The townhouse - sometimes called a row house or row home, and regionally referred to as a terrace house or a brownstone - is growing in popularity, and for good reason. With a spotlight on sustainability, townhouses just might be the forward-thinking approach to progressive residency.
The title of "townhouse" actually describes a loosely-defined set of building characteristics. Essentially, three or more units sharing only side walls, with multiple floors, to create a tall space on a small lot. Unlike an apartment or condo, ownership of a townhouse includes ownership of the land beneath it.
Why are townhouses considered to be a green choice of house? Well, because they're built up instead of out, making them inherently efficient. The units share walls, so they each require fewer resources for construction, and less energy to maintain, as compared to single family homes. The smaller footprint means more people can fit into the same city block, which of course prevents sprawl. It also means that residents can live close to the center of the city, enjoying all of the amenities that a metropolis offers.
So if you're considering townhouse living - and I really think that you should - here are a few things to keep in mind in order to maximize the experience:
1. HOA: Is it worth the cost? Most town house developments have a Home Owner's Association, which is an organization that maintains the property and shared resources (such as roof, paint, and landscaping). This can be a huge benefit, since you won't ever have to worry about that stuff yourself, or it can be a huge bummer, if their rules are super restrictive. It can also be expensive, with monthly dues ranging in price from under a hundred to nearing a thousand dollars. However some townhomes, like the one I live in, have no HOA. So make sure that you understand what you're getting into, what it covers, and how that factors into your monthly expenses.
2. Go for an end unit. A home on the end of the row will offer more privacy, more peace and quiet, and potentially more land. I live in an end unit and I love the extra side yard, which we've turned into a chicken run for our rescued hens. End units also tend to have a higher resale value.
3. Look for new construction. When you're buying a detached single family home, there's nothing quite as charming as a quaint little vintage bungalow. But with row houses it's a bit different, and new construction is best. This will help to ensure energy efficiency, proper building materials, and perhaps most importantly, super-insulation. My home was built in 1990, and it's very rare that I ever hear my neighbors.
4. Look for a little land. The plot itself will vary drastically from location to location, so make sure you shop around. Some row houses have no surrounding land at all; others have a small patio on the ground floor and a balcony over the garage. Ours came complete with a long skinny yard that shadows the tall skinny house. They're all different, so look for the one that best suits your needs.
5. Look for a lot of light. One drawback of townhouses, as opposed to single family homes, is that shared walls make for fewer windows. Most townhomes are tubes which feature windows at the front and back but not along the sides. This can make for some pretty dark spaces, so pay attention to how the light fills a room. Make sure that the existing windows are well positioned. Skylights on the top floor are a big bonus!
6. Don't give up on a garden. Just because you've slashed your outside space doesn't mean you have to go without. As long as you've got a patio or balcony, you can still grow a lot. Read up on container gardening, and plan an urban "box farm"!
7. Befriend your fellow residents. It's in your own interest to make nice with your neighbors. You're sharing much more than a backyard fence, after all, and you'll want to be on their good side if something ever goes down. Dog barking all day long? Ugly, unkempt landscaping? It's always better to establish a relationship before you lodge a complaint.