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The pitch of a roof is how steep it is. A roof with an unusually steep pitch indicates Tudor, Victorian, Shed, and A-frame styles. A roof with an unusually low pitch indicates Craftsman, Prairie, Ranch, Monterey, and Spanish styles. Flat roofs are found on Pueblo, Art Moderne, Contemporary, Mediterranean, and Modernistic styles.
gable roof
A gable roof is pitched with two sloping sides
hip roof
A hip roof is pitched with sloping sides and ends (all four sides)
gambrel roof
A gambrel roof, typically seen in Dutch Colonial architecture, is curbed with a steep lower slope and a flatter one above
mansard roof
A mansard roof has four nearly vertical sides with a flat top; it is featured in Second Empire and other French-inspired styles.
A dormer is a vertical window set in a framed window unit that projects from a sloping roof. Dormers are usually used in second story bedrooms or bathrooms. The variety of styles includes gable, hip, shed, and eyebrow.
  • Gabled Dormers: Colonial, Georgian, Queen Anne, Tudor, Craftsman
  • Shed Dormers: Colonial, Craftsman
  • Hipped Dormers: Prairie
  • Eyebrow Dormers: Queen Anne
Cladding includes the external protective skin of the exterior surfaces of a home (surface coatings, siding, doors, windows, trim, shutters, entryways, and flashings). The cladding for exterior walls includes surface coatings, such as paint and varnish, and all types of siding, stucco, brick, stone, adobe, concrete, metal panels, and plate glass with steel. The type of cladding chosen for the exterior finish provides clues to the architectural style of the house.
Siding refers to overlapping horizontal boards made from wood, vinyl, or aluminum that are applied to the house. Sometimes a house has “board and batten” which is an application of vertical boards with joints that are finished by thin vertical strips. Siding is found in a wide variety of styles including Cape Cod, Colonial, Queen Anne, Craftsman, Contemporary, and Ranch.
Wood shingles are commonly used in combination with wood siding. Shingles can be plain or patterned and vary in shape from rectangular to diamond. Plain shingles are found in Craftsman style houses. Patterned shingles are found in Queen Anne and Tudor styles.
Stucco is a mixture of cement, sand, and lime which is applied over a frame construction. It is found in buildings with Spanish or Mediterranean influences, as well as Ranch, Prairie, Art Deco, Art Moderne, and International houses. Half-timbering is a method of construction in which the wooden frame and principal beams of a structure are exposed, and the spaces between are filled with stucco, brick, or stone. This is found in Tudor, Craftsman, and Queen Anne styles.
Bricks are made in a variety of colors, and can be laid in many patterns to create a distinctive and pleasing appearance. Bricks are rectangular blocks of clay or shale baked dry by the sun or in a kiln. Due to earthquake considerations, many houses in California have a brick veneer. Bricks are found in a range of styles, including Colonial, Craftsman, Bungalow, Prairie, and Ranch styles. Adobe bricks are made with a mixture of clay and straw, formed into brick shapes, and dried in the sun rather than in a kiln. Adobe bricks are larger than standard bricks. Although very energy efficient, they do not withstand earthquakes, which is why you will find this material in Arizona and New Mexico rather than California. Adobe bricks are used in Spanish-Colonial, Monterey, Pueblo, and Santa Fe architectural styles.
Cape Cod
The twentieth century version of the Cape Cod style house is usually rectangular-shaped, one to one-and-one-half stories, and has a steeply pitched gable roof with a small overhang. Some Cape Cod houses also have small gable dormers. The roof is wood shingles and the exterior is wood siding or stucco. The multi-paned windows with ornamental wood shutters are symmetrically placed on both sides of the front door. Masonry chimneys are usually located at the side. Aside from shutters, this style has very little ornamentation and no front porch. The garage is detached and placed at the back of the lot.
Colonial styles are rectangular, symmetrical, two to two-and-one-half story houses with windows arranged in an orderly fashion around a central front door. Living areas are on the first floor, with bedrooms on the second floor. The windows usually have many small, equally sized square panes and decorative shutters. Typically, roofs are hip or gable. Colonial style houses were popular in the 1600s and experienced a revival of interest in the 1900s, which led to the name Colonial Revival.
Dutch Colonial Revival
Like all of the colonial styles, the Dutch Colonial Revival houses are one to two-and-one-half stories with shed-like dormers. They are easily identified by a distinctive gambrel roof. The front door may be a Dutch door, which is a horizontally divided double door.
The term Victorian describes many styles built between the 1830s and early 1900s. For the first time since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, machines could mass-produce affordable, ornamental building materials such as moldings, columns, brackets, spindles, and patterned shingles. As a result, architects and builders eagerly incorporated the elaborate bric-a-brac, excessive gingerbread, trim work, and other ornamentation in Victorian style houses. Although the last true Victorian houses were built in the early 1900s, contemporary builders borrow Victorian ideas, creating “Neo-Victorians”. Three more popular Victorian styles are the Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Folk Victorian.
Second Empire
Second Empire style houses were inspired by Parisian designs during the reign of Napoleon III. The houses are symmetrical, boxy, vertical, and two-to-three stories. Typical ornamentation includes paired columns and elaborate wrought iron along the rooftop. However, the most striking feature is the high, boxy Mansard roof. The Mansard roof has a trapezoid shape. It slopes almost straight up to the top, where it abruptly flattens. The boxy roof shape allows more usable living space in the upper story. The windows are tall and narrow with no shutters. The exterior walls are usually stucco, brick, or wood siding.
Queen Anne
When people think of a Victorian house, they usually picture the highly imaginative and elaborate Queen Anne style.The houses were built with multiple stories with projecting wings, a complicated roofline with very steep cross-gabled roofs, towers, turrets, vertical windows and balconies, multiple chimneys with decorative chimney pots, scrollwork, bric-a-brac, gingerbread, and gingerbread with frosting. A chimney pot is a round or octagonal “pot” on the top of each flue. Queen Anne style houses usually have several wide porches with turned posts and decorative railings. The wood siding is painted white or pastel with contrasting trim and it probably has a round tower or enormous round bay windows.
Folk Victorian
The Folk Victorian style is the affordable version of the Queen Anne house. They are asymmetrical, rectangular, or L-shaped, with white wood siding, steep gabled roofs, and a front porch with turned spindles. They are adorned with flat jigsaw cut trim in a variety of shapes and patterns. These practical houses are found in small towns and farms across the United States. Today, the farmhouse style is characterized by a rectangular or boxy, two-story shape with a steep gabled or cross-gabled roof. Most have siding, shutters, and the distinctive wraparound porch with turned spindles, jigsaw cut trim, and brackets under the eaves.
Bungalows are one of the most common houses found in older neighborhoods and are characterized by simplicity and emphasis on horizontal rather than vertical lines.
California Bungalow
The Greene brothers helped popularize the California Bungalow and inspired other architects and designers to build simple one-and-one-half story bungalows. The California Bungalow has a low profile, with one to one-and-one-half stories, a square shape, with a low-slung gable or hip roof, an offset entry with a wide front porch, and exterior walls finished with stucco and natural stone.
Craftsman Bungalow
The Craftsman Bungalow, promoted by Gustav Stickley in his magazine, The Craftsman, has a tendency to be larger than the traditional California Bungalow. Other differences include rows of high, small “ribbon” windows, full-width porches framed by tapered columns, and overhanging eaves with exposed rafters. Stickley was a furniture designer and most of his plans for Craftsman Bungalows included built-in furniture throughout the house, such as kitchen cabinets, window seats, and buffets in dining rooms. Partial walls with bookshelves are frequently used as room dividers, as are chest-high cabinets topped by square, tapered pillars that reach to the ceiling. Leaded glass and stained glass in doors, cabinets, and windows are typically seen. The overall feeling is one of casual comfort.
The Prairie style, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and other Chicago architects, is an extension of the bungalow design in many ways, but it is much more expensive to build. The Prairie style houses are much larger than the Craftsman Bungalows and are designed with low horizontal lines that require larger lots. They have low-pitched hip roofs with large overhanging eaves, casement windows, and rows of small, high windows. Due to the complexity of the designs, these houses require on-site architects and experienced builders. As a result, they are not marketed as pre-cut “kits” and are built primarily for the wealthier clientele.
American Foursquare
Although the Prairie style is very popular in the Midwest, a sub-style—the American Foursquare—has become one of the most common housing styles in the United States.
This practical style, based on the Prairie style, is sometimes called the Prairie Box. It is a very simple, space-efficient box shape, with a wide porch across the entire front of the house. The front door is centered with matching casement windows on either side. The pyramid-shaped hip roof has a large dormer centered in the front of the house.
During the Depression, Frank Lloyd Wright modified the Prairie style to create a more affordable house, which he called USonian. They cost much less to build because they had no basements or attics and very little ornamentation. USonian style houses were built from the Depression until the mid 1950s. They became the model for early tract housing.
The first two-story Monterey style was built in 1853 when Thomas Larkin designed a house that blended the English Colonial with the single-story Spanish Colonial style, which was then prevalent in Monterey. The most distinguishing feature of the Monterey style is the second-story balcony on the front of the house. The overhanging balcony creates a shaded, protected entry. These houses often have a courtyard and wrought iron trim and fencing. The roof is a shallow pitched gable or hipped roof with red tiles or wood shakes. Windows are often tall and in pairs with false shutters.
Since the Mission style house originated in California, the style is often called the California Mission style. These houses are easily recognized by the round parapets on the roof that resemble those found on early Spanish colonial churches. A parapet is a low wall projecting from the edge of a platform, terrace, or roof. They are one to two stories, rectangular shaped, and have flat roofs with red tile accents. The exterior walls are adobe or smooth stucco. Most Mission style houses have arched windows and a small courtyard entry with an arched front door. Some Mission style homes have quatrefoil (four-petal) decorative windows, an arcade style (multiple arches) entry porch, square or twisted columns on the second story, and even a bell tower.
Santa Fe
The thick, earth-colored adobe walls and flat roofs with rounded parapets of the Santa Fe style make these houses look chunky, but they are suitable for hot, dry climates. Because of the thickness of the walls, the windows and heavy wooden doors are set into deep openings. Sometimes red clay tile accents on the roof and enclosed patios add a Spanish influence. Another version of the Santa Fe is the Pueblo Revival style. This style is characterized by roof beams, called vigas, which protrude through the walls and help support the roof.
Spanish Revival
California houses are influenced by a variety of Spanish styles such as a two-story house with a Monterey style balcony, Mission style parapets, Mediterranean-style arches and tile roofs, or Pueblo-inspired rounded walls and flat roofs. Typically, the Spanish Revival will have red-tiled roofs, stucco siding, arched entryways and windows, and decorative tiles by the windows and doors.
English Tudor
The traditional English Tudor is a large, two-story masonry or stucco, steep-gabled house with a definite medieval feel. The Elizabethan (Tudor Revival) variation of this style is asymmetrical, has a very steep cross-gabled roof, a prominent chimney, and half-timbered exteriors. Both styles are characterized by patterned brick or stone walls, rounded doorways, and multi-paned casement windows. Inside, Tudor houses have intricate wood paneling or moldings. They feature arched entries, projecting oriel windows on the second floor, and large leaded-glass windows with stone mullions. Another characteristic is the massive chimney placed in a prominent location and often topped with a decorative chimney pot.
English Cottage
The English Cottage style is patterned after the rustic cottages constructed in the Cotswold region of southwestern England since medieval times. Like their Tudor cousins, they are asymmetrical with an uneven sloping roof of slate or cedar that mimics the look of thatch. The exterior may have brick, stone, or stucco with half-timbering. The multi-pane casement windows and low entry door help create a cozy feeling. Many homes have a prominently placed chimney made of brick or stone.
Soldiers returning after World War I helped kindle an interest in French housing styles. French-inspired houses have some design elements in common, including distinctive hipped roofs with flared eaves, dormers, and multi-paned windows. In many French style houses, the tall second story windows break through the cornice and rise above the eaves. Some French style houses also have decorative half-timbering, and a round tower with an arched doorway as the entrance.
French Normandy
The main characteristic of French Normandy style is the round stone tower topped with a cone-shaped roof. Sometimes the tower is the entrance to the house. In addition, vertical half-timbering (reminiscent of Tudor style) adds height to the house. Unlike a Tudor, French Normandy houses have hip roofs, not cross-gabled roofs. The houses use stone, stucco, or brick as siding.
Art Deco
The Art Deco style is two or more stories and emphasizes the vertical lines of the house. It is angular and boxy with a flat roof and simple, clean, crisp lines. Glass blocks, metals, plastics, and other machine-made materials are used extensively. The walls are smooth texture stucco or stone. Geometric designs such as zigzags, chevrons, diamonds, and sunbursts are arranged in horizontal bands and painted or cut out near the roofline.
Art Moderne
The Art Moderne style is the precursor of future house design, displaying extreme simplicity. It has a horizontal, cube-like shape with a flat roof and rounded corners. The exterior walls are smooth stucco with rounded corners. Casement windows are evenly spaced. Other than the use of glass brick, there is little or no ornamentation. Window and door trim and balustrades are made from polished aluminum and stainless steel.
The International style is modern, asymmetrical, and very practical in its use of concrete, glass, and steel to create sleek lines. With a flat roof and floor-to-ceiling “window walls”, the design is avant-garde.
Since its debut in San Diego in 1932, the Ranch style house, sometimes called the California Ranch, has become the most popular style in the country. Because Ranch style houses are found throughout the United States in suburban tracts, some critics say they have “no style”. However, this practical, informal, comfortable style obviously is popular with many Americans. Today, the eclectic Ranch style is influenced by other styles such as Tudor, Colonial, Mediterranean, and Bungalow.
Contemporary style houses are characterized by attractive, simple, clean lines and the combination of stone, glass, masonry, and wood in the exterior. These asymmetrical houses can be one or more stories with a roof that is flat or very low-pitched. Windows are often an odd shape because they follow the roofline. Sometimes the roof extends from a higher level down over a lower level. Ornamentation is simple with a vertical orientation.
The Shed style is another modern style characterized by its asymmetrical style and multiple roofs sloping in different directions. Typically, exterior walls are stucco or wood, with small windows and recessed doorways.
One of the most common styles found in Southern California is the blend of the Italian, Moorish, Byzantine, and the early California mission styles to create a Mediterranean style. This style is very popular in all price ranges and house sizes. Look for white or light-colored stucco on the exterior and a red tiled gable roof with very little or no overhanging eaves. Additional features include arched doorways and windows, courtyard entrances, patios, ornamental tile, and wrought iron ornamentation.
Anchor Bolt
Anchor Bolt
Attaches mud sill to foundation; embedded in concrete foundation
Building Paper
Building Paper
Waterproof paper used between sheathing and roof covering
Closed Sheathing
Closed Sheathing
Foundation for exterior siding; boards nailed to studding
A crawlspace is the area or space between the ground and floor joists used to access plumbing and electrical connections beneath the house. For FHA loans, the minimum crawlspace is 18 inches.
Studs above window or door headers, or below windowsills
Part of roof that hangs over the exterior walls
Fire Stop
Fire Stop
Boards nailed between studs to block the spread of fire in the walls
Sheet metal or other material that keeps water from seeping into a building.
The horizontal, load-bearing board over a doorway or window opening
Parallel boards supporting floors or ceilings (The boards supporting them are girders, beams, or bearing walls.)
Mud Sill
Mud Sill
The lowest part of the frame of a house. It is fastened with bolts to the foundation and supports the upright studs of the frame. Redwood is frequently used because of its high resistance to termites. Subterranean termites, ant-like insects that eat wood, are the most destructive.
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