What Is an A-Frame House, And Should I Consider Buying One?

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Whether you appreciate the nuances of fine architecture or couldn’t care less beyond having four sturdy walls and a roof, it’s hard to ignore the diverse array of houses available once you start looking into real estate. From colonial-style to ranch homes, passive houses to Earthships, tiny homes to sprawling estates, there’s truly something for everyone.

If you’re someone who is drawn to a more rustic look — maybe you’ve imagined life in a cozy cabin nestled at the edge of a forest? — you’ve perhaps encountered an especially unique type of home. One with tall, sloping sides, large windows, and an awfully familiar shape .…

Ah yes, the mighty A-frame house! While terms like “midcentury” and “neo-classical” may send some of us clicking over to Google, there’s no confusion about how an A-frame home gets its name.

With the help of Shirley Grindel, a top agent in Kent, Washington, who works with 82% more single-family homes than the average area agent, we’re exploring exactly what an A-frame house is, how they came to be, and why you might have an interest in owning one (or not).

An image of the front of an A-frame house to depict what an A-frame house is.
Source: (lucas Favre / Unsplash)

What are the characteristics of an A-frame home?

First, A-frame homes are shaped like a big triangle — or, as we’ve established, a capitalized rendition of the first letter of our alphabet — and are easily recognizable by their long roofline. The roof of an A-frame home extends very far down the sides, nearly to foundation-level, and subsequently creates two sloped walls inside the house.

Thanks to their height, A-frame houses usually consist of more than one level and often have an open, loft-style interior. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the upright walls are not uncommon, and for both charm and reasons of practicality, A-frame homes frequently sport exposed beams and vaulted ceilings.

“They have a lot of character,” says Grindel. “The ‘rustic’ or ‘distressed’ look is unique; A-frames are typically not cookie-cutter homes.”

Where do A-frame houses come from?

The A-frame made its U.S. debut in 1930s Southern California at the skilled hands of R.M. Schindler. A Vienna-born architect, Schindler admired and worked alongside Frank Lloyd Wright, who ultimately brought him from the Midwest to Los Angeles for the construction of the famed Hollyhock House.

While Schindler was no doubt an architectural visionary in his own right, A-frame houses existed long before he built his first at Lake Arrowhead. Practical and stout, A-frame construction techniques have been in use around Asia and Europe for centuries.

Given their pitched rooflines, A-frame buildings are ideal in snowy climes, as there’s little opportunity for snow accumulation, which can seriously damage roofs. Many of the A-frame homes around the U.S. were built between the 1950s and the 1970s, often in forested, mountainous regions — think Colorado, Utah, the Pacific Northwest, and so on.

A-frames have seen something of a recent resurgence due to the tiny homes movement and a general trend toward sustainability. The minimal design and relatively simple exterior maintenance needs helps to make them an easy choice for folks who are looking to downsize or commit to a greener lifestyle.

Some companies, like Avrame, even specialize in A-frame kit homes, making it easier than ever to blend form with function.

An image of an A-frame house with lights to depict what an A-frame house is.
Source: (Kristin Ellis / Unsplash)

What are the advantages of an A-frame home?

A big perk for A-frame homeowners is their inexpensive sturdiness. If you’re building new, you’ll find that their construction is often more affordable than a conventional design. And if you’re buying one that was built 50 or 60 years ago? Interior update preferences aside, you can count on that A-frame having good bones.

Homes that perform well in the snow tend to be well-equipped to handle hot temperatures, too. Properly insulated A-frame roofs offer great protection from the elements, which also means they’re energy-efficient and easily adaptable.

Because big windows and open floor plans are common in A-frames, they often feature excellent natural light (a definite advantage in this era of Instagram!).

What are the disadvantages of A-frames?

Like so much in real estate, what one person considers a downside will be on someone else’s wish list, so the disadvantages of A-frame homes are rather subjective.

Given the sloping walls, taller individuals may find the upstairs or loft areas of A-frames awkward to navigate while standing upright. And open floor plans, while hugely popular, can limit privacy.

“A lot of times, the main bedroom in an A-frame is going to be upstairs,” says Grindel. “So you’re going to have the vaulted ceilings, and that upstairs bedroom may be open to the downstairs. You don’t necessarily have the privacy that you would have in a regular two-story home.”

While this setup may be fine for one or two people, if you have plans to grow your family, or if you frequently host out-of-town guests, it’s worth considering the logistics of sharing one large, open space.

Grindel also cautions that, should the time come to eventually sell your A-frame house, know that its quintessential design won’t be every buyer’s dream.

“It’s going to appeal to people, don’t get me wrong — but an A-frame doesn’t necessarily appeal to the majority,” she says, noting that preparing an A-frame home for the market may require more attention to upgrades than a traditional home.

“You want to make sure that when somebody walks in the door, that house is going to pop.”

What is life like in an A-frame house?

Thanks to their efficient construction, A-frames are comfortable, compact, and relatively low-maintenance. Like any home, you’ll have the opportunity to make environmentally friendly improvements and renovate the space according to your taste and budget.

Given their suitability for living close to nature, A-frame houses are often used as vacation homes. Ski areas, lakes, and hikeable forests are popular destinations for both weekend and extended getaways — and, conveniently, are your best bets for finding an existing A-frame home — so if you’re considering one of these special properties as an investment opportunity, your tenants should be readily available on the likes of Airbnb and other holiday home platforms.

Or, of course, you can just live there yourself and enjoy the, “Oh wow, your house is so cool!” commentary from visitors.

An image of the interior of an A-frame house to depict what an A-frame house is.
Source: (Clay Banks / Unsplash)

How can I find an A-frame house?

While A-frames are, in all honesty, not exceptionally different from aesthetically conventional homes, working with an experienced real estate professional will always be your best option for finding the perfect property.

An agent who lives, works, and sells homes in a market where A-frame houses can be found will have the knowledge to help you navigate the offer and inspection process without potentially biting off more than you can chew.

“I’ve had clients who wanted to build [an A-frame] in a rustic, cabin-type setting. I’ve also had clients who flipped an A-frame in the city and did quite well on that,” shares Grindel.

If you can’t find an A-frame available for sale — which would not be surprising, given the limited inventory of homes nationwide throughout 2020 — or if you live in a region where A-frames are uncommon, you can always build one yourself. Whether you opt for a kit home or a custom build, your options for A-frame floor plans are plentiful.

Since there are no special requirements for A-frame construction, there should be little threat to your building plans unless you own a plot of land in a neighborhood or subdivision with strict restrictions of the style of homes that can be built. If you’re already sitting on a few acres of land? You should definitely be good to go to build the A-frame house of your dreams.

Are A-frames A-mazing? It’s a matter of taste

Whether an A-frame house is right for you depends entirely on your lifestyle and personal preference.

While some unique homes, like those Earthships we mentioned earlier, do require a certain amount of interest above and beyond just wanting to find a nice place to live, A-frames fall squarely (triangularly?) into the what-you-see-is-what-you-get category.

They may look a little different, and that — along with their undeniable practicality — is exactly what makes A-frame houses so irresistible to the thousands of homeowners around the world who know and love them.

Header Image Source: (Blake Carpenter / Unsplash)