieval castle architecture, but parapet roofs date to ancient Rome. Back then, the parapets were typically made from marble. Gothic architecture adopted this ancient Roman look, creating the classic castle architecture we think of today.
Originally, parapets were low walls on the roof of any structure. Soldiers could duck behind them, giving themselves some protection during sieges and battles. The notches in the parapets could be used to chuck rocks and other weapons down at enemies approaching the building.
You probably won’t get up on your roof, duck behind your parapets, and throw junk at your neighbors. But there are still many reasons why people want parapets in today’s modern age. This is still an incredibly practical and useful roof design. It’s just that these days, parapets are most useful if you want to battle against bad weather.
Why Choose a Parapet Roof?
Parapet roof designs look great, but they also do quite a bit to protect your home. Because parapet roof lines extend above the roof plane, the parapets provide fire protection. This short wall or railing will guard the roof membrane against flames. If the roof of a house remains undamaged during a fire, there’s a better chance that the house can be saved if the fire remains relatively small. Any little extra protection is a good thing.
The parapets also provide wind-resistance. Wind pressure is evenly distributed over the roof due to the parapets. The parapets prevent wind uplift that can cause damage to roof shingles. Parapet roof designs are particularly effective in high wind areas, so this is a great design choice for a tornado- and hurricane-prone regions. Your home may also be subject to wind damage if you’re near a large body of water. Protective parapets help soften the force of wind gusts.
This roof design is also highly stylized and adds beautiful detail to any house. It’s a great-looking architectural detail that really puts a finishing touch on buildings. A parapet roof design can be used with all sorts of different roof designs.
You can still have a gable roof, for example, and have a parapet roof, too. Parapets are just an additional option you can add to your home that will look great and work well with most designs. If you know you want to have parapets, consult with a roofer or architect about the different roof styles you can have on your home and how they’ll look with parapets.
Building a Parapet Roof
The extended walls created by parapet roof designs will still take the force of wind, rain, hail, and snow. In order to properly build a parapet roof and prevent weather damage, capping and roof flashing are essential to protect the parapets and the roof from moisture.
Parapets are built with wood framing and the design is pretty complicated. Wall cavities are required so that the parapet framing can be sunk down inside. These cavities also need to have venting holes. It’s a very specific and time-consuming project that requires a lot of materials and a great deal of expertise to build.
This is an expensive roof design because it takes so much time and cares to build parapets. You may even have difficulty finding roofers who have the expertise necessary to create a parapet roof. It will probably take multiple days of construction before your parapet roof is finished because this is such an extensive design. Parapet roofs take a lot of work, and that’s why this is one of the more expensive design styles.
Parapet walls can turn into a nightmare when they aren’t well-built. Moisture is extremely destructive to parapets, causing leaks inside the home. Because of this, parapet walls also need regular maintenance. Make sure moisture is draining away from your parapet roof and immediately address any leaks you do see around any of the parapets. Otherwise, the leaks will just create bigger and bigger problems until you’ve got a real roofing disaster on your hands.
Adding a Parapet Roof
Parapet roof designs are expensive and they do take a long time to install, but they add a lot to any home. Parapets are highly functional and very beautiful. They give houses distinction and sophistication and they can increase the value of your home, which is never a bad thing. However, they do take maintenance and they are expensive to repair if problems do occur.
Is the parapet roof look right for you? Weigh the options, consider all the aspects of having a parapet roof, and decide if this is the right addition for your home. Sometimes, you may just need to add a little bit of castle style to your house.
KC Morgan has been a professional freelance writer since 2006. Over the last decade, KC has published thousands of articles and blog posts that have been read by millions. A DIYer in her free time, KC has written hundreds of how-tos, guides and tutorials for different DIY and improvement projects around the house.
KC’s articles have appeared in “Popular Mechanics,” and have been featured on Bob Vila’s website. KC has written in-depth DIY articles for Sears.com and Overstock.com, as well as dozens of other websites. When she’s not writing or DIYing, KC enjoys watching college basketball, playing with her cats and experimenting with new cupcake recipes. Follow KC on Twitter @KCMorganWrites.