What is a Saltbox House?

By Scott Sidler • November 19, 2018

what is a saltbox houseYou may have heard the term Saltbox used when describing a house style and wondered, “what?” While the Saltbox house isn’t exactly an architectural style like the American Craftsman or Greek Revival, it is still a prominent architectural subtype of house that happens sometimes on purpose and sometimes as an afterthought.

A Saltbox house is a traditional New England style wood frame house with a unique longe sloped roof on the back side. The main house is two-stories and the rear slopes down to one-story.

It was named a Saltbox house because the shape is reminiscent of old colonial saltboxes in the kitchen. These wooded boxes kept the families supply of salt and had a distinct slope on one side to allow easier access to scoop salt out when needed.

The Saltbox House

The Saltbox house became a popular style for both new homes and was the simplest way to put an addition onto the back of an existing I-frame house that was so common New England in colonial times. The simple rectangular design of these early American houses made the addition of a single story add-on to the rear very simple because the roof line could simply be extended to cover the new rooms unlike adding on to the side where there would have to be a new roof built and tied into the side of the house.

The other big advantage to the Saltbox house was its ability to keep the house warmer in the cold New England winters. Having lived in Boston for a time, I know that winters in the northeast are no joke. The Saltbox house design shields the rear of the house from the brutal winds because it funnels the wind up and over the house rather than having it bast into the side walls.

A lot of these Saltbox houses were built with prevailing wind patterns in mind and sited so that the rear of the house faced into the North, or whichever direction the strongest seasonal winds would blow in that particular region. It was smart planning for passive energy efficiency!

The Saltbox house dates back to around 1650 and is one of the coolest designs since it is truly an example of form follows function. What was born out of necessity became a standard of regional design. And nothing says New England like a clapboard clad Saltbox house.

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