Beat the Heat: If You Want a Cool House, Get a Shotgun

Elvis Presley's Birthplace

Elvis Presley's Birthplace, a Shotgun/ Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

Before air conditioning homogenized residential design and made houses indistinguishable from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon to Phoenix, Arizona, people built their homes to suit the climate. In the South, where there was not a lot of money, they also built to suit their wallets. An appropriate response to both conditions was the Shotgun House. Michael Janzen at Tiny House Design explains:

A shotgun house is a nickname for a long narrow house with sequential rooms and no hallway. The nickname comes from the idea that if you stood at the front door and fired a shotgun the buck would fly out the back door without hitting the house. These houses were commonly built in cities before cars made suburbia popular. They also took advantage of lower property taxes because many cities based the tax rate on the lot width so when your house is only 12 feet wide you saved a lot of money.

French Enfilade Plan Benefits

Plan and elevations

Wikipedia, assembled by Michael Janzen/CC BY 2.0

Another significant benefit of the originally French enfilade plan is that every room had high ceilings and windows on both sides, giving excellent cross-ventilation. They pretty much all had front porches off the living room on the front and kitchens at the back that wouldn't heat up the rest of the house.

Paul Dowsett's Modern Shotgun

passive shotgun

© Sustainable TO

Paul Dowsett's competition- winning Passive House design for New Orleans was a modern update of the shotgun plan, with a sheltered exterior hallway to adapt the plan for our more modern concepts of privacy; we apparently no longer want other family members traipsing through out bedrooms. But it retains the concept.

kb-homes plan

KB Homes/Promo image

This is what KB Homes is building in Florida, in a program of green, solar powered homes. It is designed in such a way that it is impossible to live without its air conditioner on; even the corner bedrooms have tiny windows and no cross-ventilation. Even the smallest bit of consideration and concern might have made it a better place, but they don't even bother; air conditioning is the de facto standard. When the electricity goes out, these home owners will suffocate in any season.

I know we can't live in shotguns anymore, but we can at least learn from them.