The Saltbox began as a simple rearward expansion. As families grew in size, more space was needed. Early one room cottages gradually expanded to two rooms, then two floors. The next expansion was often adding a single-story, lean-to, shed off the back.
The roofline is unbroken from the ridge to the rear wall. The resulting shape looks like a medieval box to hold salt, so the Saltbox name stuck. By the late 1600s, the style had become so popular that new homes were being built with the lean-to as part of the original construction.
One of the biggest advantages of the Saltbox design is its ability to keep the house warmer in winter. When built with the rear of the house facing North, the Saltbox design helps shield the house from cold New England winds. The wind is funneled up and over the house instead of being directed into the side walls. Points to the Puritans for passive energy efficiency.
Another advantage was that snow could slide down the extended rear roofline, preventing any given part of the roof from carrying too heavy a load. The nickname for this roof is “cat slide” – meaning any roof that, on one side, extends down below the main eave height, providing greater area under the roof without an increase in the ridge height. A cat could slide from the ridge to the ground, presumably with all limbs in tact.
The simple, flat Colonial façade and massive central chimney are key components to this clever design. You may find that the chimney was added on-to during the rearward expansion creating a T pattern, or a second chimney was added for the rear of the house. Typically clapboard or other wooden siding is used on the exterior. 4/4 or 6/6 double hung windows are a common feature. Saltbox homes usually feature a center entry hall or stair, fireplaces, and separated living spaces. The one story addition on the first floor often contains the kitchen and dining room area.
Saltbox homes boast plenty of storage space—typically in the cramped triangle of dead space under the extended roof, just above the ground-floor addition. The roof line of the house allows larger bedrooms on the second floor as well.
The Saltbox style of Colonial is still very popular today. A practical and classic New England home.
Shannon Aldrich Whaley (C) 2021