"Understanding Your Home" by Building Inspector Mark Visser
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A weather vane, also known as a wind vane or weathercock, is an instrument for showing the direction of the wind. Weather vanes are generally decorative. They are typically used as an architectural ornament to the highest point of a building or to the barn cupola.

Functional louvered barn cupola
with cedar shingle roof and weather vane

Cupolas and Weather Vanes

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Cupolas. Weather vanes.

A cupola is basically a small structure built on top of a roof. Cupolas often appear as small buildings and serve as a belfry, lantern (If there are windows to illuminate the area below), or belvedere (if it can be accessed by a stairway) above a main roof. In other cases they may crown a tower, spire, or turret on military, police or security forces vehicles.
The word cupola comes from the Latin meaning "little cupo" or little dome, and originally referred to the small domes atop cathedrals which allowed light to enter the sanctuary. It's use was widely spread throughout the Middle East and eventually was introduced to North America. Many of our older public buildings are adorned with an elegant dome shaped cupola.
For more practical reasons barns and stables were designed with square cupolas and with louvers on all four sides with the purposed of ventilating the barn or stable (see picture lower left.)
One could argue that cupolas were acting as one of the first forms of air conditioners! Warm air would be expelled through the cupola while cooler air would be drawn in at ground level.
Many of the early barn cupolas were topped with a weather vane which could supply the farmer with valuable information.
Traditionally cupolas were constructed from cedar and cypress with metal or shingle roofs while . today's cupolas are mainly made from synthetic materials such as PVC.
In suburban settings, cupolas can add a touch of classic lines to private homes. However they are usually non-functional.

Non-functional louvered cupola on a
lakeside garage with copper capola roof
and brass weather vane

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