Would You Be Pissed if A Neighbor Popped Their Rowhouse?

A reader writes:

PoP —

Long story short, I moved to Columbia Heights back when it was a
collection of vacant lots, and at the time kept telling all my friends
that some day the place would be jumping and they’d regret busting on
me for moving to the area when the world was outside my doorstep.
Well, that day almost has arrived (I’m waiting for the gym to be
useful before declaring it officially so), and I should be living it
up with a reasonable mortgage for a good home in a great location.
The irony is that circumstances (mostly space limitations in the short
term) now have us looking to move out of the neighborhood. But a
house in the ‘burbs is expensive and might age us prematurely, so I’m
looking for alternate solutions before sealing my fate. One thing
that crossed my mind — and I know this is heresy — is adding a
pop-top to my rowhouse so we could get another bedroom or two, a
second bathroom, and some additional storage space (~ 750 sq. ft.).
Hell, maybe even add a roof deck to the top.

So my questions to a man who has studied the pop-top phenomenon and
his readers who have possibly participated in it are: Assuming I
attempted to do this as tastefully and unobtrusively as possible
(i.e., not an architectural monstrosity, something that respects the
streetscape), what sort of cost would I incur, and how long would I be
displaced while the roof was off my house? Are there good examples of
pop-tops that are particularly nice that people could point to, or
contractors who have done nice pop-tops? And, at the end of the day,
would any of my neighbors ever forgive me if I did this?

Here’s a pop up that I thought was extremely tasteful. This one’s not bad either. So can anyone point out some examples of good pop ups? Can anyone recommend a good architect/contractor? Can anyone forgive this desire?

11 Comment

  • I don’t mid a good op-up, but we need to move away from subdividing houses into 3 or 4 units. In 10 years these renovations will be tomorrows burdens.

  • The best pop-ups resemble your first example, PoP. If you set the pop-up back from the edge of the original construction it becomes difficult or impossible to see from street level and maintains the esthetic of the block. In addition, this would enable a 10-15 foot roof deck as a walk-out from the front of the pop-up rather than having to go up a third flight of stairs.

    Obviously, it is all dependent upon how deep the existing house is, but I’ve always thought this was the classiest and most respectful way to pull it off.

  • Can the person dig out their basement, if it’s not already livable? That might be an alternative that could then be used as a rental space at a later date.

  • If all one had to worry about in this suddenly gun crazy city is a neighbor’s pop up, why I’d be happy as a pig in caca..

  • What I’m curious to learn is what are companies charging for pop-ups? $100k? $150k? What are people seeing as prices for adding several rooms and a staircase?

  • I’m not sure how much a pop-up will cost but I heard that building an addition costs about 60-70K

  • There’s no reason a pop-up has to be atrocious, but they just turn out that way a lot because they’re usually done on the cheap by flip developers.

    At the same time, I doubt it makes a lot of financial sense to do it on your own house. It’ll probably be uninhabitable for weeks or months even while the work is being done, and I would imagine a cost of at least $100K.

    It would almost certainly make more sense — both financially and from a space point of view – to move to a bigger house. There are a range of sizes of houses in every neighborhood. You don’t have to go to the suburbs for a 4 or 5 or even 6 bedroom house.

    The reader in question says “adding a 2nd bathroom” so he’s almost certainly in a 3 bedroom house. Why not just move to a bigger house in the same neighborhood instead? The cost and hassle is almost certainly on par or less, and you end up with a bigger (not just taller) house. As far as the real estate market goes, if you’re just moving to another place in the same market, it really makes no difference – in fact you probably get more house for less additional outlay right now if upgrading compared to a stronger market.

    Or finish the basement, as another reader suggests, a far better way to get another level.

  • We looked into doing this last year ( a third floor plus some alterations to the second floor to make everything fit) and several architects, a structural engineer, and a builder all estimated that we would need to spend at least $200,000 (not including living expences for the 6 months or so that we would have to be out of the house). We determined that the added value to the home wasn’t worth the cost, or the structural risks associated with adding an addition to a 100+ year old home.

  • Original questioner here.

    First, the space would be just for us — no condominium conversion. They did that next door to us, to a 4-unit place, and we were none too happy about it.

    Second, the basement already was dug down before we purchased and is used as a rental unit, so going down is not really an option for us. That’s part of our problem — it’s either up or out if we want more space.

    Thanks for all the responses — I’m interested to see if more come in. Seems like it’s expensive ($200k would be quite a down payment on a new place) and comes with a lot of inconveniences (6 mos.), given that you get a limited bump in space. On the other hand, good to know that it can be done in a way that doesn’t completely offend neighbors’ sensibilities. Anyone actually go through with popping it out, though, and have anything to say about the experience?

  • What about stopping renting the basement and adding a stairs down – seems cheaper than the additional mortgage of the pop-up or the move to the burbs. I rented my basement until I needed the room and then took it over. If you have a stairs or an entrance from the main house to the basement, it changes some of your taxes as well (for the better).

  • I say we outlaw pop-ups.

Comments are closed.