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What is a Saltbox House? Pros, Cons and Fun Facts
Colonial

What is a Saltbox House? Pros, Cons and Fun Facts  

There’s no doubt that the simplicity of the saltbox style house continues to inspire appreciation today. 

The Saltbox home has become a symbol of New England’s coastal areas, with its asymmetrical roof and austere exterior. However, Colonial-era households were not striving for just aesthetic appeal when they created the style but looked at the bigger picture. The Saltbox architectural style arose from the harsh circumstances of early colonial life. Families learned to be resourceful with their limited resources.

Historically, saltbox residents were often farmers who kept a close connection to nature and persevered through many difficult seasons. Owners of saltbox dwellings, according to legends, had a simple existence that was related closely to the land and the sea. Hence, The home’s simplicity was reflected in the life that took place inside it; it was very much related to the seasons and the task of surviving through each season

What is a Saltbox House?  

saltbox house

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The famous saltbox houses are named after typical colonial wooden salt containers, built in the 17th and 18th centuries. As they are primarily built from wood, they’re easily identified by their long, slanted rear roof, which was named after the wooden salt containers used at the time. During the harsh New England winters, the sloped, expanded roof also aids snow melting. These lean-to extensions quickly became popular, resulting in the slanted roof design we see today.

They frequently feature asymmetrical brick chimneys as well. The origins are said to begin with homeowners seeking to construct a quick and inexpensive addition to their existing homes with a lean-to from the back and repainting the roof created the style. 

Saltbox houses have two levels in the front and only a single story in the back due to the lower slant of the pitched roof. Early 17th-century saltbox home examples are frequent expansions; subsequent structures were built with the slanted roof and more living areas integrated from the beginning. As saltbox houses come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 square feet. Additions like a garage are common in newer updated variants.

Features of a Saltbox House 

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  • Timber Frames: Timber framing was used extensively to construct the majority of Saltbox houses. The timber frames relied on traditional wood joinery rather than metal nails, bolts, and other fasteners, which were expensive for construction at the time.
  • Gable-Style Roof: Gable roof designs are simple like the aesthetic of a saltbox house, so they don’t require as much material as other roof designs, and their styles vary while remaining economical. The roof of a saltbox colonial house begins at the top like any other gable-style roof with a central ridge. Gable roofs are more weather resistant than flat roofs making them a perfect fit in these harsh settings. 
  • Chimney: Although a massive central chimney is a traditional design for Saltbox homes, a tiny percentage of them are fitted with a pair of smaller end chimneys as well. These chimneys are one of the most notable characteristics of a Saltbox House. For further ventilation, the rectangular transom window above the door for light is particularly peculiar to a salt box style house.
  • Open Floor plan: The Saltbox homes are rarely divided and separated into various rooms. Instead, it’s integrated into a modern open floor plan to generate a sense of space and fluidity.

History of Saltbox House  

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The history of saltbox houses is due to their ingrained adaptation. What began as a matter of need quickly gained popularity, and by 1680, the Saltbox had become a distinct architectural form. As salt was scarce at the time and valuable enough to be displayed in ornate wooden boxes. Many homeowners filled the entire new saltbox house addition with storage. 

Because many Saltbox homes were originally only one room deep, families typically divided the extra space into three rooms to make the most of it. In the winter, the center was usually converted into additional cooking space. The areas on either side were frequently converted into a pantry and other household-related activities 

This was sufficient motivation for the colonists. Saltboxes became the name for their slanting roofs, and the style spread from there. This style gained popularity in the 17th century, and the first saltbox roofs developed in colonial New England. They most likely began as modifications to the region’s Colonial-style and Cape Cod houses, as inhabitants sought to increase the size of their residences.  

However, the pleasantly whimsical shape was only one aspect of the appeal. Single-story rooms were added to the back of the home to expand it. Rather than building a new roof, the contractors simply extended the existing roof to that level. It was always most popular in New England, but it grew in popularity across the United States until about 1800, when it became obsolete.

Pros of Saltbox House 

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1. The Saltbox Gives Additional Living Space:

A saltbox adds living space to a property, which is particularly handy in larger homes. This gives the idle space a purpose, sometimes by adding an extra bedroom or office. Furthermore, A saltbox’s loft on the second level can be utilized for extra living space, storage, guests, or an office.

2. Protection from Heavy Rain and Snowfall:

Saltbox houses are appropriate for areas where rain and snowfall are mild to heavy. The saltbox roof’s incline makes it a great rain and snow slide. Water can easily drain off and snow will not gather on your roof due to the sloped sides and absence of flat surfaces. You won’t have to be concerned about water or snow damage.

If you live in a rainy area, this type of roof makes sense. Snow built up on the roof can damage the entire structure, and this sloped roof design helps it to slide off before it becomes too heavy.

3. Simpler Construction Method:

The construction technique is simple to put together and requires no expert or professionals. This may be the ideal option for you if you want a low-maintenance solution for your property.

4. Wind Resistance:

A saltbox design has low air pressure and minimum wind resistance, which means the saltbox house roof will not be subjected to much wind pressure, making it one of the most energy-efficient roofs available.

5. Light Structure Weight:

The weight of other types of roofs is often too heavy as they are built with metal or reinforced concrete. Because a saltbox style roof has no vertical supports, it’s comparatively lighter in weight. This also implies that the construction of a saltbox house can save money on the construction and repair of the roof.

6. Outstanding Architectural Perspective:

Saltbox architecture is not a common sight, it is rare and interesting to look at from an architectural standpoint. A saltbox house’s large windows offer it a wonderful aesthetic aspect while also allowing you to take in more sunlight through its large windows.

Cons of Saltbox House 

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Water Damage to Walls is a Possibility:

A saltbox house’s chimney is often located at one end of the upper living room, which could result in water damage to that wall if leaks originate from the roof or elsewhere. Leaks are also more likely when there are multiple roofs.

Difficult Accessibility:

The upper level of a saltbox is difficult to reach. A saltbox’s slanted form makes it harder to access the upper level. This necessitates constructing stairs into the lower-level sidewall, which most builders do not advocate and is also rather costly.

Making Extensions to a Saltbox Roof is Difficult:

You can only add to one side of a saltbox because the upper level is the same width as the dwelling. This can be an issue if you want to upgrade your home, and also makes it tough for developers who want to expand on or change something.

Poor Insulation:

There is always a need for more insulation to keep it warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Salt Boxes are not well adapted for heating or cooling, and if you live in a location that is frequently too cold or hot for comfort, you would be better off with a multi-level house design.

Inadequate Structural Support:

Another downside of a saltbox is that it adds to the structure’s weight. You won’t be able to support a saltbox with the structural weight since the upper level is longer than the width. 

Expensive Installation:

Because it is more sophisticated than other architectural styles of houses, this form of housing is not inexpensive. Additionally, it requires a lot of wood for construction and steel beams are pricey, making it even more expensive than other options.

5 Fun Facts About Saltbox Houses

salt box style house

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The Original Name:

The design of Colonial kitchen salt storage boxes inspired the name saltbox house. These boxes were used as models for the dwellings. Interestingly, small Saltbox houses were put on the wall near the cooking space so that you could get a pinch of salt anytime you needed it.

Saving the Taxes:

According to legend, the roof form of a salt box house was a way to save some taxes from the law. This tactic was used by homeowners throughout the 1600s and 1700s to avoid a tox on two-story residences. The additional square level of the salt box house was hidden beneath the long sloping roof, giving the backside the appearance of a single story. 

The Solution to Snowfall:

These roofs are designed to allow snow to flow off. The roofs are thought to have been chosen more for their utility and aesthetic appeal than for their structural stability. The steep cat-slide roofs that visually characterize the Saltbox home profile are said to help reduce snow accumulation during the harsh New England winters. 

Class Apart:

In the United States, many architectural styles were influenced by colonial architecture, such as Georgian, Cape Cod, Dutch Colonial, and  French Colonial architecture. All these styles were pale in comparison to saltbox houses, which were quite distinct.

The Route to Permanence:

Saltbox houses were constructed and conceptualized to lend a temporary solution to salt storage. But due to its sturdy and strong construction technique, people permanently started converting them into habitual spaces. 

The attractiveness of the Saltbox architectural style is not limited to its appearance. The design is a monument to Colonial-era families’ creativity as well as a practical strategy for staying comfortable in New England’s harsh environment. Moreover, between the 17th and 18th centuries, saltbox house layouts were more popular than ever in America due to their ability to accommodate large families.

Saltbox houses, regardless of period, were designed to provide more comfortable living spaces for families. Furthermore, the effortless construction technique like the slanted roof allowed snow to melt faster in the sun while also deflecting the high gusts that are frequent in that area.

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saltbox style house

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Also Read: Everything You Need To Know About Spanish Colonial House  

FAQ’s 

1. Why Is It Called a Saltbox?

The saltbox house is named after Colonial-era wooden salt containers. North American immigrants used mortar and pestle to pound salt lumps for cooking reasons before salt and pepper shakers were invented, they were also used to keep food fresh. Salt Boxes were commonly hung on kitchen walls in North America and Northern Europe, and saltboxes were also hung near a stove or fireplace in cold or damp places to keep salt dry. Legends also suggest that Saltbox style houses were thought to represent hospitality and a nice house.

2. Where Did the Saltbox House Originate?

Around 1750, the first saltbox houses developed. They were popular among farmers since they were simple to construct and rent. Furthermore, most farmers at the time generated their salt, thus purchasing big quantities of salt was unnecessary.

Farmers needed to recruit laborers to help with the harvest when they started relying on others for their harvests. Because of its modest size and low cost, the saltbox cottage was ideal for hiring temporary labor. Depending on the landlord’s needs, these houses could be rented by the week or month. Farmers were able to continue working their land while looking for work utilizing this style of living.

3. What Makes a Saltbox House?

Saltbox houses are easily identified by their distinctive roof form and architecture. If you look at one from the front, it could easily be mistaken for a Colonial-style home, but if you look at it from the side, you’ll notice that it’s unlike any other. 

The saltbox style is easily recognized because it resembles an asymmetrical A-frame home turned to the side. Also, the catslide roof is an uneven long pitched sloping roof. These usually extend down to the kitchen in the back of the house. These homes have useful gabled roofs, but their shape and lack of dormer windows set them apart from Cape Cods, Colonials, and other classic styles.

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