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Green Homes

Building the Best Baltimore Rowhomes — and Neighborhoods

These narrow rowhomes were and remain affordable housing in Baltimore city. Note the star medallions at the 1st floor ceiling and roof framing heights. These are part of rod tension systems that structurally support the front and rear walls of the rowhomes.
Image Credit: TerraLogos
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Working with Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, green architectural firm TerraLogos develops a streamlined design and permit set process for 50 Baltimore rowhomes

At just around 1,000 square feet, existing rowhomes in Baltimore represent a true design challenge. Of course, any redesign or retrofit should be green and affordable.

Streamlining assessment, design, and permitting

“When you get a call to move 50 abandoned and/or foreclosed homes to occupancy in less than two years, you are both thankful and a little taken aback,” says Kim Schaefer, owner of . “To process dozens of homes on a compressed schedule, we made sure to listen to our client. From those conversations we created a process to deliver energy-efficient, healthy and affordable homes on time and within budget while promoting efficient construction of the rehabs.”

TerraLogos also developed four levels of renovation packages — from cosmetic through gut rehab — and provided custom design services for structures with special requirements such as ADA accessibility or five bedrooms (in a two-story row home!).

The TerraLogos Green Rowhouse Renovation Template

A key element of this process was using the TerraLogos Green Rowhouse Renovation Template©. Kim shares, “We improved our template, customizing each template plan for the existing conditions and designed the heating and cooling system for each home. After getting the initial call in October, 2010, we started design full-bore in December, and cranked out 22 house plans with full permit sets by February.”

Developed over the last 8 years, the TL Green Rowhouse Renovation Template© is a standardized permit plan set for the rehabilitation of typical, two or three story brick attached townhomes. The template includes a uniform site survey, existing conditions base plans, and designs that incorporate green building technology and advanced energy efficiency strategies. The Template was created for use by developers doing multiple renovations allowing for quality design and architectural services on a sliding fee scale.

Healthy Neighborhoods

Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake (HFHC) is working through under a federal (NSP2) HUD grant in both East Baltimore’s and neighborhoods. The Patterson Park neighborhood is adjacent to one of the oldest parks in Baltimore and McElderry Park is a neighborhood experiencing revival just east of the Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

Jen Wassmann is the site supervisor for HFHC. When I asked her about TerraLogos and their work on greening affordable housing in partnership with HFHC, here is what she had to say: “We have received great guidance and advice on energy savings and maintaining affordability from TerraLogos. But one of the stand-out aspects of our work with TerraLogos is that they are local; they live and work in the greater local Baltimore community and they are highly invested in our work on green affordable housing.”

135 North Decker

Originally built in 1912, this rowhome had (luckily) only been victim to a few failing DIY “improvements” by past owners. Utilizing the NSP2 grant money, HFHC purchased this foreclosed home and TerraLogos got to work on assessing its current condition.

Water leakage from the original skylight had damaged some of the existing ceilings, so TerraLogos designed a light monitor which floods the hallway with natural light to replace the leaking skylight. At 11’3” wide, this rowhome needed to make the most of every inch, so the kitchen was designed galley-style, with the sink located in a central island.

An open first-floor plan allows the living room, dining room and kitchen to flow together. Without walls and separation, light streams in from the opposing ends of the house during the day.

Two bedrooms fit on the second floor, one on each end of the house, providing expansive views and daylighting. The bathroom and laundry closet are nestled into the second-floor hallway. Both are equipped with low-flow fixtures.

The original floor plan wasted much of the second floor space, but by reorienting the bathroom along the length of the hallway, the design created more spacious bedrooms and added standard closet space.

The rear yard has potential, but is very small. Generally this type of rowhome yard is paved with concrete to curtail rat problems. HFHC installs new wood privacy fences and gates for access to the rear alley for trash, recycling, and service access. TerraLogos promotes container gardens, trash bin storage, and small outdoor play or eating areas for the backyard design.

Homeowners in these neighborhoods have access to the project and to alley gating programs which secure the alleys for shared open space and green plantings.

Lessons Learned

TerraLogos works continuously with both HFHC’s construction management and family services staff to better meet the needs of the structure and the occupants. Kim adds, “We need to provide better documentation on basement air sealing for the construction team and the families are pushing for 3+ bedroom designs.”

Another learning experience arose from efforts to address basement ceiling height. The basements in most of these homes are almost always really shy on the height side. HFHC started, as many developers of these rowhomes do, digging out the basements by hand to create more head room or a living space in the basement. "This has proved really expensive, and so now we pretty much leave the basements at their existing height. We do add a concrete slab and seal and insulate the rim joists to complete the high performance envelope. The basement space is used for just mechanicals and often laundry," relates Kim Schaefer.

TerraLogos staff has also learned a lot by participating in the at 2412 Fairmount Ave., putting into practice the very designs and specifications they developed. This home will be completed and occupied by this Christmas.

General Specs and Team

Location: Baltimore, MD
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 1
Living Space: 900
Cost: 88
Additional Notes: This cost includes the preferential pricing and product donations to which Habitat for Humanity projects have access. On this particular project (135 N. Decker), the volunteer labor associated with most HFH projects was not possible.

Architect: TerraLogos: ecoarchitecture Builder: Building Partner:


Foundation: Brick with concrete floor
Above-grade walls: Masonry with furred out 2x4s
Roof: Wood-framed low-slope with parapet


Windows: wood windows with low-e argon (U = 0.29)
Insulation: Blown-in cellulose
Air sealing: Closed-cell spray foam
Appliances: kitchen appliances

Water Efficiency

Toilet: American Standard Cadet 3 FloWise
Kitchen & Lav Faucets:


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