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purple shotgun style house in New Orleans

Shotgun House: What It Is, Plus Characteristics And Appeal

Lauren Nowacki7-Minute Read
July 20, 2020

The tiny house movement has shown that there’s an increasing desire among home buyers to purchase smaller living spaces. While tiny homes are having their moment, another type of home, the shotgun house, has been a popular choice for many, particularly in the South.

And while it does offer smaller living space and simpler living, the shotgun house shouldn’t be lumped in with tiny homes.

At 400 square feet, a shotgun house is just over the maximum living space to even be considered a tiny home. But more than that, the shotgun house is steeped in culture, tradition and history. It’s also one of the signature architectural styles of New Orleans.

What’s A Shotgun House?

A shotgun house is a long, narrow home, rectangular in shape, that has cascading rooms lined up one after the other. In fact, the interior layout is traditionally thought to be the reason this house style got its interesting name. Some say the name “shotgun house” refers to the ability to shoot a bullet through the front door and have it fly through the home and out the back door without hitting anything. Others argue the name comes from the Yoruba word togun, which means “gathering place.”

A Brief History Of The Shotgun House

Much like the origin of its name, the history of the shotgun house is also debated. Some researchers claim the houses were built to better fit the narrow lots of the city and satisfy a loophole in real estate taxes. Others claim, with evidence, that the architectural style came from enslaved and free Africans who migrated from Haiti to New Orleans after the Haitian Rebellion ended in 1804.

They became prominent in low-income and working-class neighborhoods of the South but lost their popularity starting in the early 1910s. Many of these homes were demolished during urban renewal work in the ’60s and ’70s as they were viewed as symbols of poverty. Unfortunately, many of the shotgun houses that survived that era were lost to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

However, they have since seen a resurgence, with New Orleanians and visitors alike recognizing the place these homes have in the area’s history, culture and cityscape. Many surviving homes have since been restored, while new ones have been built from the ground up or rebuilt from the bones of other structures.

Characteristics Of A Shotgun House

As with any style of home, the shotgun house has distinct features that make it so unique.

Cascading Floor Plan

The most recognized characteristic of the shotgun house is its cascading floor plan. Rooms of the home are lined up one after the other, with no hallways in between. That means you have to walk through each room to get to the next. The typical layout goes by this: living room, bedroom, bedroom, kitchen. In original and older homes, bathrooms were added later – once invented – so they’re usually found in the back of the home or as a side addition.

Long And Narrow

Shotgun houses are typically about 12 feet wide, about the width of one room. Shaped as a rectangle, the length of the home is much longer, usually 3 – 4 rooms deep.

Aligned Front And Back Doors

The front doors and back doors of a shotgun home are typically lined up with one another at each end of the house. This feature, along with the cascading floor plan, is one of the reasons these homes are perfect for the south. These characteristics allow for a strong cross breeze and proper ventilation with both the front door and back door open.

Few To No Windows On The Sides

Due to the narrowness of the home, many shotgun houses were built close to one another for maximum use of space. Because of this, the sides of many shotguns will have only one or two windows – or may be windowless entirely – for the sake of privacy. And since the homes are so close together, there’s no proper ventilation or natural light on the sides of the home anyway.

Gabled Front Porch

While some privacy is needed, a sense of community is also desired. And since many shotgun homes were built within such close proximity with one another, the front porch was often the place residents would sit and socialize with neighbors and chat with passersby.

Not all shotgun homes have porches. If a shotgun home does have a porch, it’s usually gabled, with a roof or cover and columns to support it.

Various Style Influences

Many shotgun exteriors are decorated with one or a mix of the styles that were influential at the height of their popularity in the late 19th century. Most carry many of the same characteristics of Victorian homes, with bright facades and ornate features.

The Greek Revival style bordered homes with decorative molding in the shape of eggs, palmettes or dentils (or small blocks).

The Italianate style brought low-pitched roofs, molded cornices and fluted columns.

The Eastlake style embellished exteriors with intricate woodwork, decorative spindles and beveled or stained glass.

The Classical Revival style brought hipped roofs with dormers and fanlights over the front doors.

The Bracketed style introduced one of the most common characteristics of the shotgun house: brackets. These triangular pieces, usually carved with some elaborate design, sit where the roof of the porch meets the front of the house and support the roof.

Types Of Shotgun Houses

As times changed and living necessities changed with them, a few different types of shotgun houses developed.

Single Shotgun

This is the original shotgun house. It’s one room wide, one story tall and the length of three or four rooms, on average. The front usually features one door and one window (typically shuttered).

Shotgun Double

Also known as the double barrel, the shotgun double is essentially two shotgun homes joined side by side. This type of home provides two units (like a duplex) and the front features two doors and two windows, symmetrical to one another. For some families, the double barrel allowed multiple generations of families to live under the same roof but in separate homes. More recently, some shotgun doubles have been renovated and opened up to create a bigger living space.

Camelback Shotgun

The camelback shotgun is a single or double shotgun with a second story addition on the back half of the home. The main purpose of this is to provide additional living space.

Side Gallery Shotgun

The side gallery shotgun changes one of the features the style is known for: no halls. Instead, the side gallery adds a hall or side porch that runs down one side of the home.

Pros And Cons Of Shotgun Houses

Shotgun houses do have a certain charm and appeal, but like any style of home, they also have their drawbacks. Here’s what to consider if you’re thinking about living in one of these homes.

Pros

The square footage of these homes often makes them more affordable. The size and layout of older models also creates a greener home due to the ability to cool the home with a strong cross breeze and a smaller amount of space to heat and cool.

Its floor plan also maximizes space and uses it quite efficiently, which can be a great advantage for those interested in downsizing or living a more minimalist lifestyle.

Cons

While the floor plan maximizes space and minimizes energy use, it doesn’t provide much privacy, especially if it’s an original, single shotgun layout.

And if you have a much older model, you may need to do extensive work on the home. These ”fixer-upper” properties may be lacking things like an air-conditioning system or bathroom and may be in disrepair or have damage from past hurricanes.

Where To Find Shotgun Houses

If you want to buy a shotgun house or marvel at one in real life, you can find them all over the country. However, the best place to find shotgun houses is in the South, particularly in New Orleans. The homes are also found in parts of Louisville, St. Louis and Atlanta. Some cities, including Charlotte and Houston, have even created shotgun house districts, and Miami declared almost four dozen shotgun homes historic landmarks in 2018.

If you’re looking for a shotgun home for sale, a Rocket HomesSM agent can help you to find the right one for you.

The Bottom Line

Once a popular house style in the South, the shotgun home is seeing a resurgence, with more people looking for smaller, simpler living and finding a deep appreciation for the contribution it’s made to American architecture. To discover several different house styles and learn more about how to buy them, check out the Home Buying articles on the Rocket HomesSM blog.

Get the right home loan for you.

Lauren Nowacki

Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.