Hosts: Tom Kraeutler & Leslie Segrete
(NOTE: Timestamps below correspond to the running time of the downloadable audio file of this show. Text represents a professional transcriptionist's understanding of what was said. No guarantee of accuracy is expressed or implied. 'Ph' in parentheses indicates the phonetic or best guess of the actual spoken word.)
BEGIN HOUR 2 TEXT:
[audio timestamp: 0:025]
TOM: Coast to coast and floorboards to shingles, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I'm Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I'm Leslie Segrete.
TOM: A very special edition of the show today, coming to you from Brooklyn, New York; the site of the current This Old House project. The cast and crew of this groundbreaking television program have been renovating homes while you've watched for three decades.
LESLIE: And lucky us because today they are all here with us and they are going to share their tips, their tricks, their secrets and their stories.
TOM: Our next guest must have been in carpentry heaven on this project. Norm Abram is the master carpenter and longest cast member of This Old House. That's quite an honor and it's an honor for us to have you here today.
NORM: Hi, Tom and Leslie. Good to see you again.
TOM: So this was a really fun project. God, the woodwork in this house is amazing.
TOM: You must have been like a kid in a candy store.
NORM: Well, that's really what attracted me, certainly, to this project. And to walk into a house that is over a hundred years old and had been cut up into a rooming house, eight or nine units, and see some of this woodwork still intact, you know I just said, 'We got to do this project.'
LESLIE: Now you're dealing with so much woodwork. What did you do in an instance where things weren't in the greatest of conditions or perhaps not even reusable?
NORM: Well, I think the first thing you look at is you take an inventory of what's here and say, 'What can we do with this?' Yeah, there are pieces missing. There are pretty simple solutions to that. Mike did a lot of - Mike Streaman, our contractor, did a lot of that. He went back to his shop and fabricated little pieces to fill in. And then you take someone like John Thomas, the wood refinisher, and he blends it and who knows that that piece was replaced a hundred years after it originally went in. So you take the good pieces; say, 'What can be saved? What can't be saved? How do we handle it?' And I think the first thing they did was remove everything, evaluate it, set it aside and then, as the job progressed, we started to repurpose it.
LESLIE: And that's the example with the fretwork that's now a main feature in the living area. I mean is it worth it, in that situation, to move it to five feet and do the restoration for it?
NORM: Oh, definitely. I mean that piece was the most interesting piece of all in the house, I think - those very delicate spindles and everything that was in the fretwork; that it was still intact after all this time. I mean you can imagine, being a rooming house, that things can probably get pretty rowdy in a place like this.
You know, when you have carpenters that are skilled, like the guys on Mike's crew, it's pretty easy to understand how it went together. It's reverse process. You take it apart. The last thing that went on is the first thing that comes off. You can slide it out of place, protect it for a while and move it. And the move did two things: it preserved that piece, number one; but secondly, it created a better living area for the living room - it made it more symmetrical and I think it fits perfectly where it is. And you might not - people come into that house now and think it was always there.
TOM: I notice that some of the balusters were actually missing. Did you have to make some to look like they've been here for over a hundred years?
NORM: We were very lucky on that point because we went to a stair-building company, brought them a couple balusters and they showed us two completely different methods of replicating something like that. One is duplicating it with a very high-tech CNC machine and that was used on most of the spindles that we had to replace; there were about 50 pieces in total. And then we had these little, tiny spindles near the front door which were totally missing. And thanks to Mike Streaman who went knocking on doors - I mean this is how you find the pieces; he went ...
TOM: You actually have to go door to door to find ...
NORM: He went door to door and finally found a house that had an entry very similar to ours; talked to the owner and said, 'Gee, I notice you're missing a few spindles here. If I can take one, I'll get some made for you (Tom chuckles) because I really need something to copy.' So ... (Leslie chuckles)
TOM: (chuckling) So there was some sort of neighborly negotiation that went on.
NORM: Yeah, good, old-fashioned bartering. You know? And so he brought that to the same company and they were very delicate pieces. So part of it could be done with the CNC but the ends had to be done with hand tools because the pieces were too delicate. The computer-controlled machine might have broken the pieces after they had already done half the work.
TOM: We're talking to Norm Abram. He's the master carpenter on This Old House. And Norm, green home building - green building, green construction, being environmentally responsible - very hot today. I thought it was interesting that you guys, in much the same way as you explained with the balusters, have done a fair amount of reuse of material and sort of exchange of material. Tell me the story about the doors.
NORM: Well, you know we've been doing green things for a long time on This Old House and one of the easiest things to do to be green is to repurpose existing materials and here it was a no-brainer. I mean there were two doors in particular that were right where the kitchen cabinets sit now, the main portion of the kitchen where the stove and the cooktop is located, and they were for closets. And with the reconfiguration of that space, we created a powder room and another closet; sized the openings to match those doors and simply moved them to another location. They did need some work, in terms of refinishing, but that's what green is all about: don't throw it in the dumpster; find another place to use it. And if you can't find a place to use it, certainly hold onto it because somebody else might be able to use it.
TOM: Well, you could certainly, in a spot like this, knock on a few doors and see if you could give it to your neighbor.
NORM: Sure. Well, you know we did do some doors up on the second floor in the bathroom and I don't know if you might just give it to them. I mean I'd heard we were paying for doors that were found in dumpsters. (Tom and Leslie chuckle) So there's a little trading to be done, that's for sure.
LESLIE: Now, so much of the historical details of this home were preserved and restored. Is that generally the homeowner's request, to keep things intact, or all you all sort of in a collaborative effort saying, 'Hey, let's use this. Let's restore this and keep it the way it is'?
NORM: Sometimes it is a collaborative effort. I mean sometimes people want to completely change the space but we were very fortunate on this project and the homeowners, from day one, were intent on reusing and preserving as much of this woodwork as possible. So we didn't have to work very hard to convince them that that's what they should be doing, so it made our job a lot easier. But certainly, in other projects we've done, we would try to encourage them to reuse those materials if we could.
TOM: Well, the house is absolutely amazing. Norm, how many years has it been now on This Old House?
NORM: Well, coming up on 30.
TOM: Wow, you get the gold watch?
NORM: Well, I don't know. I'll wait. (Tom and Leslie chuckle) We'll wait 'til I get to 50.
TOM: We'll see what happens. Norm, always good to see you. Thanks so much for stopping by.
NORM: Thanks, Tom and Leslie.
TOM: Our pleasure.
LESLIE: You are listening to the Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Now we're seeing the finished product here but you can watch the progress of This Old House on your local PBS station, so make sure you check This Old House.com for your local listings.
TOM: And still to come this hour, design tips for old houses plus we're going to talk to the This Old House general contractor, Tom Silva. That's all coming up, next.
[audio timestamp: 0:07:23.7]
KEVIN: I'm Kevin O'Connor, host of This Old House. And old house means plenty of busy weekends maintaining it. Not sure where to start? Pick up the phone and call Tom and Leslie right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to the Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I'm Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I'm Leslie Segrete.
TOM: A very special treat for us and for our listeners today. We are focusing on old houses and getting expert advice from the Old House pros, the cast of This Old House. Now, no doubt you've seen an episode or two over the years because it's the longest-running home improvement makeover show on television.
LESLIE: And we are in the Brooklyn brownstone that has been completely renovated this season and the result is stunning. But you know there had to be some issues, which are typical to old houses, that needed to be addressed along the way and if you are the lucky owner of an old house, you know there are the things like structural issues, electrical issues, plumbing, heating; it really runs the gamut. So if you are an old house owner, we want to hear from you. Pick up the phone and give us a call at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
TOM: Well, there's one member of the This Old House team that they left behind up in Boston to sort of hold down the fort. He's joining us now by phone. It's Tom Silva, the general contractor on the This Old House team.
You've been doing this for like two decades but this particular project, in particular, was a major undertaking, wasn't it?
TOM SILVA: Well, you know what? You never really realize what you're going to get involved with when you're looking at a project like this, but I've been doing it long enough that I knew that this was a major undertaking. And there's a lot of work involved when you start opening up these buildings. You know, you've got all kinds of surprises and you're hoping for one thing and you get another and you've got to deal with that situation at the moment.
TOM: Now as you tore open these walls, what were some of the surprises that you discovered lying just underneath this beautiful skin?
TOM SILVA: Well, you saw some of the plaster work that definitely had to be repaired and restructured, basically, because it was lose in some cases and the detail of the plaster mouldings had to be repaired when some of the demo work gets involved and gets going along the way. We uncovered that beautiful fretwork that was removed and relocated and it's been there since the original part of the house, but there was a gentle act of love to basically move it - remove it, position it temporarily in another location and then put it where it is today. That was tricky. The other thing is when you start removing the old floors hoping to find the old, original wood floors and hoping that they're in good shape, unfortunately some of them were not in good shape and we had to skin over them with a veneer of floor about 3/8-inch, tongue-and-groove flooring, and it was a way to dress up the floor without picking up the level too high and it was a beautiful border job going around the perimeter. That's a lot of work and it's something that you're hoping that you can sand and finish but you've got to install a new floor instead.
LESLIE: Tom, a lot of this work that you're mentioning, I mean all of it came out so beautifully but I imagine the process is heavily detail-oriented and needs specialized and very experienced workers and everybody sang the praises of the general contractor, Michael Streaman, for the project. How was it working with him and how was the process finding him and sort of leading him to this project?
TOM SILVA: Well, Michael is a class act. He's been doing this kind of stuff for a long time and when you're doing a renovation or a restoration, the projects that we do, you need a contractor that knows what they're doing because there's a lot of tricks of the trade that you learn over time and you want someone that really cares what he's doing and puts his heart and soul into it and Michael was our guy and he did a great job. When you have a job like that and you're trying to find a contractor, you want to look for someone that specializes in that type of work. I mean if you're going to build a new house, you look for somebody that specializes in building new houses. If you want to renovate a house, then you look for somebody that specializes in renovations. It's a trick, it's a talent and you've got to find the right guy.
We were fortunate enough to find Michael by - the neighbor found him, actually. Michael was talking to a neighbor that had had Mike do some work for him, a similar project on his own brownstone, and he said that he was thrilled with his work; he did a great job; a very nice guy; did everything he said he was going to do; shows up when he's says he's going to show up and it was a very similar project to what the homeowners ...
TOM: Sounds like a lot of things in Brooklyn get done by talking to the neighbors. (chuckles)
TOM SILVA: Exactly, exactly.
TOM: You are listening to the Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com.
Tom, how about if we give our callers a chance to ask a question? Does that sound good?
TOM SILVA: Sounds good to me. Let's go with it.
TOM: Alright, if you've got an old house, pick up the phone, give us a call right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666-3974. Look at that; callers already lighting up the lines.
Leslie, who's first?
LESLIE: Alright, we've got Sherry in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey who's got a question about a porch. Sherry, welcome.
SHERRY: Hi, thanks for taking my call.
I have a house that I'm looking to buy. It looks like it's about a hundred years old and from what we hear from the realtor, about a hundred-year-old house, it's got a beautiful front porch and we don't see that on the newer houses that are around but it's sagging in the front. Is this a major structural problem?
TOM SILVA: Well, a sagging front porch is usually a sign that there are some structural problems. It could be a footing problem underneath the porch; usually starts with maybe a rotting post or a rotting footing or an insufficient footing. So you may have to do some excavation or looking around to find out if that is a problem. Also, you may want to look between the two supports to see if there's any rot or anything like that. It's really - you've got to open up or climb underneath and see what you can see that looks damaged and look for signs of rot.
TOM: Now Tom, with a rotted front porch, that doesn't necessarily mean that the interior structure is affected, does it? Isn't it typically just the other side of the foundation we have to worry about; the exterior side?
TOM SILVA: It's usually exterior side, unless there's some type of a problem with water leaking at the roof connection against the side wall; it could be going in there. But usually, when you have rot, it's usually on the outside or the exterior part of the building, yes.
TOM: Now, if you need to work on that structure underneath, how do you typically recommend supporting the roof? Because obviously, I guess you have to sort of build up some sort of bracing to carry that load.
TOM SILVA: Yep, you want to build, basically, depending on dimensions of the porch and all that, but you can usually take a couple of 2x8s or 2x6s, nail them together and make a diagonal support from up underneath the header beam and push it so it's like an angle; it's like an isosceles right triangle.
TOM SILVA: The outside leg of the triangle is this support and that allows you the clear span underneath to do the work that you need to work on.
LESLIE: And just the sheer pressure of the roof against that angled support? You don't need to do anything to that base of that support leg into the ground itself?
TOM SILVA: Well, that base of the leg - I mean I could get into it a lot - you have to put a platform down, like a couple of 2x12s. I like to make up another support of 2x12s and make like a ramp that you can - or a rail that you can bang your diagonal support into and that creates a footing and you drive that in. And you drive that in, that actually pushes the porch up at the same time.
TOM SILVA: Once you've got the support and the weight on the leg, then you can work away.
TOM: We're talking to Tom Silva, the general contractor on This Old House; joining us from the This Old House HQ in Boston. Tom, sorry you're not going to make the party later today. We're going to miss you, pal. (Leslie chuckles)
TOM SILVA: Aw, I miss the party but, let me tell you, I always miss a party. (Tom and Leslie chuckle) Seems like they always have it at the wrong time.
LESLIE: Well, we will make sure that we have a toast to you and all of the fantastic work that you've done on this Brooklyn house project.
Now, everybody keeps talking about this wrought iron staircase and it is truly a fabulous and fantastic feature and we know the homeowner sort of almost bought it on a whim and it needed a lot of extra work. How much did that impact the project itself?
TOM SILVA: Well, it's funny because the homeowners actually bought this online before they even owned the house; knowing that someday they were going to buy a place like they have and hoping that they could use it. And it's a lot of work to retrofit something that doesn't fit exactly right and when you're dealing with old buildings and old, used material, you have to modify them somewhat; so we then had to, basically, make the old piece fit the old house. And one thing about a staircase is the riser height has to be equal all the way up.
TOM: Yeah, that's right. You know, invariably, if I'm walking up or down a stair and I feel like I'm going to trip, it's always because something is wrong with the riser. Whenever you have an uneven stair, it really sort of messes up the - what you're used to lifting your leg.
LESLIE: Oh, absolutely.
TOM: We're talking to Tom Silva, the general contractor from This Old House and we are here in Brooklyn, New York at the final day of filming for the beautiful brownstone that they are completing during this season.
You know, there's a lot of folks out there that have really old homes that need to do some plaster patching. You know, pretty much all of us know about how to go to our hardware stores or home centers and pick up a bucket of spackle, but that's not necessarily the right material to use when it comes to plaster. How do you get the right mix?
TOM SILVA: Well, you've got to really know what you're doing when you're mixing up plaster. Lots of time when you're patching (ph) with the old, horsehair plaster - it's a sand and a lime mix and the hair and all the contents that go into it - it's a specialty and it really is an art. And then repairing these walls and bringing them back to the plaster lath, fastening them back on; there's a trick to doing that, also. There's a company that we use - and I actually did it on one of our projects where we actually drilled holes into the old plaster and injected this liquid, which was a glue that went in behind the plaster - literally in behind the plaster - in front of the lath and then you take these big, plastic rings, screw them to the lath. It pulls the plaster back to the wall. You wait 24 hours, unscrew them and your wall is back tight to the lath.
TOM: So that's a way to use new technology to repair some really old walls.
Tom Silva, general contractor on This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
TOM SILVA: My pleasure.
TOM: Well, you know, if there's one thing that old houses have in common, Leslie, it's personality (Leslie chuckles); you know the squeaks, the creaks, the doors that mysteriously open. It could be a restless spirit but it's more likely that it's just some settling and some wear and some tear.
LESLIE: Up next, we're going to help you figure out how to quiet those things that go bump in the night.
[audio timestamp: 0:19:00.2]
ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Therma-Tru Doors, the nation's leading manufacturer of fiberglass entry and patio door systems. Therma-Tru Doors are Energy Star-qualified and provide up to five times the insulation of a wood door. To learn more, visit Therma-Tru.com. Now, here are Tom and Leslie.
TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show where home solutions live. I'm Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I'm Leslie Segrete.
TOM: Well, from This Old House to your old house, if you've got one you know they can be pretty noisy. From floor squeaks to door creaks, you've heard it all.
LESLIE: Yeah, you know there are quick fixes to these two common old house noises, the first being squeaky floors, which are often caused by boards just rubbing together or even by a lose nail moving up and down. To eliminate the noise, you have to eliminate that movement and if a floor is carpeted you can actually remove the carpet and then drive a hardened drywall screw into that noisy board.
TOM: Absolutely. But if pulling up the carpet is too big a project, then there is a short-term fix that you can do without removing the carpet and that is that you should locate the floor joist under the carpet - and you can use a stud finder to do that; then you can actually pound a couple of galvanized finish nails right through the carpet. I know you're saying, 'Oh, my God, I'm going to ruin the carpet.' No, you won't because when you're done you can pull the carpet up through the head of the nail, brush it with your hand and it will disappear. How do I know this? Because I did it for years when I was repairing newer homes. I know that it will work in your home.
LESLIE: Yeah, and that's a great trick of the trade. But you need to remember, especially if you have an old house like the one we're in today, having a few squeaks seldom means that there's any sort of serious problem. It's just another part of the personality of your home - or the charm, as I like to call it.
TOM: And speaking of personality, the old house that we're in just happens to be the star of the current season of This Old House on PBS. It's been a six-month process but it's done and it looks fantastic.
LESLIE: Yeah, and you can catch current episodes on your local PBS station, so check out This Old House.com for the listing information. Now, the producers tell us that viewers really love to see the finishing touches go up in the house; things like tile and cabinetry. So our next guest was in charge of the icing on the cake, so to speak.
TOM: Joining now is the newest member of the This Old House team, Carole Freehauf, Design Correspondent.
TOM: So how did you get started with these guys?
CAROLE: Well, we got started, actually, about six months ago and I've been working with the team. I was introduced on the last project, the Weston Project, and had an opportunity to sort of get in at the tail end of that project. And since, I've been very, very involved in the Brooklyn project - helping the homeowner select materials, designing the kitchens and helping them with material selection for the bathrooms and the rental kitchens as well; so acting as more of a design consultant and then hands-on where needed.
LESLIE: For their main kitchen, you've chosen a very soothing, sort of greenish-gray for the cabinetry and the tiles and it is absolutely stunning and I love how you've gone with a sort of soft, calming color. But we have so many listeners to The Money Pit who want to go with color but are afraid and don't really know how to start. So how do you sort of guide someone into the color-selection process?
CAROLE: Well, color is such a personal decision but I think what's really important, when you're thinking about any area of your house where it's a major investment - i.e. a kitchen or a bath where cabinetry is being put in and hopefully it's going to have lasting value - you want to think about what colors are going to have the most longevity; no only for your own aesthetic but, if you do plan to resale, color is a really important decision. So if you're choosing painted cabinetry and you want to go beyond a generic white, there are a lot of options because whites, as you know, there are vast choices. So there's no reason why you have to settle for a stark, white kitchen.
TOM: We're talking to Carole Freehauf. She's the design correspondent for This Old House and was intimately involved in the Brooklyn project.
Carole, for folks that are thinking about tackling a decorating project, you start with four white walls. You talked about building a pallet of color one item at a time. How do you tell people to get started; to get started with a favorite piece of furniture, a favorite fabric, build from that? What's the best way to really get going?
CAROLE: Thinking about sources of inspiration. They can come from anywhere. They might come from nature. They might come from your closet. It's a matter of finding items - and they can be everyday items - they usually have the most meaning - that have just - that they resonate on some level with you emotionally. And then it's an editing process, figuring out what you love about those objects, and then using that as your source of inspiration.
TOM: You know, New York is a place where a lot of us have very, very small spaces. Any tips for using d