Ricky Can

A Look At Rowhomes

A Look At Rowhomes Title Graphic
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Cape Cod homes are a cozy and popular style that has been relevant since the 17th century. The homes saw a revival in the 1920s till the end of WWII as soldiers in need of affordable housing returned home from war. The modest size makes it ideal for small families or those wanting the flexibility to add additional space. Meant to withstand Cape Cod winters, these homes were both practical and well-liked among the North’s settlers.

But what is a rowhome?

American rowhomes, composed of brick and timber, usually have two or three stories, but can have as many as four.  The shared walls, or party walls, are made up of four inches making up two rows of bricks separating the two units. Bricks will make up a lot of the main part of the building as opposed to the timber beams, due to their ability to bear weight better. The timber beams span the entire width of the building and sit in small pockets on the brick. The roof also sits on the cross beams, which shifts the weight of the roof into the side walls. Most notably, rowhomes have great depth but minimal width, making them practical and common practice for populated areas with little room.  Rowhomes everywhere are seen as promising investments that showcase different architectural styles and interpretations, spanning decades.


The unique layout of the house provides exciting possibilities and troublesome hurdles like any other home. Rowhomes commonly reside in areas with high walkability to public transportation, shops, restaurants, and other businesses. Being close to all these things make the house popular for just about anyone, whether a small family, young couple or a business professional.

Many of these homes have a history that dates back fifty or more years, depending on the area! The aesthetic, location, and prospects of old or historical structures draws-in tenants and contractors alike. Renovated and updated rowhomes are sound investments and typically don’t stay on the market long. This is especially relevant in places like Washington D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia where population increases over the years have made homes and rental properties highly sought after.

While shared walls with neighbors may turn-off those who are particular about their privacy, it’s about the only thing you will share! There won’t be tenants stomping above you, or loudly walking past you in a public hallway, stairwell, or doorway. Those familiar with the struggles of apartment living or renting a room know that having a shared wall or two is a compromise they’re willing to make.

If you want to renovate a rowhome, there are a few ways to make the space more convenient and reflective of your needs and style. One of the most common concepts by owners is to opt for an open floor plan or something resembling it. This creates the feeling of larger spaces and allows more light to come in. Another project for those looking to update is changing the exterior walls! Updating the exterior of the home can accentuate adored features or remove unwanted or damaged ones. For interior renovations, look specifically at what others have done with the space and consult with a professional. A popular idea is star bolts, which are commonly found in rowhome renovations. Star bolts reinforce exterior walls by connecting them to joists in the floor and ceiling.


Due to their location and size, rowhomes are expensive investments, even before renovations or updates. The fact that you’ll have shared walls (called ‘party walls’) on at least one side with neighbors can be a turn-off for some.

In addition to being in close proximity to your neighbors, the shape and structure of the homes can be challenging to renovate. Especially adding an addition. Some renovations and additions aren’t a cut and dry ‘yes’ or ‘no’. With a number of variables impacting your ability to expand, including zoning laws and codes, costs, current height, and what you intend to use the property for. For example, Washington D.C. changed the rules in 2015 to promote usage by single families with children and discourage the property’s use for multi-unit apartments. The city also applied regulations that certain single-family homes in specific parts of D.C. couldn’t create additional levels if said additions would make the building taller than 35 feet.

With the shape of the house, natural light can be sparse. With most of the light coming in from the front or back of the house. Another challenge is posed by the stairs. Many staircases are narrow, steep inclines to the second floor, and open onto equally narrow pathways. Some staircases will be curved, some may have a landing or two. This isn’t a huge deal, but if you intend to make a rowhome ADA compliant, the stairs and the tight layout will prove difficult.

Historically, homes were heated in a few different ways. At first, open fireplaces were the common method. This then changed to radiators, which used hot steam from a coal or oil boiler in the basement. But now with central air and heating from HVAC systems being the standard, installing and fitting a system into the limited space can be costly and frustrating.  Some rowhomes have a revised option, a “mini duct”, which is a small pipe fitted into existing walls that runs air through the home.

Rowhomes are resilient and adaptable structures with a vibrant history and promising future. Whether they were built to fit royalty or the working class, rowhomes have been home to people from all walks of life for decades and even centuries! Now residents and remodelers are adding a new chapter to the home’s history as they repurpose it to fit current trends and needs, like the generations before them.

When building or renovating a home, it’s essential to keep in mind what functionality you and your family need. Think practically and honestly about what you need out of a home, not just what looks good on HGTV. Whether you’re taking on a whole home remodel or looking to build your own, look no further than Ricky Can Build It! Call today to get started!