A-frame houses are perhaps one of the oldest house designs in the history of civilization, their low-sloping roofs being easily constructed from thatching and skins. In America, the modern A-frame house was developed in the 1950s by New York architect Andrew Geller. His house was notable for the distinctive slope of its roof, which allowed snow to tumble to the ground, rather than remaining on the roof and damaging the structure of the building.
The sloped roof provides a number of benefits to the traditional square or triangular roofs, the most significant being the large amount of space it creates at the top of the building. On the negative side, A-Frame houses are often small, and are usually seen as vacation places, rather than standard homes.
The design of this slope is based upon the original Andrew Geller buildings, which featured very sharply sloping roofs that extend almost to the ground. A-frame houses are easily maintained, as the roofs are within manual reach, and the entire roof can be accessed with a ladder. These houses are suitable for use in areas which have a lot of snow, as their sharp slopes are ideal for preventing frozen ice and snow remaining on the roof for very long.
The traditional Japanese A-frame houses are common in areas of heavy snowfall, such as that surrounding Suganuma, Ainokura and Ogimachi. The roof variations can be noticeable even between small villages. In Suganuma, the entrance is visible from both sides of the roof, while in other areas, the entrance is concealed from one side. The slopes of Japanese A-Frame houses were built using community co-operation, so there are a number of large crossbeams and a central supporting pillar. In other parts of the country, the slopes have distinctive manipulations. For example, the gable of the roof may be rounded at the ends.
A-frame houses are being used again in an attempt to prevent energy loss. A-Frame houses, well known for their low roofs, are now being partially submerged in the earth, with only the roof above the ground. Small steps take the residents down into the earth in order to access the front door. As A-frame houses are generally only one-and-a-half stories high, not too much excavation is required. Although the roofs themselves can be double-height and therefore difficult to heat, they can be opened up as glass-based roofs with night-time shutters, so that more radiant heat is absorbed during the day. Partially submerged homes often have devices which can collect and save this heat, releasing it back into the home when necessary. The idea of partially submerged A-frame houses is not new, being first developed by settlers in the islands around Scotland. Weather conditions obliged the inhabitants to dig their homes into the earth.
A-frame houses all bear the distinctive low-sloping roof which gives them their name, but different communities across the globe use this roofing in different ways. In some parts of Europe, for example, the roof is mainly functional, and prevents snow from settling. In America, it's being used as a geothermal device to help limit heat loss.