View From the Hills
Advice for Home Repair
by Doug Boulter
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The following articles appeared in the Virginia Hills Echo starting in 1992. Virginia Hills is a community in Northern Virginia's Fairfax County near Washington, DC whose homes were built between 1951 and 1956. The houses are in many ways the typical 1950s rambler. The early houses were slab-on-grade, and consisted of a kitchen, living room, three bedrooms, and a bath in about 900 square feet on a single level. Subsequent homes were built with basements. As the level ground in the neighborhood was exhausted, the builder built on the slopes, and the final groups of homes have either walk-out basements or have the front door in the lower level. The basement or lower level was left unfinished in all cases.
The earliest houses in Virginia Hills were sided with the typical asbestos siding of the time. Most of the homes, however, have brick facades with only the gable ends finished with siding. Construction consists of typical 2x4 framing with let-in bracing, although many of the interior walls are 2x3. The roof is supported by bolt-together trusses. Foundations/basement walls were built with concrete block, and many houses have suffered foundation problems due to the presence of marine clay in much of the neighborhood.
Plumbing supply is copper pipe, and DWV is galvanized and cast iron. Black iron supplies natural gas to the house. The original electrical service was 100 amp, and the wiring is copper AWG 14 with ground. The ground wire was sized two sizes smaller (AWG 18) as was typical for that time. Heating is gas-fired forced air.
Interior construction is average to low-end except for the 3/4" oak hardwood flooring. Exterior walls were not insulated, and the standard wall finish was drywall nailed to the studs. Attic insulation was rock wool at about R-13. Doors were initially panel doors, but later construction used hollow core interior doors exclusively. Windows were single pane steel casements. Baseboard and door casing is low-end with minimal profile.
Over the last 50 years, most of the homes in Virginia Hills have been improved, altered, and remodeled in many ways. I wrote (and continue to write) the following articles to help residents of Virginia Hills understand how they could maintain and upgrade their homes, either by doing the work themselves or contracting to have the work done. People have sought these articles out on the internet since we've put them there in the late 1990s. I hope you find them useful as well.
All articles are copyrighted by Doug Boulter and may not be reprinted without permission.
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