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  1. #1
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    Default Pop Top Inspection

    I got a call for an inspection last week on a house that was described as a 2-story built in 1956 with a stone foundation. I told the client that based on the stone foundation and the neighborhood where the house is located I would guess the house was actually built in the 1920s or earlier. (Houses in that neighborhood were built in the 1890s through the 1920s.)

    My first impression of the house was that it was a very well-preserved 100-year-old two-story house. The roof on the front had a steep pitch and the roof at the rear (over the upper level rooms) had a very low pitch. But the stairs to the upper level just did not seem to fit in for a house of that era.

    As I got further into the house the clues seemed to point to the fact that the upper level was not original. Yes, most of the finishes were "period" but several things were not. The giant bathtub and very cool " Leonard Model B10 Thermostat Mixing Valve" (Patented 1923) fit in nicely with the period radiators, interior trim, doors and hardware, leaded glass transom windows, stained glass window overlooking the stairs, and light fixtures. But the modern double-pane double-hung windows were in sharp contrast to the single-pane single-hung windows with sash cords found on the main level.

    As I looked closer I noticed the upper level finishes did not match the main level finishes. The upper level was all drywall; the lower level was mostly plaster. The doors and hardware were different (some of the upper level hardware was reproduction). The radiators were different styles. The wood floors were modern. The main level had an old masonry fireplace; the upper level had a modern pre-fab fireplace.

    I popped my head in the very tiny attic and saw modern rafters (nominal size), modern hangers, modern plywood roof decking, modern batt insulation, etc. In the basement and crawlspace the floor system and exterior walls have been shored and reinforced (most work done correctly, some not). Deteriorating unreinforced concrete placed on the inside of the stone foundation appeared to be circa 1920s.

    When I laid all the evidence out and looked at the big picture I concluded that the building started out as a single-story house built somewhere between 1900 and the 1920s. Sometime around the mids '80s or later the rear roof was removed and reframed to accomdate the addition of rooms at the upper level (the former attic). This is what I call a "Pop Top". The original structure was modified to accomodate the additional loads of the upper level.

    This proved to be a very interesting inspection. I was impressed at how someone took a common, small, old house and converted it into a very nice, highly desireable office building. Sure, I found a long list of problems that are common for a house of this age (structural, electrical, plumbing, etc.) but my overall impression of this property was good.

    Below are some pics of the property. You can see the original roofline on either side of the "pop top".

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    The boiler was patented in 1904. The sink in the basement is made of soapstone and had a nameplate that read "Alberene Stone". (Unfortunately the stone sink was cracked and leaks.)

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  3. #3
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Cool cool place.

    Have you ever moved one of those sinks? I did. Once. OMG! The pain.

    The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it's unfamiliar territory.
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  4. #4
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Abe Lincoln would have been comfortable in this huge tub in the upper level bathroom. It measured 77" long, 33" wide, 19 1/2" deep and was 30" high. The Leonard Model B10 Thermostat Mixing Valve was patented Dec. 11, 1923 and actually works. This was all obviously salvaged out of a house and put back to use in this "pop top" conversion.

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  5. #5
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Breedlove View Post
    Abe Lincoln would have been comfortable in this huge tub in the upper level bathroom.
    Bruce,

    You forgot one very important thingy (technical term) ...

    Old Abe would have had one huge headache if he used that tub.

    NO WAY is there anywhere near enough headroom over the head of that tub.

    Can you say SMACKAROO?

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  6. #6
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Abe already had a heck of a headache as I recall.

    Good point, though. This bathroom was originally attic space so a bump on the head getting in and out of the tub is a small price to pay for having a nice, useable space.

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  7. #7
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Bruce, Yes it's nice to see that someone occasionally puts as much effort into a renovation as we generally put into our inspections. Looks like a craftsman where the pitch was raised to take the dormer out of play. Nice!


  8. #8
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Bruce,

    Before you call that a "bathroom" and comment about too much in it, review this section in the IRC:
    - SECTION R305
    - - CEILING HEIGHT
    - - - R305.1 Minimum height. Habitable rooms, hallways, corridors, bathrooms, toilet rooms, laundry rooms and basements shall have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet (2134 mm). The required height shall be measured from the finish floor to the lowest projection from the ceiling.
    And this Exception:
    - - - - 4. Bathrooms shall have a minimum ceiling height of 6 feet 8 inches (2036 mm) over the fixture and at the front clearance area for fixtures as shown in Figure R307.1. A shower or tub equipped with a showerhead
    shall have a minimum ceiling height of 6 feet 8 inches (2036 mm) above a minimum area 30 inches (762 mm) by 30 inches (762 mm) at the showerhead.


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  9. #9
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    I don't know if you see a lot of these, sound like you may not. When you see this, look closely for ridge and/or decking sag or other evidence of roof problems, at least around here they usually rotate the existing rafters upwards and place an exterior wall below, but don't provided sufficient (if any) additional support to the radically modified room structure, for example the joists may now be undersized for the lower pitch, collar ties may have been removed, etc.

    Last edited by Michael Thomas; 05-30-2007 at 08:14 AM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Jerry,

    I don't think the IRC would apply here. The zoning was changed to Commercial when the house was converted to office space.

    Michael,

    The rear rafters are new. (See pic in original post.). I did not see any ridge or rafter sagging. There were a few roof leaks though (verified with infrared camera). Open seams. Improper flashing at ridge. Improperly flashed skylight. Improperly flashed plumbing vent.

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  11. #11
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Bruce,

    The building code does not care what it is zoned as, it cares what it is built as.

    If it is built as, being used as, a single family dwelling, then the IRC should apply.

    But, if it is built as, being used as, something else ...

    From the IBC.
    - 1208.2 Minimum ceiling heights.
    Occupiable spaces, habitable spaces and corridors shall have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet 6 inches (2286 mm). Bathrooms, toilet rooms, kitchens, storage rooms and laundry rooms shall be permitted to have a ceiling height of not less than 7 feet (2134 mm).

    From your photo, though, I suspect the IRC would apply.




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  12. #12
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    No argument from me. As usual, I defer to you.

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  13. #13
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Bruce,

    What I was pointing out was, if they used the IBC instead of the IRC, they have to have 7 feet ceiling in the bathroom instead of 6 feet 8 inches over the fixtures.

    It is to their advantage to use the IRC.

    Either way, though, I would be careful about referring to that bathroom as a "bathroom", once you eliminate the tub area with the low sloping ceiling, you 'might have' a half bath, depending on other conditions.

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  14. #14
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Jerry,

    The local building code was based on the UBC when this conversion was made. Now it is based on the IRC.

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  15. #15
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Breedlove View Post
    The local building code was based on the UBC when this conversion was made.
    What are/were the UBC code requirements for ceiling heights in bathrooms and/or over fixtures?

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  16. #16
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    I don't know off the top of my head. I'm sure I could look it up in my old code books but, like most home inspectors, I don't inspect for code compliance so it is not a huge concern for me.

    Should it be? I sure would hate to have to inspect for code compliance, especially for codes that have changed throughout the years.

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  17. #17
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    I say screw it. Let them know what the ceiling should be and move on. That's one cool bath and I sure hope nobody messes with it. Did you get pictures of the rest of it?
    I'm usually pretty good at dating appliances and fixtures, but that tub has me stumped. I'll let you know if I find out any more about it.

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  18. #18
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Breedlove View Post
    I don't know off the top of my head. I'm sure I could look it up in my old code books but, like most home inspectors, I don't inspect for code compliance so it is not a huge concern for me.

    Should it be? I sure would hate to have to inspect for code compliance, especially for codes that have changed throughout the years.
    This is the way I always looked at it:

    - Home inspectors are learning more all the time.

    - That leads to clients expecting more all the time.

    - That leads to home inspectors delivering more all the time.

    - In 5 years when those people sell, is it reasonable to except that some home inspector may come along and say 'By the way, that room is not a "bathroom", and your house does not have as many "living square feet" as it says because all those low ceiling areas cannot be counted as living space, blah, blah, blah.'

    - In 5 years plus 1 day, you get a call from your client "WHY TO HECK DIDN'T YOU TELL ME blah, blah, blah NOW IT'S GOING TO COST ME an arm and two legs to sell this dog of a place because it isn't as big is you told me it was, and I can't use that bathroom you called "real nice work, very pretty and well done" - *I* DEMAND *YOU* PAY ME for my loss, blah, blah, blah."

    I know, because I used to try to set the top of the learning and advancing curve, home inspections ARE improving ... continuously.

    Would you tell your client that that bedroom in the dark basement with no window or door is not really a bedroom because there is no natural light, no natural ventilation, and no emergency egress out? Of course you would. Would that have been reported 15 years ago? Probably not, HIs were not thinking like that then.

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  19. #19
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    This is the way I always looked at it:

    - Home inspectors are learning more all the time.

    - That leads to clients expecting more all the time.

    - That leads to home inspectors delivering more all the time.
    I absolutely agree.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    - In 5 years plus 1 day, you get a call from your client "WHY TO HECK DIDN'T YOU TELL ME blah, blah, blah NOW IT'S GOING TO COST ME an arm and two legs to sell this dog of a place because it isn't as big is you told me it was, and I can't use that bathroom you called "real nice work, very pretty and well done" - *I* DEMAND *YOU* PAY ME for my loss, blah, blah, blah."
    But I did not tell the client how many square feet the place has. (That's the job of the RE agent and appraiser.)

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  20. #20
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Breedlove View Post
    But I did not tell the client how many square feet the place has. (That's the job of the RE agent and appraiser.)

    But you did, when you left all low ceiling areas 'included in the living space', such as that bathroom.

    You may not have said 'This house has 2,400 sf, but you also did not say 'These area are NOT considered habitable spaces because the low ceiling heights make them less than useless, I recommend you start checking all areas like this and see what you are paying for that you are not getting.' I addressed issues like that whenever I saw them - my client was paying me to look out for them and tell them what I found and saw, and I found and saw that.

    That would be like finding a 'bonus room' with a 6 foot ceiling which is being used as a child's bedroom - sure it works for them, but it is not a legal or right bedroom, not pointing that out to your client is doing them a disservice. One that could come back to haunt you when they sell and their buyers inspector says 'This room is not allowed to be a "bedroom", how many bedrooms did you say this house had?'

    All of a sudden, the house is worth less, could be a lot less, and your client (who is now the seller) is asking you why ... why didn't you advise him of that?

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  21. #21
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    Default Re: Pop Top Inspection

    Quote Originally Posted by Thom Walker View Post
    Cool cool place.

    Have you ever moved one of those sinks? I did. Once. OMG! The pain.
    As bad as a cast iron tub? Because that about broke my back!


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