Question: What is the difference between a rowhouse and a townhouse? Answer: About three zeros.
The above may point out a truth about the power of perception and marketing, but also can suggest it perhaps is time to take a new look at the humble rowhouse. With two existing warm walls, insulation on the roof, insulation front and rear, reconditioned windows, heat recovery ventilation (HRV), and renewed plaster, a row house can be an energy efficient structure at modest cost. The Healthy Rowhouse Project estimates that for the minimum of the $300,000 it takes to build a new affordable house in Philadelphia, between 14 and 30 homes can be improved. Preserving rowhouse blocks builds on architecturally significant assets. Preserving existing resources is environmentally sustainable. The most sustainable home is the one that already exists. http://healthyrowhouse. org/recognizing-the-opportunity/
The first step is to evaluate building and components for structural integrity from foundation to roof. What repairs are needed? What is the condition of existing components? joists? walls? windows, etc. How many layers on roof? What is the scope, sequence and critical path of work?
A flat roof on a row house may present an opportunity to cover the roof with light weight insulation such as 6” Polyiso panels (about $30 each at Home Depot) which then can be covered by EPDM ($350 for 10' x 50' roll). A 15 x 25 roof (375 sq') would then take about 12 panels ($320) and could be done with one roll of EPDM . The condition of roof and number of existing layers will guide planning. (estimate $2,000)
Heat Recovery Ventilation is a way to warm incoming air coming into the house which reduces heating load (not having to raise incoming 30 degree air so far to a comfortable level) https://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Heat_recovery_ventilation Can an air intake at the top of the house gather heated, stale air and then send fresh, warmed air to the basement where it will rise? Can triangular tubing where the wall meets the ceiling be decorative AND functional? Can heat be exhausted in the summer so that only fresh, cool air is circulated? (Est $3,500)
Wooden windows are good windows. Historic windows, particularly those made before the 1940’s, are from old growth wood which is denser and stronger than modern equivalents and are built with components (stile, mutton, etc) that can be repaired or replaced…..which means less waste going to a landfill with equivalent efficiency, better cost savings, and better aesthetic appeal. Design and proportions matter. Windows are the eyes of a house, and eyes are the windows to the soul. (Est $1,500 )
Diathonite is a rediscovery of an ancient method and is a type of insulating plaster made from diatomaceous earth, hydraulic lime, cork and clay which breathes and has excellent dehumidification and sound absorption qualities. Non-toxic, it can be used for interior or exterior applications and can be sprayed on. It is rated 3.2 R value/inch. https://www.diasen.com/sp/en/d/diathonite.3sp (Est $2,000)
Plaster is in virtually every building built before 1940 but people trained in the skill of plastering are rare, so quality work may be prohibitively expensive. Tearing out plaster instead of repair results in more expense in disposal of plaster and lath, with a less aesthetic, fire-resistant, sound absorbing result. The best way to learn is through hands on training under experienced supervision. The Academy offers an opportunity to learn, and upon completion of the module, to train newer students. (Est $1,000) (Total $10,000)
Proposal for Conservation of Rowhouses Academy of Building Conservation www.DarbyHistory.com/Academy1 (Draft - 2/23/16)