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: And The Money Pit is on the road this week. We’re coming to you from Belmont, Massachusetts, where we are helping the cast and crew of This Old House wrap up a very successful season which is, in fact, Season 36. Wow.
You know, TOH is the original home improvement show and we are so pleased to be back in Boston with all of our pals to help them celebrate.
LESLIE: Yeah, that’s right. And this season featured an old Victorian that needed to be brought back to life after being stripped of a lot of its original details.
TOM: The project included adding a front porch – very Victorian – a mud room and completely renovating the home’s kitchen. Here to give us an overview is This Old House host Kevin O’Connor.
KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be back.
TOM: So, Season 36. Amazing.
KEVIN: Crazy, right? I know.
TOM: What keeps the viewers coming back?
KEVIN: Well, certainly not me. Because I wasn’t there for the first 20-some-odd years. So, what keeps people coming back, I think, is authenticity and a high level of trust. The guys that I work with – Norm, Roger, Richard, Tommy – these guys are the real deal. They do it for themselves, they do it for television. They’ve always got a project going. And when folks tune in, they know that they’ve got guys who do this for a living.
LESLIE: And they could not be nicer gentlemen.
KEVIN: Well, they pick on me a little bit.
LESLIE: They’re allowed.
KEVIN: But yeah, it’s alright, Tom.
TOM: And the genuineness cannot be reproduced. For example, behind-the-scene story. We’re here in the third floor of the Belmont house. We showed up, third floor is very warm, air conditioning is not working. Who jumps into action to fix it? Richard Trethewey.
KEVIN: As he should, right? Because …
LESLIE: I saw him come out of a crawlspace in a closet, covered in insulation.
KEVIN: That’s where we keep him.
LESLIE: What’s happening?
KEVIN: No, we keep him back there and we feed him twice a day.
But that’s the point, right? So that’s what Richard does when he’s not here filming the television show. He’s out running his heating-and-cooling business, he’s repping these products, he’s out there designing sophisticated systems. So why wouldn’t he be the guy to come in here and tune up the system for you? That’s what they do every day.
TOM: Here we are, Season 36. Belmont, Massachusetts. Beautiful Victorian home. Didn’t look like this when you started. Set up the story for us.
KEVIN: So, the house was built in 1895. It was originally a beautiful Victorian. And as the story goes, the gentleman who lived here, when his second wife showed up from New York, she was a little saddened to see that it was a Vic. She was actually hoping for a Colonial.
KEVIN: And she set about starting to take away some of those details. So if you could imagine a front porch that wrapped across the front and down the side, she’s like, “That’s got to go.”
LESLIE: She’s nuts. She needs to go.
KEVIN: Well, she ran the show. So, this house, over multiple owners and over 100 years, started to lose some of its Victorian charm.
TOM: So it was stripped of these details over a 100-year period of time. And you’ve got – basically, what you were left with was essentially a shell that didn’t look anything like it would have looked when it was first constructed.
KEVIN: It was missing a lot of the great charm that was there originally. It did have some good bones and it definitely read as a Victorian – a shingle-style Victorian. But the most important part is that we got some new homeowners and they said, “We not only love what’s left but we want to bring back all that Victorian charm that used to be here.” And that’s a lot of work. I mean that’s a big effort for a big, old house like this. But that’s what they called us up and asked us to do.
And so this was a real restoration. Sometimes, people think we’re into historic preservation.
KEVIN: A lot of times we’re just doing renovations. This, however, was a true restoration.
TOM: Now, does the team have to research as many records as are available on this original building, to get a sense as to what it was when it was first constructed?
KEVIN: Absolutely. Because that porch that used to be on the front of the house was long gone. And our homeowner said, “I’d really love to bring it back the way it used to be.”
And so, into the records they went and we started pulling up the paperwork. And sure enough, we were able to find an old plot plan. We saw an actual outline and drawing of the porch. And then the architect goes and takes that and he’s off and running and he designs us a new porch. He also starts poking around the house, looking at all the different molding details and trim details. He pulls those down, he brings them back to his office and they go into the drawing to make sure that whatever we rebuild speaks to the original character of the home.
LESLIE: That’s amazing. You really have the whole storybook of what the house was.
KEVIN: Well, most of it. You know, there are pieces and parts lost along the way. But fortunately, it’s a period of time. And the neighborhood is rich enough with other houses like this that we can go around and we can see sister houses and other houses that are built in similar ways. And we’ve got smart people who do these restorations from time to time. Our guys, plus the architect involved, they know what these houses used to look like.
LESLIE: And you really do need to find a specialized architect when you’re looking to do a restoration.
LESLIE: You can’t just pick anybody and say, “Ooh, make this a Victorian again.”
KEVIN: No, I don’t think you can. You can pick an architect of any style to build yourself a beautiful house or renovate a beautiful house. But to bring this one back to the way it was is key.
And here’s a perfect example. That front porch that Tommy built? A lot of it is now painted three and four colors in the Victorian style. But underneath, all sort of mahogany is the choice of wood here. Even though you can’t see it and we could have used composites, this architect was like, “No. We’re using mahogany. If we have to custom-build this stuff, we absolutely will. But that’s the way this porch would have been built originally. That’s the feel we want to bring back.”
TOM: We’re talking to Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House now in their 36th season. We’re in Belmont, Massachusetts, the site of the current project: an 1895 Victorian.
And the porch was a very Victorian element. Hard to believe that the porch was stripped off this house over that century that passed. And now we basically have not a full wraparound but sort of an L-shaped wraparound, right around the front. And it really changed the look of this building from the street. Dramatic, new curb appeal. (inaudible at 0:05:49) that.
KEVIN: So, you have a house that’s three stories tall. You take off that front set of legs and all of a sudden, it seems like it’s standing up tall and straight and it’s a little top-heavy. When you put that porch back on, it grounds the whole building. You’ve got a roofline now that’s at the 8- or 9-foot level instead of your first roofline being up at the 15- or 20-foot level. You’ve got a place to sit. You’ve got a place to introduce yourself to the street, in the neighborhood. It is a dramatic change for this building.
And it also brings you now right into the front door, which is off to the side. Typical Victorian. It’s asymmetrical, not dead-center. And that porch sort of helps you communicate with the neighborhood, the yard and all the other houses around it.
LESLIE: Kevin, were you able to save a lot of the things that you were finding during the demolition or the reconstruction of the house, to repurpose?
KEVIN: We definitely were. There’s always that decision as to whether to throw out the old stuff and upgrade it. And sometimes, that makes the most sense. In this case, the homeowners were very particular in saying no; they wanted to save as much of the detail.
So, just a short list of examples. Out comes the old clawfoot tub and it gets sent off to be reconditioned, reglazed; put brand-new, beautiful feet on it. We were able to save just about most of the doors in the house. They either stayed where they were or we moved some around so that we could reuse them. There’s a new powder room downstairs that’s got a door that was original to the house. The medallions in the living room and the dining room …
LESLIE: They are stunning.
KEVIN: They’re stunning. And they were completely covered up with these terrible light fixtures. So, down come the light fixtures. Those things are pretty fresh and now they’re sort of centerpieces of those two rooms.
TOM: And those treasures are the jewelry that makes this such a beautiful, beautiful property.
Kevin, now, this is not the only house you guys are doing in Season 36. You’re going from working on a very old house to, essentially, a brand-new house: a prefab, engineered home that is designed to look like it was constructed in the 1700s. That’s an interesting comparison.
KEVIN: Yeah, it’s a pretty cool story. So, not what we typically do. As you say, it’s not a renovation or a restoration; this is new build. It will be built in a factory, so you can imagine these big CNC machines, a whole crew up in Vermont. But it is a historically accurate replica of a farmhouse from the 1800s. And it’s beautiful because they paid so much attention to the details. So the homeowners will get the best of both worlds: super efficiency; nice, tight building; looks like it’s going to have been there for about a good 150 years.
LESLIE: Now, that would have to be a fairly specialized, prefab-construction facility. Not every prefab place is making something look so rich.
KEVIN: No. Great company called Connor Homes up in Vermont. This is exactly what they do. They specialize in this and they’re a great partner for us.
TOM: Fantastic. Kevin O’Connor, host of TV’s This Old House now in Season 36, thank you so much for inviting us here to yet another of your homes. And well done, sir. Well done. Great job.
KEVIN: Thank you very much. Always great to talk to you guys.
TOM: Time now for today’s LED Lighting Tip. You know, one thing that was most definitely not available when this home was first built was LED lighting. And today, LED lighting is really helping homeowners save energy and money at the same time.
LESLIE: Yeah. For example, with shorter days and longer nights, many homeowners leave exterior lights on and sometimes all night, especially around their front entry. That means the bulb is burning for close to 12 hours a day. And that can be a real burden on your home’s overall energy use and your bills.
TOM: Now, if you enjoy the safety and security of all that lighting but not so much the cost, think about switching out those old incandescent bulbs to LEDs. LEDs can cut the energy used by your exterior bulbs, in some cases, as much as 85 percent.
LESLIE: Yeah. And motion-sensor lights are another great way to improve safety and security. But in the past, using energy-efficient bulbs, like CFLs, for these lights has been a problem since it takes a while for CFLs to sometimes reach their full brightness. But that’s another advantage of using LEDs instead: no warm-up time. They reach full brightness immediately.
TOM: And today’s LED Tip has been brought to you by The Home Depot, your destination for all things LED, from work lights and fixtures to bulbs and holiday lights.
LESLIE: Discover the new Defiant LED Motion Security Light with DualBrite, delivering increased security, safety and peace of mind. Check it out at The Home Depot and HomeDepot.com.
TOM: Still to come, one common problem of both houses: gravity. They’ve been around for so long, they tend to settle quite a bit.
LESLIE: We’re going to tell you how This Old House general contractor Tom Silva addressed that and if you should be worrying about that at your money pit, after this.
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: Coming to you today from Belmont, Massachusetts. We’re broadcasting from the site of the current project of TV’s This Old House now in their – count them – 36th season. Amazing accomplishment. The show is running on your local PBS stations right now. But today, you get first dibs at the finished project with our special wrap broadcast, presented by STANLEY Mechanics Tools.
LESLIE: That’s right. Joining us now is Tommy Silva, the general contractor for This Old House.
Tommy, I think the biggest issue that you addressed here was some serious settling on the property. Is that true?
TOM SILVA: Yeah, you might say that. The house had a little bit of droops in them.
TOM: One hundred and twenty-something years.
TOM SILVA: Hundred and twenty years and some neglected structure that had to be repaired. It’s an old house and there’s always unknowns when you uncover a wall. We don’t have x-ray vision, so you can’t solve all the problems just visually.
TOM SILVA: But once you start opening up the walls, you can see the problems and mistakes that were made over the years. Some of it was water damage. Some of it is from ground erosion. But some of it is just from faulty framing in the very beginning stages.
TOM: Interesting. Because you don’t think of these homes as having bad framing back in the 1890s. I mean generally, they were pretty solidly built back then.
TOM SILVA: Yeah, yeah, there is. But over time, the original part of the house is one section that really withstood the test of time, except for the rotted Lally columns and some water infiltration. But there were add-ons in the 40s and 50s that were done incorrectly.
TOM SILVA: And so, when you have issues that are done incorrectly, you can’t neglect it; you have to take care of it.
LESLIE: And I think what a lot of people get confused about is they’ll see an issue with settling or something happening at home and they want to fix it when really, your step should be to go find an engineer, true?
TOM SILVA: Find an engineer or a qualified contractor that knows how to solve those problems. Because it has to be done by somebody who knows what they’re doing. Yeah, you don’t want to cut out a beam and find out now that your second floor is on the first floor.
TOM: Absolutely. And I thought that was noteworthy because here you are, one of the best-known general contractors in America and you’re relying on engineers to design these beams and to spec them out. And then you’re installing them.
TOM SILVA: Right.
TOM: So many times, we hear from homeowners who have contractors that come in and give them their expert engineering advice and it’s always wrong.
TOM SILVA: I grew up in a business and I grew up in an old house. It was built in the 1700s and I learned my trade from my father that says pay attention to what you take apart, to learn how it was done either incorrectly or correctly. So I have a lot of ideas and figures on how to do things. But before I can complete them and to make sure that they’re inspected correctly, I always have an engineer sign off on it.
LESLIE: And I think that’s really important, especially with a house this old.
Now, I think another thing that’s interesting with this property is as you’re uncovering things, you’re finding a lot of hidden treasures. Now, how do you not know that a staircase exists inside a home?
TOM SILVA: Oh, well, they hid it away pretty good. Let’s put it that way.
TOM SILVA: They hid it behind a little, tiny door. I don’t know if you guys came in through the back way and you went up that little stairway.
TOM SILVA: There’s a little closet door there – a little beadboard closet door. Well, that was actually a doorway to the hidden stairway. And that stairway was actually in the closet that we made in the kitchen. We took the basement stairs that was hidden into that place and we moved it over under the existing stairway where it belonged. That freed up a tremendous amount of space for them in the kitchen, which created a big double closet.
TOM: Now, why would they have hidden the original staircase? What was the purpose?
TOM SILVA: Probably a servant’s stairway that led up to a little back bedroom.
LESLIE: Or something really bad happened down there. This was bad.
TOM SILVA: No. Because in the back …
TOM: Halloween night, 1896, right?
TOM SILVA: Right, right. Right. Well, in the back bedroom, where the stairway led, there was actually a hatch on the floor.
TOM SILVA: So that stairway was very steep. Was almost like a stepladder that you would lean a little more than normal and climb up that back stairway and open a hatch to the floor of the bedroom, which was connected to a little bathroom.
LESLIE: That sounds terrible. No wonder why you want to hide that away, huh? I don’t want to go in there.
TOM: Yeah, you don’t want to work for these people, right?
LESLIE: (inaudible at 0:14:06).
TOM SILVA: Well, the stairway is gone.
LESLIE: OK, great. Like that sounds terrifying.
TOM SILVA: Well, you’d be surprised. There’s a lot of back stairways in houses, you know. I actually have one in my house that – when I renovated my house, I cut my house in half. My wife said, “We’re not going to lose that back stairway, are we?” We saved it.
LESLIE: I always think it’s so interesting when you stumble upon old Victorian homes.
TOM SILVA: Yeah.
LESLIE: So many secret passageways, little cut-throughs from closets from one room to the next.
TOM: And the surprises that they hide. Yep.
LESLIE: It was great growing up in a town with old Victorians and going to play up the block, because that house had a secret passageway.
TOM SILVA: Right.
TOM: Yeah, it was the best hide-and-seek ever.
TOM SILVA: Right.
LESLIE: It’s great.
TOM SILVA: Believe it or not, this is actually the second home we found a hidden stairway. In the Arlington project, also.
TOM SILVA: Yeah, yeah. And that one – really covered up with plaster and everything else. It was funny.
TOM: Well, there’s nobody that spills the secrets of old homes better than Tom Silva.
Tom, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit. And great job, Season 36.
TOM SILVA: Thanks a lot. And it’s always a pleasure to see you guys.
TOM: Now, most of this project was focused around bringing back the history and the original splendor of the Victorian home. But there was one major part of this project that includes today’s advances in insulation.
LESLIE: That’s right. Here to tell us about that is Betsy Cosper from Icynene.
BETSY: Thank you.
TOM: So, Icynene was used in this current project. Is it a very attractive add-on to older homes to add spray-foam insulation? Because let’s face it, most of them are very, very leaky.
BETSY: Yeah, absolutely, it is. We’ve seen a lot of older homes. They don’t have very much insulation. And being able to put in a spray-foam insulation like Icynene, it provides a lot of R-value, as well as an air barrier. So it stops any of the drafts coming in, which you find a lot in older homes.
TOM: So let’s talk about how Icynene works. It goes on as a very, very fine spray and then it expands to both seal and insulate, correct?
BETSY: Yeah, that’s correct. And it is pretty amazing because it is such a thin liquid that goes into the wall cavity or into the attic. And then it expands up to 100 times. So it truly does fill in every gap, crack. It completely air-seals the home.
TOM: Kevin O’Connor and I were talking offline. And we have one major regret with Icynene in our own homes – is that we couldn’t use it in the exterior walls. Because it’s so fantastic in the roof structure. It’s made both of our homes very, very warm. Have you ever thought about developing a formula that could be blown in for walls that just have those existing cavities waiting for great insulation?
BETSY: Well, it’s certainly an opportunity for the future, an innovation that we’re always thinking about and working on. The challenge is, as you put this type of insulation into an existing cavity, you want to make sure that it completely fills every single gap and it’s a complete air seal. So until we can be 110-percent sure that that’s going to happen, we’re not going to launch a product like that. For us and (inaudible at 0:16:44), you have to just take down the drywall, take it right down to the studs and then use the product if you’re going to do walls.
LESLIE: Truly a product that a pro has to install. I mean you really have to know how to apply it and put it in the right spots.
BETSY: Definitely. Our contractors are highly trained. We spend a lot of time ourselves training them. The industry trains them, as well. For this type of product, the product quality in what brand you choose, as well as the installer you choose, is of equal importance. And only a professional can do it.
TOM: Now, I had an experience when someone had asked me for an insulation recommendation and I had suggested spray foam. This was a home that was damaged by Sandy. Had to be completely remodeled. And this homeowner went out and got competitive bids. He spoke to Icynene and he spoke to another contractor.
And he came back to me. He said, “Boy, Icynene insulation is expensive.” I’m like, “What do you mean it’s expensive?” I said, “Send me the bids,” right? I look at it and the competitor was putting in half of the insulation that Icynene was putting in. So you have to be very careful to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples when you look at these products.
BETSY: You definitely do. Because some contractors will cut corners and you also find, sometimes, these are contractors that haven’t invested the time and the money for proper training, as well as proper equipment. So, you really want to make sure that you are properly looking at any bid that you get. You really do, in this case, get what you pay for.
TOM: We’re talking to Betsy Cosper. She’s with Icynene Spray-Foam Insulation. And we want to let you know that in collaboration with Icynene, we’ve produced an insulation guide that talks about all of the different types of insulation.
And I’ve got to say, Betsy, it was a pleasure producing that guide with you. Because you essentially said, “Tom, tell the story of every type of insulation. Don’t just tell the Icynene story. And let people make the decision for themselves.”
And that’s exactly what we did. It’s a great overview. And I think if you download it on our website at MoneyPit.com, you’ll come to the conclusion that we did: that if you can possibly do it, Icynene is absolutely the way to go.
BETSY: You’re absolutely right. In reading the e-book, we try and do – very fairly talking about all the different types of insulation. It’s really an educational book. But by the end of it, you will definitely come to the conclusion that Icynene Spray Foam is the way that you want to go.
TOM: Betsy Cosper, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
LESLIE: Alright. Coming up, we’re going to learn all about the bathroom and kitchen renovations that went into this Belmont house and get some ideas to help transform your own baths.
TOM: The Money Pit continues, after this.
ADAM: Hey, this is Adam Carolla. And when I’m not swinging a hammer, I’m catching up on The Money Pit with Tom and Leslie.
TOM: Where home solutions live, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: And you’re listening to a very special edition of The Money Pit coming to you from Belmont, Massachusetts where the cast and crew of TV’s This Old House is wrapping up Season 36. And our broadcast today has been made possible by Icynene Spray-Foam Insulation. Icynene, the evolution of insulation.
Well, they don’t make them like they used to, it’s true. But there are certain advances in home construction that are not only necessary, they’ve actually made life much more comfortable. We’re talking, of course, about plumbing and HVAC.
LESLIE: That’s right. And we’ve got the king here: Richard Trethewey. And he is the plumbing-and-HVAC contractor for This Old House. And he’s joining us now to talk about what was done in those areas here at the property.
RICHARD: So you’re just trying to butter me up, calling me “the king.”
LESLIE: I’ve got – listen, I’ve got to tell you, I go down into your basements every house that we come to visit at these wrap parties. And I have never been more fascinated by hot- and cold-water lines strapped to a ceiling. It’s gorgeous.
RICHARD: Well, most people only know that there’s a thermostat on the wall that connects them to a bill – until someone sends a bill. They don’t know what it is. And so, we try to show America the best way to do it.
On this one, we got something really interesting. We have a cold-weather heat pump. Now, you know, people know about heat pumps down in the Mid-Atlantic and anywhere south it’s fine. It’s an air conditioner that can both heat and cool. It reverses. It can either move heat out of the building to leave cooling or find heat outside. But historically, you didn’t – couldn’t find enough heat when it really got cold.
RICHARD: And so this is a cold-weather heat pump, developed in Europe. It now ties in with a single box outside and we connect three different air handlers to it. And then we use the small, 2-inch outlets you’ve seen me use before, because it’s perfect in these old houses where you can just fish it anywhere.
And so we’ve got three zones, one for each floor. And it worked perfectly fine except we had – today, we had to just find out that the thermostats were saying heating when it was supposed to be cooling and cooling when it was supposed to be heating. So, as soon as we got them to talk our language, everything was fine.
TOM: Yeah, we were talking about that, the backstory of us doing these broadcasts as we actually are in the house, on the third-floor bedroom of this house. It happens to be a room that they’re not using right now for the shoot.
RICHARD: Yeah, yeah.
LESLIE: We’re surrounded by boxes.
TOM: And we got here, it was very warm.
TOM: But fortunately for us, the most famous heating guy in America was here to fix the A/C. And that was Richard.
And you did just that.
RICHARD: We just had to have them talk the same language, so …
TOM: There you go.
TOM: So, talk to us about the evolution of home heating, as it’s evident in this house. You can see a lot as you look around but it’s hard looking behind the modern system. Where do we start?
RICHARD: Well, up until 1890, the Iron Age, it was just fireplaces. And then, once iron was available, you could do radiators. You could do even ductwork, coal-fired. This building probably would have been coal-fired originally. It would have had a coal bin, which we saw down in the basement. And someone every morning, who we staffed, took it down and stoke up that coal bin and fired into the furnace. And it would have come up and wafted gently all day long. And they would have done it again at night and maybe once through the middle of the day.
And then, slowly, as electricity became king, we could then – they invented circulator pumps and fans and blowers. And so now, you could have more convenience. The thermostat could be – instead of having to shovel your BTUs, you could just turn the thermostat up.
And it switched from oil. We saw it in the first show that we’d shot here. We saw the coal bin, we saw the old oil day tank, we saw the gas line. And now, fundamentally, we really only have gas as a backup. We’re really using electricity now. Super, really efficient.
Like we’re taking – what we’re doing is we’re not trying to manufacture heat like we did. We’re trying to find heat and move it.
RICHARD: And that’s the key. For our future, going forward, we have to say, “Look, just trying to just dig and get more energy, there’s plenty of energy all around us. And if we could find ways to scavenge it off of the refrigerator, off the washing machine, the dryer – if we can find it outside and move it inside, that’s the future.” And that’s what we tried to tell – the story – this year.
TOM: Now, typically, with a heat-pump system, as you know, you can’t really springboard the thermostat because you kick on the backup resistance heat.
RICHARD: Yeah, yep.
TOM: Does that problem still exist with this technology? Do you have to pretty much set it and forget it?
RICHARD: If you have a thermostat whammer-jammer – the people who like to turn it down to freeze and then turn it up to 80 – much like a radiant-heating system, yeah, you tend to want to leave it on and keep the building loaded.
RICHARD: You’re not going to save as much if you try to unload the building and try to bring it back, because the electric backup comes in. The difference between this kind of heat pump is when it got colder with a conventional heat pump, there was no heat to be found and you had to go to electricity backup. With this, even on the cold days, down to 4 or 5 degrees Fahrenheit, you can still find enough heat, generally, to heat this building. So we – knock on wood, we’re sure it’ll heat this building in any weather.
LESLIE: And you’re really finding it from places, like other appliances in the house?
RICHARD: Well, that’s the future, meaning there’s so much energy that’s generated. Like it’s less than it was – remember how televisions used to be?
RICHARD: You could stand near a television – even when you think about a refrigerator nowadays, all that we’re doing with the refrigerator is trying to extract heat and dump it out through the front kitchen. Now, when we get into houses that are tight, tight, tight, tight and the loss is almost zero energy, there’s going to be ways that we can be very creative with what we do for finding energy. Some of these appliances that make heat, we’ll be able to scavenge it.
Right now, everybody has gone to sleep because gas is now $2 a gallon. America will go into a total brain cramp now for another five years until we …
TOM: Right. So they’re not thinking about efficiency. Right.
LESLIE: That’s a lot (inaudible at 0:24:54).
TOM: Otherwise, spend money on efficiency.
RICHARD: That’s right. Right. Yeah.
TOM: We’re talking to Richard Trethewey. He’s the plumbing-and-heating contractor for TV’s This Old House.
Richard, I know as a part of this series, you actually toured an 1853 home which featured some of the original plumbing and air-conditioning systems.
TOM: You don’t think of an 1853 house as having air conditioning.
LESLIE: And it wasn’t just windows?
TOM: What did you find at the Homer house?
RICHARD: The Homer House was a – Winslow Homer, the famous painter. And it was his brother. And he lived there for most of his life. But the key to it was not – this was not an unusual house; it was a well-appointed house for its day. But the key is it had been left untouched, so we got to see – it’s in original state. It was owned by the local Women’s Club here in Belmont.
So, air conditioning to them, though, was to open up a cupola on the top floor and to get this chimney effect where you could start drawing air up through the building.
RICHARD: It was no different – we saw it in Savannah, at the General – where General Sherman stayed. We got to see how they did it. And they could get beautifully passive ventilation and cooling by opening up the shutters. They put shutters on the sunny side that have a window on the off-sun side and be able to pull cool air in from the shaded area, up through the building to keep that thing cool by 10 or 15 degrees.
TOM: We should still be doing that today and not using the A/C as much.
RICHARD: Absolutely. Absolutely, absolutely.
TOM: Richard Trethewey from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
RICHARD: Great to be back.
TOM: Still to come, how do you tackle a major renovation like this? With a plan.
LESLIE: And that means a good architect. We’re going to hear from the local pro who helped set the stage for this Belmont project, after this.
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: Well, if you’re a fan of This Old House, you’re going to get a very special treat today. We’re taking you behind the scenes of the current season of the show. It’s a renovation in Belmont, Massachusetts. A beautiful Victorian is being revived here, built in 1895. This is actually Season 36 with This Old House. And when it’s done, viewers can follow along while progress is being made, on your local PBS station. But Money Pit listeners, you get to hear about it first, right here.
LESLIE: That’s right. And today’s broadcast has been presented by Stanley Tools, makers of the STANLEY Mechanics Tool Set. No matter if your project is automotive, recreational or home improvement, you can rely on STANLEY Mechanics Tools for versatility, durability and to get the job done right.
TOM: Well, we’ve said time and time again, starting a big project off right means starting with a good set of plans developed by an architect.
LESLIE: That’s right. Matthew Cummings drew up the plans for this project and he’s joining us now to talk about the details.
MATTHEW: Welcome to you two, as well.
TOM: So, Matt, tell us about the history of this project. Was this sort of shovel-ready, so to speak, when the opportunity to have This Old House involved with the production came together?
MATTHEW: For the most part, yeah. There were revisions as we moved along but yeah, you’re correct.
LESLIE: Now, there were a lot of big changes here. And I know that you really sort of dug into historical plans to see what kind of design opportunities you had.
MATTHEW: Yeah. The first thing we do is we take a look at the history of the house, the history of the neighborhood and the character of the house. But as well, we also look at the personalities of the people and what is it that they would really love to have in their lives. Absolutely, yeah.
TOM: How do you look into the history of a house? What are some of the tools that are available to you to do that?
MATTHEW: Well, it could be historic details, contexts from books. But also the neighborhood tells you a lot about it. The Historic Society is a great place for people to go, which they don’t realize that they can. And certainly, all of those things happen. It was a lot of fun.
TOM: Are there often plans that are maybe still on file at a building department or that sort of thing that might give you some history?
MATTHEW: Well, not really for a house that’s this old.
MATTHEW: What was available for this particular property was an old, old plot plan showing the outline of a front porch. But that’s really it.
LESLIE: Now, are Victorians a passion of yours, as well? Or was this just a good design plan for you?
MATTHEW: I love just about every piece of architecture so long as it’s really cool.
TOM: Well, this certainly meets that definition. So talk to me about some of the biggest changes that you had to plan for in this project.
MATTHEW: Oh, yeah. Well, the porch and the exterior is really the biggest one and then bringing it to life with color. So, it has an L-shaped wraparound porch. And that’s certainly what was on the house originally. And that’s in character with the rest of the neighborhood. But really, the devil is in the detail and that we spent enormous amount of time on.
TOM: Right. Yeah, now, this porch has an elaborate railing system on that’s very attractive. And it looks like it would be really high-maintenance. But you guys used some special materials there, didn’t you?
MATTHEW: Well, there’s a mixture of things and you give a good point – is the materials that they use today are so low-maintenance. Even the nicest, highest-quality materials – whether that’s wood, whether that’s cedar, mahogany, PVCs. They’re even starting to make pressure-treated woods now you can cut up and use as though you would pine. But you have to understand that this is – all this woodwork is underneath a covered porch, which gets very little weather.
TOM: Right, right. So it lasts that much longer as a result.
MATTHEW: Oh, it would last 100, 150 years, sure.
LESLIE: So you really wanted to go with materials that were more appropriate for the period.
MATTHEW: Yeah. Yep. Absolutely.
TOM: Now, some of the high-tech materials that you put in there – I understand that the columns, for example, which would have been originally wood, have metal bases to them. And that’s the area that usually would rot away first, right?
MATTHEW: Yeah. So, it’s different than it was 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, you would just use pine but you can’t do that anymore. Just the selection of the wood. So now you mix all the different materials together. And the column is actually a great example. The base is made out of metal. The column itself can be out of wood or fiberglass. And once it’s all painted, you can’t tell that it’s not wood.
TOM: We’re talking to Matt Cummings. He’s the architect for this beautiful Belmont project here: an 1895 Victorian in Belmont, Massachusetts here on Season 36 of This Old House.
So, Matt, we often advocate that folks use architects for projects. And sometimes you get some pushback. People think that they can do it themselves or that their contractor is going to do it, you know.
TOM: What would you say to folks like that that don’t really understand the value of the skill set of your industry?
MATTHEW: Well, it really depends on the project. But if you want a nice job, you want to keep track of the money. You want to make sure you can get a building permit, which is a harder thing than you can – today than it is even just five or seven years ago.
MATTHEW: You really need an architect. But the most important thing is to find the right architect for the right job.
LESLIE: So how do you look for the right person?
MATTHEW: Well, ironically, where it used to be strictly word of mouth, the internet now is one of the greatest places to go. You can find an architect in your local neighborhood. You find out that your neighbor or your friend used them. But you can also look at their portfolio and see whether they’re a match. When you – you should meet them. And when you meet them, you should see whether the two of you click, whether there’s some kind of bonding/soul thing between the two of you.
TOM: Some chemistry, yeah.
MATTHEW: See if the architect is actually excited about your project.
MATTHEW: That’s the most important thing.
TOM: Yeah, that’s a really good point. And I think the other huge value of using a professional, when it comes to a project – and even if it’s a smaller project – is that set of plans and the fact that you are – you don’t have a conflict of interest when you sit down with your client. You just want to make them happy and develop the project as you see fit. And then you develop this set of plans that the contractors are going to do work – do the work, actually bid off of. So you don’t get in a situation where Contractor A is speccing out one site, one type of cabinet and Contractor B a different type of cabinet or plumbing fixture or whatever it is, because you’ve done all that legwork for then.
MATTHEW: I have to say that good builders like good architects and good builders like good, thorough plans.
MATTHEW: And it’s the opposite the other way around.
LESLIE: And how is it working with This Old House?
MATTHEW: A-ha. I just answered that question. Yeah. No, our plans, for instance, are top notch. It was extremely thorough and these guys follow them right to a T. Tom is on our builder list now.
TOM: Well, I’m glad he finally made it to the list, huh? You must have some very high standards if he wasn’t on there already.
Well, I tell you, that’s fantastic. What a great job. Matt Cummings, you must be very happy here. We are at the end of the project. You get a chance to enjoy the fruits of your labor. And thank you so much for being a part of The Money Pit.
MATTHEW: Absolutely. Thanks.
LESLIE: Alright. More from Belmont, Mass as the 36th season of This Old House comes to a close. Plus, have you ever dreamed of having the crew from This Old House remodel your dream home? Well, the chance could be yours. They’re searching for the next project. We’ll share details, after this.
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: And The Money Pit is coming to you today from Belmont, Massachusetts and the set of Season 36 of This Old House.
LESLIE: And today’s broadcast has been presented by Icynene Spray-Foam Insulation, the evolution of insulation.
TOM: What’s nice about these projects is the way that they preserve all the character that was here originally. And if it fell missing over the years, as we heard from both Tom Silva and Kevin O’Connor, they try to bring it back, like the front porch and all the different treasures that this home held architecturally that were just covered by paint and bad wiring and ugly light fixtures.
And I think that people lose sight of the fact that you can do that. You can make so much progress in your own house if you don’t have the cast and crew of This Old House, just by paying attention to those small details.
TOM: It’s the jewelry, it’s the bling that makes these homes so special.
LESLIE: Well, you’re right. It’s those decorative details. And I think, really, people need to understand: what is the period of their home? What is the architectural styling and what’s appropriate to sort of bring that back to its glory? And I think that’s where people get lost.
And what’s interesting is when you’re working with a team as great as This Old House, I mean it really sets the standard of what goes on out there in the real world. And you want these guys. And we know a lot of you really want these guys in your house.
TOM: And you can. Because guess what? The search is on, right now, for 2016 projects. So if you are planning a major home renovation, This Old House may be looking for you. It doesn’t matter if it’s an urban loft, if it’s a Greek Revival, if it’s another beautiful Victorian, if it’s a Colonial. If it’s in the city, it’s in the country, it’s in the suburbs, the series is accepting proposals, right now, for all housing types, all styles and all neighborhoods.
LESLIE: Now, your project should be ready to break ground in early spring 2016 and plan on having it wrapped up in November 2016. So if this seems like a good time frame for you, let us know.
TOM: Yep. You can head on over to ThisOldHouse.com/PickMyHouse. That’s ThisOldHouse.com/PickMyHouse.
And Leslie, with all the renovations that you and I have both done on our old homes over these past couple of years, I don’t think we would have a project for them.
TOM: Even though we’d love to have them by.
LESLIE: I don’t think I could afford them. Are you kidding? I would love to have them in my house.
In fact, you know how it is. It’s like when I need home advice, I call you, I’ll e-mail Tommy. It’s like I’ve got two of the greatest resources right in the palm of my hands and I definitely take advantage of it. I remember when we were re-siding, you know, I picked your brain about which siding to go with. I picked Tommy’s brain. I ended up with the same exact siding that Tommy has on his house, so it’s like, “Oh, I can’t go wrong there if we’re all doing the same thing.”
TOM: Absolutely. And remember when my daughter needed to have her bedroom redone, I said, “Leslie, help me with the colors.”
LESLIE: “Pick a paint color.”
TOM: Exactly, yeah. Well, it’s fun. And it’s nice that we are in this position where we get to learn about this stuff and share it with the audience and tell them about the technologies that we’ve learned. I did my roof over the past year. I added insulation to the roof. I used spray-foam insulation from Icynene. Had an amazing experience with that. Cut the energy bills way down in both summer and winter, so …
LESLIE: I know. You keep reminding me how much money you’re saving. Trying not to hate you too much.
TOM: With the – well, you did. You opened your walls up and did blown-in, right?
LESLIE: I know but I’m not seeing that much.
TOM: Yeah, well, see, now that’s a good point because you focused on the walls.
TOM: When you get around to focusing on the attic, that’s where the rubber meets the road. If you can only insulate one area of your house, folks, going into the winter right now …
LESLIE: I know. Put a hat on your head.
TOM: Put a hat on your head. It makes a huge difference. And what we did is we left the existing insulation in the attic floor and then we sprayed the underside of the rafters with the spray-foam insulation. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s crazy as we go up there now to grab something out of storage, it’s pretty much the same temperature as the rest of the house.
LESLIE: It’s not 8,000 degrees or freezing?
TOM: Exactly. It’s always the same. So, I think you can do a lot with today’s technology, working a little bit at a time to make your home as grand and as beautiful as some of the homes we’ve seen here, covering This Old House.
LESLIE: And you’re right, Tom. What we do is really amazing because we’re so lucky in the fact that we get to keep learning. There’s always something changing, always something evolving. So, really, it’s a business and an art form that never dies. It evolves.
TOM: And if you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Remember, you can call us, 24/7, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Post your question at MoneyPit.com or on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit.
I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: Remember, you can do it yourself ...
LESLIE: But you don’t have to do it alone.
END HOUR 1 TEXT
(Copyright 2015 Squeaky Door Productions, Inc. No portion of this transcript or audio file may be reproduced in any format without the express written permission of Squeaky Door Productions, Inc.)