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What is a Saltbox Roof?

A 1750 home that has a saltbox roof.

If you’re familiar with architecture in New England, then you’ve heard of a saltbox house before. This style was all over New England in the 1800s and you can still find saltbox homes all over the area to this day. But it’s not so much about the house itself. It’s really the roof that makes a saltbox house a saltbox. Because the building underneath does matter, but it’s the roof that plays a huge part in determining any home’s style. Is a saltbox roof the style you want for your home?

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Technically speaking, a saltbox house is simply a wooden-framed building that has the distinctive saltbox roof. With the right roof, any home can be called a saltbox. The first saltbox roofs were built in New England in the 1600s, making this a historic American style. The distinct look of the saltbox roof immediately catches the eye and gives homes a truly custom look, which is why so many people choose this design.

Very simply, a saltbox roof is an asymmetrical roof with two slopes that meet at a center ridge. One side is longer than the other. This gives saltbox roofs a distinct slant that’s immediately recognizable. The term saltbox comes from the small boxes of table salt that people used to keep in their homes. A wooden box with a slanting lid was a common way to store salt in Colonial America. You can see how a saltbox roof, which has one long sloping side, resembles this then-popular storage device.

The saltbox roof clearly has a great look that demands attention and gives any house a unique look. But there’s another really good reason that the style became so popular in New England and spread all over the early American colonies: this is a very practical choice that makes good sense.

Living in a Saltbox

This is an exterior look at a brown wooden house with saltbox roof.

The sharp sloping sides of the saltbox roof make this a very weather-resistant choice to top off any building. Rain, debris, and snow roll easily down those steep sides. And even when snow and debris end up piling on the roof, it isn’t difficult to use a ladder to climb up to the roof and clean it off.

This makes the saltbox an extremely practical choice, particularly in moist areas that experience a lot of rain and/or snowfall, like New England. This roof is easy to maintain and it isn’t prone to weather damage, which makes it highly durable as well.

But as the shape of the saltbox roof illustrates, every up has it’s down. Because saltbox roofs are typically made with one long, sloping side, this design does have an effect on interior spaces. The saltbox roof will create angles and low ceilings inside the home and in the top section of the home where the attic would normally be located.

This roof design definitely doesn’t add to your interior square footage, as some other options do. The sharp slant of the saltbox roof creates cozy interior spaces with angled ceilings that some people love and some hate. Because the design can create slightly smaller than average rooms, some people may get a cramped or claustrophobic feeling inside a saltbox home.

How to Build a Saltbox Roof

The saltbox roof is a relatively simple and straightforward roof design, especially when you compare it to other styles that have multiple sloping sections and extra embellishments, like dormer windows. The roof is made with two sloping sides at two angles that meet at the central ridge, with one side longer than the other. This takes precise calculations to determine the right angles for each sloping side of the roof.

This roof design requires only simple interior framing to build and it can be installed on a building rather quickly. After all, early colonists built these roofs over their homes when they were fighting for survival in a strange new land, sometimes amid harsh weather conditions. If they can do it, just about any roofing contractor or carpenter can install a saltbox roof as well.

This is a close look at a house with saltbox roof.

However, this roof is really only as good as its gutters. It’s essential that you get gutters of the right size and style to match your saltbox roof. Water and snow roll quickly off the roof and you need gutters that can successfully capture the moisture and route it away from your home. Proper drainage is essential. That’s why you’ll want to work with an expert gutter contractor to get the right drainage design for your saltbox roof. Otherwise, you could end up having water drainage problems that can lead to big home repairs.

This style of roof can be covered with anything, but asphalt shingles and wood shakes are the most popular choices for finishing saltbox roofs. The roof is framed with simple rafters that won’t take up any interior space. It’s the sloping sides of the roof itself that encroach on interior space, not the roof supports.

Having a Saltbox Roof

Historic legend holds that the saltbox roof was actually invented as a way to thwart Queen Anne, who was then Queen of the American Colonies and Queen of England. She created an extra tax for buildings that had more than one story. The saltbox design, which creates a story and a half at the very top, is a clever way to avoid this extra tax. This is probably just a rumor and not an actual historic fact…but it certainly makes for a fun story to tell if you’ve got a saltbox roof!

Though saltbox roof designs first appeared in the New England colonies of the U.S., this style is all over the country and the world today. This style is still used and it’s seen everywhere because it’s a practical, low-maintenance design. You’ve got enough stuff to worry about. Life is a little easier when you don’t have to think about your roof, too.

If you like the interesting, asymmetrical look of this historic roof design or you want to top your home with a traditional style, the saltbox roof may be the perfect option for you. It’s definitely one you should consider if you live in an area with a lot of weather because this roof design is made to withstand even harsh climates.