In a program that is expected to continue through most of this year, the townhouses are being given a new look, which TownLine manager Bette K. Fritz describes as "country contemporary."
The original townhouses, built in a chunky style with flat-topped mansard roofs and cedar shingles that turned black over the years, are getting new gable-style roofs and dormers that give a vertical sweep and Victorian touch to the exteriors, which are being refinished with bright vinyl siding. The blackened cedar is being scraped and the new roofs covered with fiberglass- based asphalt shingles. Exterior wood trim is being capped with aluminum.
In effect, the old houses are being given new outer shells with a widely different style. About one-third of the units have been transformed so far.
One factor behind the renovation is the growing value of rental properties, fueled by increased consumer demand for rental apartments and a shortage of rental construction in the Philadephia area in recent years.
"Rentals are hot right now in the real estate cycle," said Sue Ellen Klein of Klein Realty Co. of Philadelphia, which acquired TownLine in 1976 and owns about 2,000 rental units in the Philadelphia area. "The corporate influx has increased the demand."
TownLine is close to both Blue Bell and Plymouth Meeting, which have been centers of intensive office development in the last few years, and many TownLine residents are young professionals employed in the area.
However, Klein said the rehabbing was undertaken mainly because the flat roofs developed leaks and the original insulation and sealing of the houses didn't meet acceptable standards for energy efficiency.
"There was air infiltration and roofs were leaking," Klein said. "We thought that while we were creating a job of this magnitude, we might as well change the appearance and make TownLine more aesthetically pleasing. It would have been a lot easier to just fix the roofs."
The TownLine clubhouse is also being rehabbed to match the new housing style.
Gus C. Straub Jr., project coordinator for Klein Realty, said the energy improvements include installing rigid-foam insulation with R-30 insulating capacity in the walls, well beyond the R-19 minimum recommended for walls in this area. The new roofs were given R-19 insulation and the existing roof insulation was left in place, giving a total roof insulation that Straub said is beyond the R-30 recommended for this area.
Hexagon Associates Ltd. of Wyncote, architect for the project, estimated energy savings in the rehabbed units will amount to 30 to 40 percent. The townhouses are equipped with electric resistance furnaces, a relatively costly system of home heating, and with electric air conditioning. All units are equipped with separate electric meters and tenants pay for their own utilities.
Ann Sylvia, a resident of the first group of buildings to be rehabbed, said her need for air conditioning and heating had dropped dramatically since the work on her home was completed in August. "We were down to literally nothing for heat from September to November," she said. She estimated that she was using 30 to 35 percent less electricity for heating and air conditioning than before the rehabilitation. "Besides that, they look beautiful," Sylvia said of the townhouses. "It's a 100 percent improvement."
Straub said several other tenants in rehabbed residences have reported sharp reductions in heating costs.
Rents for the TownLine units, all of which have two levels and separate entrances, begin at $510 for a one-bedroom, one-bath unit that has not yet been rehabbed and climb to $685 for a three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath home. Once any unit is rehabbed, $25 is added to the rent.
"The demand seems to be for completed units," said Fritz, who estimated TownLine vacancies at about 4 percent or 5 percent. "The project has sparked a lot of interest and created a lot of prospective residents."
Straub, who is overseeing the rehab work for Klein Realty, says the question he hears most frequently from tenants is: "When are they going to do my building?"