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#StopThePop: Why and What’s Next

Let’s break down the word “ugly.” In response to our #StopThePop campaign—which addresses the onslaught of developers threatening Chicago’s iconic bungalows by tearing off the entire upstairs levels and replacing them with full second stories in lieu of sensible additions—many supporters have taken to calling these “pop top” additions ugly. While we don’t support the bashing that occurs on social media, this outrage presents a good opportunity for education. They’re not wrong. In fact, pop tops are ugly in more ways than you might think:

“Ugly” to quality

Pop tops are built with inferior, short-lived materials. The original wood in bungalows is “old growth wood,” which has a tight grain that makes it strong, long lasting, and resistant to Chicago’s extreme climate. Old growth wood doesn’t exist anymore. New construction uses “fast growth wood” which is inferior in quality and will deteriorate much more quickly.

“Ugly” to property values

An addition that is lower quality than the rest of the house can pull down the value. The lower quality materials used to construct a pop top can depreciate the value of an otherwise high-quality bungalow. At first, this may not be apparent as the added square footage seems to increase the home value. But when it comes time to sell years down the line, the addition will have poorly aged. Long-term planning is important.

“Ugly” to utility bills

Old buildings can be made just as energy efficient as new construction. In fact, the unnecessary overhead space in pop tops means more energy and money is needed for heating and cooling. The best way to keep a bungalow’s energy usage and costs down is to air seal and insulate the attic, for which HCBA offers a grant to eligible members.

“Ugly” to the middle class

When developers flip bungalows for a major profit, they are taking away solidly built, affordable housing options from middle class home buyers. Bungalows began as affordable homes for the rising middle class during the early 1900’s, and to this day, they continue to fill that need for Chicago. But developers are profiting from purchasing historic bungalows, popping the tops, and flipping them for a major profit while middle class home buyers miss out on a great home.

And yes, “ugly” to architecture and streetscapes

Pop tops visually overwhelm the house and stick out in a bungalow row. Setting an addition about 20 feet back from the front of the house is a win-win alternative to pop tops. Homeowners have spacious upstairs rooms and a beautiful iconic bungalow, while the view of the block remains cohesive and attractive—attractive to visitors, neighbors, and prospective neighbors.

Most importantly, we know the question on everyone’s minds, and here is the answer: Yes, you can add full spacious rooms upstairs without popping the top.

Because there are sensible alternatives, we believe pop tops and all of their consequences are preventable. The goal of this campaign is to raise awareness about and offer educational materials on those sensible alternatives.

To that end, here are some upcoming resources to look out for:

  • Stop The Pop Architect Panel seminars, coming to one South side and one North side location September 2016.

  • Architect designs for sensible additions, complete with cost estimates, coming 2017. We’re working with AIA Chicago to establish a program that will employ architects and contractors to supply designs and cost estimates for alternatives to pop tops. We want to do this right in order to provide the best resource possible, so we need to respect the design and appraisal process… and the time it takes!

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