In vernacular architecture there is a strong relationship between, site, climate, and the elements of building in the generation of the building form. -Richard Hyde

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. Five lessons they learned are equally important today.

5 Lessons from the early European settlers:

1. Houses one room thick maximized cross ventilation. The thin plans also provided ample light that prohibited mold growth in dark areas.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. High ceilings allowed the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment.

5. 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 circulating 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 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.

Another typical southern house is the I-House, named because of the tall narrow profile. This house is two stories with a simple gable roof and a shed roofed one story porch in front. It often has a shed roofed addition on the rear. Typically, there were masonry chimneys on each end of the house. This simple house is one room deep which maximizes the amount of light and cross ventilation. It has high ceilings which allow the heat to rise and provided a more comfortable environment. It has a full porch facing south. Kitchens were usually in a separate building behind the house, this kept the heat from the kitchen out to the main house and also protected the house in the event of a kitchen fire. There are a number of I-Houses found in Beaufort and the surrounding counties. The Charleston single house is an “I” house with the narrow end of the house facing the street and a door onto the porch.

The T-House is another traditional house in the lowcountry. It is one room thick with the porch wrapping three sides. The intersection of the T is where the stairs are located. All the rooms except for the stair-hall have windows on three sides, allowing for nice cross ventilation. T-Houses are raised off the ground and have high ceilings.

The Freedman’s cottage is a small one-story dwelling that is one room wide with a front piazza and no central hallway. These cottages were constructed with limited means, but the inhabitants and builders still valued the vernacular principles that would make the cottages more comfortable in the hot, humid climate. They have great cross ventilation and very tall ceilings. There are numerous examples of the Freedman’s cottage in Beaufort, especially in the Northwest Quadrant of downtown.