I have looked at a few expanded “pop-top” ramblers in Vienna recently with clients and each had a few quirky issues that you might want to consider too.
Just to set the stage, a typical Vienna rambler was built in the late 1950s or early 1960s and has two levels: a basement, and main living floor.
- Structural I-beam
- Heating and Cooling HVAC
Plumbing in Ramblers
Since these homes typically had two full baths and a kitchen, water supply lines into the house were narrower than today’s supply lines. Almost all used copper pipes, but it is important to know that many water lines were less than 1″ in diameter to these homes.
The updated homes I visited today now have four full baths.
What needs to be looked at is the existing water supply line from the street, because it may need to be replaced with a larger pipe. When a house is torn down in Vienna, builders will replace both the sewer line and the water supply line from the meter. This isn’t always the case with a remodel, pop-top or addition.
Let’s look at water flow:
- The 1″ water line delivers 9 gallons per minute
- The 1¼” water line delivers 16 gallons per minute
- The 1½ water line delivers 25 gallons per minute
You will need to adjust depending on the length of the run from the house to the meter or if you run up a hill. I’m confident your plumber will have similar numbers. The cost really isn’t much more to go up a size, but going from 1″ to 1¼” is a 77% increase allowing more than one person to shower at a time.
Let’s look at the sewer lateral:
- Terra Cotta pipe (clay)
- Orangeburg Pipe (paper)
Terra Cotta pipes were used all over Vienna. Understand that tree roots can be an issue since the root will enter through a joint into the pipe in search of a water supply. These roots eventually will fill the pipe 100% causing a total sewage back up into your house.
Orangeburg pipes were made out of hard paper (really) and eventually collapse. These are totally unacceptable and need to be replaced before you buy the house.
A modern family will put much more stress on the water and sewer lines than the old lady who used to live there did over the last decade!
New sewer laterals are made of PVC plastic and are very durable. But the cost is high because replacement requires digging up the front yard from the house to the public sewer.
Steel I-beams and Walls carry the load
What you need to look closely at when expanded ramblers is actually in the basement. Especially when the expansion adds an entire floor.
Back when these homes were built in the 1950s, they used a brick and concrete block technique. The exterior brick was mostly cosmetic, and the walls were a sturdy foot thick.
Yup, 1′ thick!
You should have a professional look at the construction plans to help you understand what is holding the new upstairs up.
Is it the exterior walls, or is all the weight still on that 4″ steel I-beam in the basement?
The 4″ steel I-beams were intended to carry the load of one floor only, not two and a big attic space. Additional steel columns on new footers can strengthen the existing I-Beam.
Heating and Cooling HVAC
When an HVAC contractor is sizing a system for a house, they calculate the square footage and then recommend an HVAC system that will adequately heat and cool the house.
Of the two “pop-tops” I looked at recently, the basement furnaces had not replaced although the square footage had been increased.
The upstairs space will be new, and there will always be a new, second zone system to heat and cool that bedroom living space.
You need to pay attention to the lower level system because that will need to be replaced. Your home inspector will give you an opinion, but a licensed HVAC contractor must be consulted to determine system options, proper tonnage, airflow, and future installation costs.
Inspect, inspect, inspect
Buying a remodeled, expanded or pop-top home can be an excellent way to get into an established neighborhood at a reasonable cost.
My best recommendation is that you have a home inspection contingency that allows you to hire a home inspector or any other qualified professional. Virginia is a caveat emptor state meaning that the responsibility is on the buyer to make the best decisions… and then live with those decisions.
On a personal note, I popped the top of my Vienna rambler over ten years ago adding 1,200 square feet. Luckily I had an excellent engineer/designer, contractor, and plumber, but in hindsight are things I would have done differently.
If you are interested in learning more or have an insight from your pop-top project then leave a comment.