Shotgun Houses & The Tiny Simple House

(Photo credit Wikipedia Commons)

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. Another advantage was that as families grew more rooms could be easily added.

These tiny houses emerged in the south, specifically New Orleans, but you still see them today all over America from Key West to Chicago to California. In some cities these shotgun shacks are being replaced by urban renewal projects and in other cities they are being preserved.

In terms of practical design they seem ideal to me. Narrow houses are easy to put together even for inexperienced owner-builders. Simple roofs can be framed with smaller dimension lumber and a simple pitched roof requires no gables which are more difficult to frame. If more space is needed more rooms can be added out back without disrupting life in the front of the house.

The only disadvantages I can see are the lack of a hallway which would facilitate multiple bedrooms and more privacy and that a long skinny house tends to use more building material than square house of the same square footage.

I personally think the advantages of a shotgun house out weight the disadvantages especially for inexperienced owner-builders. But barring a narrow lot I think I might design on a little differently.

I think I would give myself a few different sized boxes to use like an 8×8, 12×12, and 16×16. This would add a little more visual interest to the house while giving you a little more flexibility on the interior. The 8×8 and 12×12 rooms are small enough for one or two people to build and the roof span is small enough to use smaller sized lumber. The 16×16 begins to get into a territory that would require extra help and larger lumber but still within the reach of an owner-builder. But I’d definitely keep all the roof pitches the same to avoid any complex gable framing.

There are many different arrangements and the roof remains simple to frame as long as the rooms stay in a row like a shotgun house. The roof could be a shed or flat roof too. In fact many old shotgun houses had flat or nearly flat roofs.

What go me thinking about all this and looking back at shotgun houses were the surveys Kent ( and I ran over the past few weeks. There were definitely some clear trends but many people expressed a need for flexibility and the shotgun house approach seemed like the logical and time tested solution.

So what do you think? Can you imagine a modified and modern shotgun house meeting your needs?

If you think the idea is sound I’ll move forward with my plan to draw up the design and publish it in a little 8.5″ x 11″ book. I think I’ll use and make it available as an ebook and in print. It would contain all framing plans and options for different foundations and roofs.

My intention would be to publish a design system that most anyone could build themselves for little money. With the economy in such bad shape it just seems like the right thing for me to spend my time working on… other than my tiny free house of course. The book would be titled Tiny Simple House and if I get going now it could be ready before the end of the year.

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