NC Architecture Series: Dogtrot

By Andrew Odom on June 11, 2013 in Blog
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Dog TrotThe dogtrot is a style of house historically common in the South, given credit for originating in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Historically consisting of two log cabins with a breezeway or “dogtrot” between them under a common roof, the Dogtrot style house is not only an early tiny house in many instances but could also be called the first example of modular homes as well. Typically one cabin was used for cooking and dining while the other used for private living space such as bedrooms. The bathroom, of course, remained in its own “tiny house” out back.

Though unfortunately not in North Carolina, some of the more famous dogtrot homes in the United States can be found in Dubach, Louisiana; aptly referred to as the dogtrot capitol of the world. It is home to several preserved and restored dogtrots that show the unique beauty of such a tiny house concept. The most noticeable feature of the dogtrot is breezeway through the center of the house, with rooms of the house opening into the breezeway. The breezeway – while connecting two “tiny houses” – provided a cooler covered area for sitting. The combination of the breezeway and open windows in the rooms of the house created air currents which pulled cooler outside air into the living quarters efficiently in the pre-air conditioning era.

“One of the more ingenious methods of cooling in the days before air conditioning, the Dogtrot house originated in the southern Appalachian Mountain region. It is distinguished by an open breezeway that extends through the center of the house, off of which open the rooms. With this design, cooling breezes flow through the open core and into the rooms where windows on the exterior walls create cross-ventilation.”
— Jim Kemp. American Vernacular: Regional Influence in Architecture and Interior Design. Washington, D.C.: The American Institute of Architects Press, 1990. p79.

This influence can be found in todays tiny houses that try to incorporate such elements as passive cooling and cross-ventilation. While most tiny houses and especially tiny houses on trailers don’t connect with a breezeway they situation windows and doors so that there is no obstruction for airflow.

Dogtrots also commonly feature a full length porch underneath an extended roof overhang to allow for full shade during even the most sunny and humid of southern days.

A few of the statistical characteristics are:

  • One story in height
  • Outside chimneys placed at one or both gable ends
  • Size ranges from 16 by 40 feet to 16 by 45 feet
  • The actual dogtrot (or breezeway) is usually half the width of a single pen, or approximately eight feet wide
  • One door in each room opened onto the dogtrot; a second door in each room, if present, opened onto the front gallery
  • Floor laid anywhere from one to three feet above the ground
  • Windows lacked glass; instead, shutters closed over the window openings

A few historic examples are the

Architects continue to build dogtrot houses using modern materials but maintaining the original design. One popular example is the Tiny Dogtrot (which also has a Google Sketchup available for download). The interesting part of this updated design is that it is comprised of two sheds built as separate structures making it a project that would require no permits in most municipalities. The deck between the two sheds would also be separate so there would be not physical connection between the sheds of any kind except for the rain gutters that feed the water storage tank.

A shining example of the modern dogtrot though can be found at Two Mile Ranch, an 80 acre property nestled in southern Iowa’s hill country. At 588 square feet the home is not exactly a tiny house. But considering one side is 14′ x 18′ and the other is 14′ x 24′, it is still quite small. The two halves of this house are separated by an open, covered breezeway.

Unfortunately, as ideal as they are and as energy efficient as they can be, the dogtrot has all but disappeared. There are still those few scattered about but most have been given major facelifts and modernized floorplans so as to escape one century for another. It can’t be disputed though that the simplicity of the structure and the livability of the design were far ahead of their time and, in fact, a predecessor to one of this nations most interesting domestic movements.

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Andrew OdomView all posts by Andrew Odom

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