Dog Trot

My great grandmother Essie Curl Shackleford and her sister Ezzie Pearl (glad I wasn't named after them!) in front of their home with my great great grandparents circa 1895 in North Alabama.

As more and more people move to the coastal South there is a growing need to understand how to design your house for our hot humid climate. The intense solar radiation and high moisture create unique challenges to building a comfortable house that is easy to maintain and minimizes the impact to the environment.

Prior to the advent of air conditioning, an understanding of local environments enabled southerners to build in ways that buffered the harsh climatic realities. As Europeans moved to the southern colonies it typically took them a generation to adapt their native architecture to the climatic conditions of the region. They quickly learned that houses one room thick maximized cross ventilation. The thin plans also provided ample light that prohibited mold growth in dark areas. The best orientation of this thin plan was east to west to reduce solar gain. The windows were located to catch the prevailing summer breezes. Large porches or verandas were always located on the southern side and often on the east and west, too. The verandas protected the house from both the sun and the rain, provided circulation, and created a cool place to sit and sleep in the summertime. High ceilings allowed the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment. By raising the houses off the ground several things were accomplished; it allowed the first floor to be out of the flood plain in coastal areas; breezes are better on the raised first floor; and air circulation under the house helped reduce the heat gain.

An early prototype embracing these principles is the dog trot, also known as "two pens and a passage". One room was typically used for sleeping and the other for cooking. The covered open center passage was the main sitting room in warm weather that was cooled naturally by the Bernoulli effect. The center passage was often used as the dog kennel and thus the name dog trot. Dog trots are found in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, the Carolinas, and Texas.

The vernacular forms still are relevant in our climate and we have designed several dog trots for Hot, Humid Solutions.

Vernacular Architecture: The "I" House

A typical southern house was the "I" house, named because of the tall narrow profile. This house was two stories with a simple gable roof and a shed roofed one story porch in front and a shed roofed addition on the rear. Typically, there were masonry chimneys on each end of the house. This simple house was one room deep which maximized the amount of light and cross ventilation. It had high ceilings which allowed the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment. The one story porch allowed the second floor sleeping rooms to have ventilation on three sides. Occasionally there would be a double porch on the front. Kitchens were usually in a separate building behind the house; this kept the heat from the fireplace out of the main house and also protected the main house in the event of a kitchen fire. There are a number of "I" houses to be found in Beaufort and the surrounding counties. The challenge with the "I" house is incorporating the necessities of modern day living, such as kitchens, bathrooms, closets and laundry rooms. Frederick and Frederick Architects worked on an "I" house in Beaufort that has an important provenance.

In 1839, Robert Smalls was born a slave on this property. In the civil was he became a U.S. Army captain. He went on to serve in the SC House of Representative, SC Senate and was a United States Congressman for 5 terms. After the civil war, Robert Smalls purchased this and adjacent properties. It is believed that this circa 1855 house was moved to the property as part of the Smalls estate.

The original house was two rooms over two; it appears that a one story wing was added when the house was moved. The double front porches were removed many years ago and replaced with a small stoop. Typical of historic houses, there was only one inadequate bathroom and virtually no closets.

Robert Smalls is an important historical figure in South Carolina, so it was critical to respect the integrity of the house while providing the basic necessities in bathrooms and storage. We added a small Lshaped second floor addition to house two new bathrooms, master bedroom closet and a small third bedroom. The addition backs up to the existing chimney and we left it exposed in the bathroom. We enclosed an existing small porch to create a breakfast room with a new porch beyond.

In restoring the double front porches, the house now looks like the typical Beaufort house that it is instead of some foreign transplant. The clients desire for a screened porch was met with a free standing enclosure that respects the scale of the historic home and encloses a courtyard on the south of the house.


Hot Humid Climate Defined

The fastest growing region in the country is the Hot Humid South—defined as areas close to the Gulf Coast in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama; all of Florida; and up the Atlantic Coast to southern North Carolina. This region receives at least 20 inches of rain annually, but that level often ranges between 40 to 60 inches. The monthly average outdoor temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter with the average high in July and August over 90 degrees Fahrenheit with 90 percent humidity. Being in this region in the summer has been described as feeling like you are in a dog’s mouth. The intense solar radiation and high moisture levels create unique challenges to building a comfortable house that is easy to maintain and that minimizes its impact on the environment.