We explore the possibility of very long-lived gravitational-wave transients (and detector artifacts) lasting hours to weeks. Such very long signals are both interesting in their own right and as a potential source of systematic error in searches for persistent signals, e.g., from a stochastic gravitational-wave background. We review possible mechanisms for emission on these time scales and discuss computational challenges associated with their detection: namely, the substantial volume of data involved in a search for very long transients can require vast computer memory and processing time. These computational difficulties can be addressed through a form of data compression known as coarse graining, in which information about narrow frequency bins is discarded in order to reduce the computational requirements of a search. Using data compression, we demonstrate an efficient radiometer (cross-correlation) algorithm for the detection of very long transients. In the process, we identify features of a very long transient search (related to the rotation of the Earth) that make it more complicated than a search for shorter transient signals. We implement suitable solutions.