Live from This Old House Part 1 #0109171

  • TOH_Arlington_Front
  • Transcript

    TOM: Coast to coast and floorboards to shingles, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler. And today is a very exciting show for us because we are coming to you from Arlington, Massachusetts, site of the latest project for the 37th season of This Old House.

    Today is the final day of production and we are right here in the house, surrounded by cameras and sawdust, to bring you the story of this amazing home and its renovation by the spectacular team at This Old House. And I’ve got to tell you guys, a gorgeous home this is. It’s, in fact, a 1909 Arts and Crafts home where the homeowners plan to restore and expand on the interior and exterior details.

    And coming up this hour, we’ll get all the details straight from the This Old House team, including Kevin O’Connor, Richard Trethewey, Roger Cook, Norm Abram and Scott Caron. Plus, we’ll talk to the design pros that helped bring the vision to life and we’ll hear from the homeowners, Emily and Nick, about the project and what it must have been like to live through this spectacular renovation by the team at This Old House.

    Well, to kick things off, we welcome one of my favorite people in the world, not only because he hosts This Old House but because he was born and raised in Jersey just like me: my friend, Kevin O’Connor.

    It’s one of the only times being a Jersey boy is good for you.

    KEVIN: No, no, not at all. I go back twice a year and they remind me then. Other than that, you’re right. No, good to be back, Tom.

    TOM: So the 37th season. Quite an accomplishment. Congratulations. You’ve got a program that’s now been watched by millions and millions of folks. And in fact, generations of people have enjoyed this program.

    KEVIN: Thank you for that. You’re right. I am as thrilled as you are. As you know, I had nothing to do with its beginnings, so I can say …

    TOM: Yeah. Well, listen, I think you’ve been around long enough to get some credit, buddy.

    KEVIN: Well, 1979 when we first got started. An important year. These guys have been at it since then, which is remarkable.

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: I’m very honored to be part of the team. And the fact that we can still do it, that we can still build these houses and still bring new stories to the American public, I think it’s terrific.

    TOM: Yeah. And the houses do tell the stories with all of your projects. This one has spectacular – I mean all the projects are great but this one has just been such a dramatic visual transformation from what you started with. It was a very plain Jane at the beginning, wasn’t it?

    KEVIN: It was. It was built in 1909. It was in the Arts and Crafts style, although it didn’t scream Arts and Craft, for a couple of reasons. It was an earlier version of that style but it was almost denuded of some of the details.

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: And we got real lucky in both finding the house but then also finding homeowners who were committed to sort of bringing back that Arts and Crafts style. And they said, “Please, have at it. Let’s celebrate that form.” And that’s what we did over the last eight months, which was sort of research the form and then start adding all the details to the original house and then when we added space to make sure that the new space married up well with the old house.

    TOM: Arts and Crafts is interesting because it actually was not just an architectural style. It was sort of a political movement back in England, right? It was seen as sort of a throwback to the simpler days: the days where craftsmanship really was important.

    KEVIN: It was definitely much bigger than just housing. It was all of the trades, it was all of the artisans out – this idea of making things with your hands, celebrating the craft. And certainly, from our perspective, we deal with the house. But as you point out, there’s a lot more to it and that’s because we have these craftsmen working on this house: folks who were celebrating their ability to help us with the details and to bring all that stuff back in this house. So it’s a good backdrop for our storytelling.

    TOM: So let’s talk about some of the highlights of this project. And I love the way you bring new in with the old. A part of it is a big addition on the back of this house. There’s a lot of engineering that went into that. You used a unique foundation system for that, didn’t you?

    KEVIN: We did. We had to dig a brand-new foundation underneath the new family room. We used ICFs – insulated concrete forms. You’re familiar with them. It’s basically a sandwich of Styrofoam held together with these plastic tabs. You build them together, they click in like building blocks. You can go up, you can go out. And what’s great about them is that once you have them in place, that hollow center is where you pour the concrete.

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: So it serves as your form. It’s unbelievably sturdy. You look at Styrofoam and you say, “What? It’s going to hold all concrete?”

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: But it does. And you don’t have to strip the forms away. They stay in place and that Styrofoam on either side is insulation. So you get a great R-factor, you get a super-dry basement and in this case, just what we needed for our addition.

    TOM: Now, in addition to that, you did a complete transformation of the yard that surrounds this place.

    KEVIN: We did. It’s a great, little lot. This town of Arlington are big houses on small lots. Everyone is sort of tucked in here. That’s what people love about it. This is a unique lot that it’s got a little extra space. So, Roger Cook loves having a yard to work with and that meant lots of plantings around the perimeter to protect some privacy from the neighbors but also, out front, some hardscaping where he got to build a fieldstone wall.

    We had about 10 feet or so in elevation, from the front door done to the main street.

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: We had to make that up. So he broke that up with a couple of walks and some steps, all of that sort of reused granite that we got into the project. We had some herringbone brick patterns laid down. Tons of lessons in terms of what goes into some good hardscaping from Roger.

    TOM: In terms of the lessons, all of these old homes have some surprises. What were some of the surprises you ran into here?

    KEVIN: Well, we were surprised with how bad the foundation was on the back of the house and how that connection – and this is a spot you’re familiar with, that always seems to rot away the sill right where you connect that house to the foundation.

    TOM: Right. Mm-hmm. Of course.

    KEVIN: As we sort of opened up the house and pulled away walls and floors, there was almost nothing left. It was just powder.

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: So we were taking much of that off anyway. It’s still startling to see just how far gone some of these houses get. So, in came the big equipment. We scraped away the back of the house, we took down the rubblestone foundation to open it up and that’s where we put the new foundation in there.

    TOM: Now, in addition, you also scraped off the original porch in this house, too, speaking of things that were rotted and deteriorated. And the porch that you put back is really spectacular. I mean it’s such a unique design. It has these transformative columns. When you think of columns, you think of sort of a narrow column. No, this column flares out probably 4 feet at the bottom of each side of the staircase, making a really grand entrance.

    KEVIN: And this is where we got really lucky. This is our great homeowners saying, “We want to celebrate this Arts and Crafts form.” So the bad porch with the windows that don’t match and the rickety stairs and the style that seemed like it was just bolted onto this house maybe 30 years after it was built goes away and is replaced with what you just described, including a copper roof that’s got these great arches in it. It’s got those big brackets that are out throughout the rest of the house, that we used on the top of the posts. And when you see these guys weeding those shingled corners together on those big 4-foot flares, you understand just how much work goes into it.

    TOM: Right. Yeah.

    KEVIN: But the result, as you point out, is stunning. And it really sets the stage for this entire house.

    TOM: It really does. Now, something else that’s unique about this home is – you have to wonder that in the 100-plus years that this has been out, at some point in time they had a very big kitchen. And somebody said to themselves, “You know what? This kitchen is too big. Let’s make it so small that only one person can fit in it at once.” And you had this tiny galley kitchen that really was completely impractical and you completely transformed that space.

    KEVIN: If you include the attic, we’re talking about a 3,000-square-foot home or maybe even larger. And to think that you’ve got a kitchen that only fits one person, it doesn’t make any sense at all.

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: But that’s what these houses are, right? They’re these sort of living museums of every generation, one after the next, coming and going. And I just have to assume that at some point, when they looked at the kitchen renovation and they saw the big space, they said, “Well, we don’t need it. We can’t afford it. So let’s do the renovation over here in the old pantry. That’s what we can afford.”

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: And I guess it worked for the previous homeowners or maybe the homeowners before them. It doesn’t work for our new family. So, as you said, out comes the old kitchen, which was this tiny little galley. We blow in to where the old kitchen was, we build an addition off the back. And so now what we end up with is we get a beautiful kitchen space attached to a family room.

    And here’s the great part. The old pantry that became the kitchen?

    TOM: Right.

    KEVIN: Goes back to a pantry.

    TOM: Back to a pantry, right. Which is exactly what it should’ve been, right, in the first place.

    KEVIN: Absolutely. And the house – you can tell the house is like, “Ah, I’m back to what I’m supposed to be.”

    TOM: Yeah, right. Exactly. Big for a pantry, lousy for a kitchen.

    KEVIN: Right, right.

    TOM: Well, Kevin, it’s been another beautiful job here. Complete transformation of this 1909 home.

    #TOHArlington. Check your local listings for PBS. Follow along at or @ThisOldHouse on Twitter and Facebook. Again, #TOHArlington.

    Kevin, amazing job. Thanks so much for being on The Money Pit.

    KEVIN: Thank you. It’s been my pleasure.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at

    Have you ever dreamed that this could happen to you, that your home renovation could be completed by the finest tradesmen in America with every moment captured for television? Well, that’s exactly what happened to our homeowners here. Emily and Nick Deldon join us with their story, after this.

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    ANNOUNCER: Today’s Money Pit is presented by Mr. Beams. Lighting solutions that can be installed in five minutes. No wires, no electrician, no kidding. Find Mr. Beams lights at major retailers and learn more at

    TOM: Making good homes better, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    And I’m coming to you today on location from Arlington, Massachusetts, the site of the current project on this, the 37th season of America’s most popular home improvement television show, This Old House. Now, you can follow the progress online at and catch the latest episodes on your local PBS stations.

    Well, for many homeowners, having a renovation completed by this team was a dream come true. And that is exactly what happened to Emily and Nick Deldon, the homeowners of this beautiful 1909 Arts and Craft home completed today by the team at This Old House.

    And you two must be very happy people about now, right?

    EMILY: We’re thrilled.

    NICK: Absolutely. It’s been an amazing ride.

    TOM: This has been a long ride for you two. I understand that before you found this house, you were in some sort of a vicious cycle of looking for a house, not finding it and settling on a fixer-upper instead, correct?

    EMILY: That’s right. We had looked for almost 10 years.

    TOM: Wow. That’s quite a search.

    EMILY: Well, we bought our last house and we said, “We’ll be there for two to three years,” and we just kept looking.

    TOM: Right.

    EMILY: And then, 10 years later, we finally found this house.

    NICK: We kept looking and fixing it up and looking and fixing it up.

    TOM: Now, when you found this house, what was it about this house that made you know, “OK. This is it. We’re home. This has all the elements that I’m interested in”?

    NICK: Well, for me, it was really the lot. So we live in a town that has very small lots.

    TOM: OK.

    NICK: A fairly urban town. And we’ve lived here our whole life. And so, we actually never knew a lot this size and kind of this secluded existed. So that was the first thing that drew us in was kind of the lot size and just where it was located. And then the house just had a tremendous amount of charm. We’re not new-construction type folks. And just the lines of the house, the rooms, the openness, the high ceilings and then, really, the Arts and Crafts feel. So it all kind of came together for me.

    TOM: And, Emily, speaking of Arts and Crafts, you actually discovered that style through a Google search. Is that correct? You didn’t know exactly what this house was.

    EMILY: We had no idea that it was Arts and Crafts and we didn’t buy the house because it was a certain style. As Nick said, it was strictly because we were looking for a real particular thing. And yes, we looked online and we came across some place out in England and we finally looked at English Arts and Crafts style.

    TOM: OK.

    EMILY: And then finally realized that, “Wow. This actually looks related to our house here.”

    TOM: Right.

    EMILY: And then once we dove a little bit deeper into that, we realized that we were really onto something and then a lot of everything started to sync.

    TOM: Now, Nick, you worked with an architect to, you know, capture all the elements that you wanted to add to this house. And I guess it was kind of shovel-ready. Tell me how you got in front of This Old House and what it’s been like working with these guys.

    NICK: Yeah. So, we knew the project was special and it was going to require a certain craftsman to do the work. Our architect had a look of experience in kind of unique rooflines, so that was step one. And we had always – we’ve been watching the show for years and years, admiring their work. And it was more of – it started more of a dream. “Hey, this is a great house. The artisan work that they do. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if they were involved?” And so, from there, we developed a pretty robust presentation and hunted them down I guess I would say.

    TOM: Yeah. I guess you kind of pitched for it, huh?

    NICK: Exactly, exactly.

    TOM: Are you marketers by trade?

    EMILY: Past marketing director.

    TOM: OK. See? There you go. You had to have some connection there.

    Now, were there any surprises along the way? With an old house like this, there almost always are.

    NICK: Oh, many, many. The house was foundationally in great shape.

    TOM: Right.

    NICK: So I guess when I say “surprises,” it was little things maybe that we didn’t expect. We needed a steel beam put in.

    TOM: Right.

    NICK: The foundation was a little bit crumbly and needed quite a bit of work. And then more just the flow of the layout and the design. But as I’m sure you’ll see on the episodes, the team did a great job in kind of navigating us through those challenges.

    TOM: And Emily, you worked with a designer to really give the inside some personality, as well, right?

    EMILY: That’s right. And she was a great sounding board throughout the project. And you’re dealing with so many decisions at any moment in time. So just being able to pick up the phone and to be able to call somebody to help with that decision was really key.

    TOM: Emily and Nick, thank you so much for having us here today and congratulations. It’s absolutely a fantastic home and welcome to a very, very exclusive club of folks that have had their home built by This Old House.

    NICK: Thank you.

    TOM: Well, when you’re working with a space with as much potential as this home, one of the pros you want on your team is a talented interior designer. And we find that in Jill Goldberg.

    Welcome, Jill.

    JILL: Well, thank you for having me.

    TOM: So I saw a bio for you that said you were one of House Beautiful’s Next Wave of interior designers because you bring a youthful exuberance to every project you take on. Is that what brought you here?

    JILL: I hope, yes.

    TOM: Alright. So for those that are not aware or perhaps have never had the opportunity to work with an interior designer, just kind of tell us what you do.

    JILL: What do I do? I make it all work together.

    TOM: Right.

    JILL: And the hope is that, as an interior designer, you bring the client’s wants and their needs together in a cohesive manner with what’s going on, building-wise, in the home.

    TOM: Because very often, people don’t know what they want but they know what they don’t want, right?

    JILL: Yeah. Exactly. And they want so much but they don’t know how to pull it all together.

    TOM: Right. Pull it all together.

    JILL: And that’s really where a designer comes in, because we see the whole vision where a client can’t.

    TOM: Right.

    JILL: They just see those bits and pieces and we really bring it all together.

    TOM: Right. And you brought it all together beautifully at this home. So let’s talk about some of the projects that you worked on. One of which that I was greeted with when I walked right in the front door was you did something unusual: you used a wallpaper on the ceiling. So it doesn’t look like a traditional wallpaper.

    JILL: No. It’s an embossed paper and it’s actually made of linseed oil.

    TOM: OK.

    JILL: It’s an English line but we needed to add something of importance in that foyer. Because it ended up being somewhat of a – somewhat plain space compared to all the other rooms. So by adding that simple focus up on the ceiling, it really added some grace to the space.

    TOM: Yeah. And that’s the kind of thing that the average homeowner wouldn’t know but the professional eye can kind of bring that in.

    JILL: No. Yeah. Mm-hmm.

    TOM: Lighting is also a very important element and you contributed on that front, too, right?

    JILL: Yeah, we chose specific fixtures that would have a greater scale and greater focus being in the dining room and in the family room. And for other lighting throughout the house, I wanted there to be a consistency and have something that played with the idea of Arts and Crafts but stayed very modern. So we did a lot of globes throughout the home.

    TOM: Right, right. Has the technology shift in lighting affected your job, going from incandescents to LEDs and so forth?

    JILL: Yeah, I hate LEDs.

    TOM: Yeah.

    JILL: I hate it. I just hate the way the lighting …

    TOM: The color is so different.

    JILL: I know they’re working on it and they do get better and better but it’s just not the way you want a house lit.

    TOM: Yeah. Now, I know at the core of everything that you do is color selection. I think something – that’s something that people really struggle with. If you had to give folks one tip to help them get through that process of choosing colors, whether it’s a wallpaper or a fabric, what would you say?

    JILL: I would say the greater expanse of what you need, stay as neutral as possible. The smaller places where you need color, that’s where you can start to play with either richer tones or actual vibrant colors. But try to keep those vibrant colors off the big pieces.

    TOM: And make them the accent.

    JILL: Yeah.

    TOM: Great advice.

    JILL: Yeah.

    TOM: Jill Goldberg from Hudson Interior Designs, great work here. Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    JILL: Thank you. Thanks.

    TOM: You are listening to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show broadcasting today from a beautiful Arts and Crafts home in Arlington, Massachusetts, the site of the current-season project for TV’s This Old House.

    And speaking of good design, I need to take a moment to thank our sponsor, If you’d like to experience the same kind of great design we talked about today, head to and download the This Old House Kitchen Cabinet Design Guide. It’s chock full of great design ideas and inspiration for your kitchen. The guide will help you understand kitchen-cabinet construction, features and styles, as well as what to look for when comparing cabinetry brands. It’s available free at That’s CliqStudios, spelled

    Just ahead, we’re going to find out what it took to make this 1909 home comfortable and energy-efficient. This Old House plumbing and heating contractor Richard Trethewey is next.

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    TOM: Making good homes better, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at

    And we’re coming to you today from Arlington, Massachusetts, where we’re enjoying the rare pleasure of watching the master tradesmen of This Old House finish up another real beauty of a project. It’s a 1909 Arts and Crafts home in this, their 37th season.

    Now, you can catch the latest This Old House episode on PBS. Just look for your local PBS channel. Also, on, the first eight episodes are available for viewing there. And for more details and behind-the-scene photos, you can follow @ThisOldHouse on Twitter and Facebook, #TOHArlington.

    Well, the heartbeat of the house is plumbing, heating, cooling and ventilation. And at the heart of that overhaul, we find Richard Trethewey.

    Richard, no exception here. You had a bit of work to do to improve the comfort and efficiency of this home, didn’t you?

    RICHARD: Yeah, just a little fixer-upper. We just did a few things but as usual, we did a complete new redo of the whole mechanical system. It was a perfect canvas for us. Started with a big, beautiful house. Tightened it up.

    TOM: Right.

    RICHARD: And then we put in a really super-efficient boiler. We used water. And then once we did that, we put radiant under the places you’d want it: in the kitchen, the family room, the great room, the bathrooms. We reused some radiators upstairs and some baseboard. And then we added a cooling system – a couple of different cooling systems.

    TOM: Let’s start by talking about the heat, because I think what this home started with is common to so many of these older homes. You had a very, very expensive oil-fired system. Probably was originally gravity, right, when this place was built?

    RICHARD: Right. Big, big piping, yep.

    TOM: With large piping. And so it had to, you know, pretty much run all the time. And so that must have really added up the fuel costs.

    RICHARD: Well, at one time it worked with no pump and then they put in a pump. And then they – what they did is they put in this boiler. And it was running 24/7, 365 at high temperatures.

    TOM: Right.

    RICHARD: So it literally was like leaving your car running in the driveway on the off-chance you might drive somewhere. We came, we heard unbelievably that this relatively small house – 3,200 square feet, I think – used $10,000 worth of fuel. Ten-thousand dollars.

    TOM: Wow, $10,000? And that’s just the oil.

    RICHARD: Right. Yeah, a couple of $3,000 months. We just – in the story we did yesterday about it, we’re going to reduce that by 75 percent. We’re going to save 7,500 bucks a year.

    TOM: Wow.

    RICHARD: And it’ll be comfortable.

    TOM: Well, that’s fantastic. Yeah. And the comfort, of course, because now you’ve got the system tweaked and divided up, so you’re putting the heat just where you need it and just the right amounts of it, too.

    RICHARD: Yeah. That’s right, that’s right. So the other thing about this system is it’s really smart. It knows how cold it is outside. As it gets colder outside, the water temperature increases underneath the floor surfaces, so now the occupants of the house never notice a change in weather outside. It’s just always 68 or 70, whatever we tell it to be.

    TOM: Because some of that inefficiency in a lot of homes is just sort of the springboarding of the thermostat. Feel cold, throw it up higher than it has to be.

    RICHARD: That’s right, right.

    TOM: Get too hot, throw it down.

    RICHARD: Right.

    TOM: And that, in and of itself, wastes a lot of fuel.

    RICHARD: Historically, we’ve always had this term called “cold 70” where somebody just satisfied the thermostat and it shuts off. And because they’re no longer getting that rush of heat, they feel cold even though it’s still 70 or 68.

    TOM: Right.

    RICHARD: This one will just leave you feeling comfortable all the time.

    TOM: Also, the air-conditioning system in this whole house – of course, when it was built, it didn’t have one. And you and I have talked in the past about these high-velocity systems. But I think this might be the first time I’ve seen you install it. So let’s describe this type of system to owners of old homes, because it enables you to run the ducts really inside the existing wall framing, right?

    RICHARD: On the top two floors, we had this challenge. There was not a stitch of space for mechanicals. It was the classic attic that you can convert and stuff like that. So we used a small-duct high-velocity system. We could fish it anywhere. There’s a 2-inch outlet in every 8×10 or 10×10 area. It’s a perfect solution for here. You could just stick it anywhere.

    TOM: Right.

    RICHARD: And the only thing is you’ve got to make sure you don’t blow this on people. It has to blow into the corners or where it’s not going to blow on people. It’s a perfect solution. We showed it in Episode Two or Three how to do it. It was great.

    TOM: So instead of having to put in big duct systems where you have to find the place to hide the ducts and frame them in or sometimes not, this is completely invisible.

    RICHARD: Right, right. It’s a perfect solution. It’s a well-kept secret in the remodeling business, you know, just to use just these much smaller outlets.

    TOM: Yeah. One of the things I love about This Old House is the house tells the story. And as part of that story for this house, you actually took a cool side trip. You went out to see what was the world’s largest underground quarry to actually see where the marble comes from.

    RICHARD: Right.

    TOM: Tell me about that.

    RICHARD: You think marble and you think, “Oh, it must be in Italy.” And so we found out, no, it’s in Danby, Vermont. So we drive out there and we get into these big, beaten-up pickup trucks and we drive down.

    TOM: How about that?

    RICHARD: And it goes down a half-mile under the earth. And it’s just – they’ve been pulling marble out of this place for, I think, 80 years.

    TOM: Right. Wow.

    RICHARD: They used to do it with steam-driven saws. Now, they’re using these computer-generated cutting techniques, which are unbelievable. The marble has been used in some historic places: the Supreme Court, the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery. It’s that classic, beautiful, gray marble.

    And so now, they’ve been cutting for 100 years with water. It’s covered in this slurry of this white goop that we walked around in. So it was like landing on the moon. Every time you stepped down, it was like leaving an imprint on the moon.

    TOM: Yeah. Right.

    RICHARD: It was fascinating. I feel so lucky when I get to do some of these stories. It beats being in the basement.

    TOM: Right. So when somebody orders marble, it’s actually sort of cut to the size they want in a place like that?

    RICHARD: Right. When we were there, we saw homeowners coming with tile artisans to pick out the pieces and to see what they wanted to sort of look at. And then when they cut them, they cut them like bread. There’s this big bread machine that cuts these monstrous slabs of marble perfectly about an inch, inch-and-a-quarter.

    TOM: Now, you’re all about transforming the efficiency and the comfort of homes. I understand that This Old House Magazine has a project going on pretty close to here called the Idea House that has some really inventive, eco-friendly energy efficiency. What is going on with that?

    RICHARD: Yeah, yeah, we did a lot of stuff. Certainly, it started with making a really tight house and making sure there’s fresh air to come in to – so you can breathe with an energy-recovery ventilator. But once we did it, we used a thing called an “inverter heat pump.” Now, this is a brilliant sort of innovation that keeps coming at us, mostly from Asia, where you get a single box outside. And this inverter is now so efficient that it can keep on scavenging or finding heat outside, even when it gets down to 5 degrees or less. And so now it can gather that heat and deliver heat into the building. And in the summer, it just reverses and acts like a conventional air conditioner.

    So with this, we can have a single box outside with multiple units inside. So you can have 5, 6, 8, 10 zones, if you chose to, with different ways to deliver. And we use this, also, on the main part of the first floor here in our current project here in Arlington.

    TOM: Well, what an education you bring to us every single week and through all these projects. Richard Trethewey from This Old House, the plumbing and heating contractor, thanks so much.

    RICHARD: Always great to be on The Money Pit.

    TOM: Alright. Thanks so much, Richard.

    Still to come, now that it’s winter, you might be enjoying sitting in front of a warm fire but that only happens if the fireplace and chimney are properly designed and safe. And that was a project taken on by the This Old House team here in Arlington, Massachusetts. We’re going to talk to mason Mark McCullough about that job, after this.

    TOM: Making good homes better, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler coming to you today from Arlington, Massachusetts, in the site of the current project on this, the 37th season of America’s most popular home improvement television show, This Old House.

    Well, from the basement to the chimney, the restoration of this home needed a lot of masonry work. And that part of the project fell to Mark McCullough of MJM Masonry, based right here in Arlington.

    And Mark, being a local guy, I guess you are quite familiar with what it takes to restore a home like this. And it seems like they kept you pretty busy.

    MARK: They sure did, from start to finish, yeah.

    TOM: Now, is this home typical of what you find here when you dig into the renovations here in Arlington?

    MARK: It really is. Always brick chimneys, always stone walls, always stucco to be done. It’s pretty popular around here. So, all that stuff keeps us busy.

    TOM: Now, let’s start by talking about the foundation work here. There was quite a bit that had to be done once you exposed that original rubble-block foundation. What was involved?

    MARK: Well, first thing, we know that the rubble foundations aren’t super stable.

    TOM: OK.

    MARK: So, they’re usually strengthened and pretty sturdy when you backfill. So as soon as we dug the backfill away, that’s when we noticed that we had a lot of loose stone that needed our attention.

    TOM: Now, I guess that’s pretty typical of that kind of foundation structure. It’s really the effect of water over many, many years that leads to deterioration, right?

    MARK: Exactly. What people don’t understand is get the water away from the house.

    TOM: Right.

    MARK: So downspouts, they should run 4 feet away from the house, if not into a drywell. That gets neglected along the way, a lot of the times. And subsequently, we do end up with a lot of foundation damage.

    TOM: And you don’t appreciate the fact that one of the most common questions we get on this program is about the solution to wet basements. And there’s a lot of contractors out there that love to sell you a very expensive repair and they tear up your floor and put in drains. I mean that’s kind of not a waterproofing system, that’s a water-evacuation system.

    MARK: Right.

    TOM: But to your point that if you control the roof water, if you control the slope of the grade, you protect that foundation, most importantly. Because even if you had the drains inside, that water’s passing through there doing the damage on the way, right? It’s really drainage.

    MARK: That’s correct. People don’t really get it but it’s super simple. Water infiltration is always a big problem. Sometimes, the water table around this area is high and that’s when you see the water in the basement come up through the floor. But a lot of the times, if you go outside and look where they’re managing their water – and a lot of times they’re not.

    TOM: That’s the issue right there, yeah.

    MARK: That’s the issue.

    TOM: So, Mark, after you exposed the foundation and the rubble, this wasn’t a matter of just sort of repointing it, right? You had to figure out a way to reinforce that foundation. How’d you do that?

    MARK: Well, what we did, first, was we poured a footing right in front of the stone wall. We built a block wall in front – on top of that. And then, at the end, we filled it solid with concrete. That locked in all the loose stone and solidified the entire foundation in that section.

    TOM: Well, that is terrific because in other cases, there may have been contractors that wanted to needle-beam the house, support it, rebuild that wall. You said, “No, let’s leave well enough alone.” But let’s make it better by essentially building what, I guess, was a retaining wall in front of it.

    MARK: Exactly what it was and that’s exactly what we did.

    TOM: Now, you also did a lot of the detail work on the outside with the stucco. This is an Arts and Craft home. It has sort of that half-timber-style construction. We see a lot of failed stucco across the country. What makes that happen and what does it take to repair it?

    MARK: OK. A lot of masons will not use wire lath when they’re building their stucco.

    TOM: OK.

    MARK: That’s the first thing you want to apply. And when you put that first coat of stucco on, that wire lath is there to grab that stucco, lock it in. But it also gives flexibility to that first coat of stucco because it’s, essentially, loose on the 2×4 studs or backing that it is.

    TOM: Right. Mm-hmm.

    MARK: But that allows for the movement, as little as it is. But again, we don’t have any cracking or – and the stucco does stay on the wall because it is in that wire.

    TOM: And the stucco work you did here was done in a way to kind of emulate what would’ve happened back in 1909. You used kind of an interesting application technique. Can you talk about that?

    MARK: Absolutely. Again, we put that first coat of stucco on. That’s our bond coat, if you will. And then, after that, we did employ a stucco technique that, again, very prominent back in the day but you don’t see as often today, so …

    TOM: Now, what’s the material? We call it “stucco” but what really is that?

    MARK: Yep.

    TOM: What is that made of?

    MARK: It’s basically a Portland cement.

    TOM: OK.

    MARK: We do add a little bit of lime. That lime is going to give us the elasticity that we talked about. And we used coarse sand. Again, we like to expose a little of that aggregate, which is the sand. Once that weather is in, it’s just a better mimic for the existing stucco that we’re trying to match.

    TOM: Does that make it sort of stickier by adding the lime to it?

    MARK: The lime does make it a little stickier, as well.

    TOM: Right.

    MARK: Sometimes, we do use an additive. It’s called C-21. For intent and purpose, it’s just a glue that we do put into the mix.

    TOM: Right.

    MARK: Again, with that scratch coat, the wire lath, the base coat, we don’t really need the glue.

    TOM: Right. So did you have any surprises on this project?

    MARK: About a million. Yeah. Everything was almost a surprise, which is typical when we’re doing this type of work. So, nothing threw us.

    TOM: Well, that’s terrific. And I want to talk to you about the fireplace work you did – the chimney work you did. I think that affects a lot of Americans that may not be aware that potentially have some unsafe situations in their house. Can I get you to hold through the break?

    MARK: Sure.

    TOM: You are listening to The Money Pit. We’ll be back with more from This Old House in Arlington, Massachusetts, after this.

    (theme song)

    TOM: Where home solutions live, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler coming to you today from Arlington, Massachusetts, the scene of a beautiful 1909 Arts and Crafts home transformation by the amazing team and the craftsmen at This Old House.

    And I’m with one of those craftsmen right now. I’m back with Mark McCullough, the mason on this project.

    And Mark, you did a ton of very interesting work on the fireplace and chimney in this home. So let’s talk about that. The standard for safe design for these has, thankfully, changed a lot over the years, right?

    MARK: It sure has.

    TOM: So, when you approach an older home like this, one of the things that I think is very common is the fact that they don’t have lined chimneys, right?

    MARK: True.

    TOM: And people are trying to use these for wood combustion and things like that. Did you find some unsafe situations like that in this home?

    MARK: We did. And again, pretty typical situation. But wherever we could, we rectified the situation.

    TOM: I saw in one of the segments that – an interesting point you made about trying to determine that the chimney is in good condition or not. You actually were looking at a chimney and you could see where the soot was sort of leaking through the brick, so to speak, through the joints to get to the outside. That staining on the outside of the chimney meant something to you.

    MARK: Correct. Right away. Again, that’s an indicator of a leaky flue, broken flue or none at all. And usually, we find none at all. So when we did take that existing chimney done to the roofline, we did take that opportunity to add flue. So, we reached done a couple feet and then came back up 6 or 8 feet. So we were able to line the chimney for at least the weather portion of the chimney, which is the most important, so …

    TOM: And those subtle signs is why it’s important to have your chimney looked at by a real expert like yourself.

    MARK: That’s right.

    TOM: Because people don’t know.

    MARK: People don’t know and always best to get a qualified mason, as opposed to a home inspector who kind of knows a little bit about everything. But you really do need a good mason, again. I didn’t even have to get up on the ladder when I saw that soot leaking out of the chimney. I knew I had a problem right away, so …

    TOM: Now, in terms of the chimney, one of the reasons you built a new chimney was because of a new fireplace.

    MARK: Right.

    TOM: And you did some amazing work on that fireplace.

    MARK: Thank you.

    TOM: I was particularly impressed by the way you built it in sections. So if I understand this correct, you have this herringbone firebrick structure of the back of this but you built that kind of on the floor, on a slab. And then you kind of made your raw material and then cut these up into chunks to assemble for this fireplace. Talk about that.

    MARK: Totally correct. You can usually buy those fireboxes, with that herringbone pattern, as a kit. The problem with the kit is the back wall of the firebox does not bend into the fireplace like it’s supposed to. The guys that make them told us we couldn’t do it. So what we decided to do was just buy the firebrick, go into our shop, lay the walls out, lay the herringbone out on a huge slab. And then we took a rescue saw, cut them into pieces and we were actually able to tip that back wall into the fireplace the way it’s designed.

    TOM: And you designed this fireplace to be very beautiful. It was for aesthetic purposes and I thought it was interesting that you counseled the homeowners that if you make a fireplace in this way – which is a typical, sort of wide-open, deep fireplace – it looks great but it’s not the most efficient.

    MARK: Right.

    TOM: If you want a really efficient fireplace, you should design one that’s much more shallow.

    MARK: Correct. That would be the Rumford-style fireplace that’s built to throw heat. What we do have is a Ben Franklin-style fireplace, more for aesthetics.

    TOM: Terrific. Mark McCullough, thanks so much for being a part of The Money Pit. Great work.

    MARK: Well, thanks for having me, Tom.

    TOM: You’ve been listening to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show coming to you from Arlington, Massachusetts, the set of the 37th season on TV’s This Old House. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    And I want to extend a very special thank you to the entire This Old House team for welcoming us here today.

    And remember, if you’d like to learn more about the Arlington House project or find local listings for both This Old House and Ask This Old House, please check local listings for your PBS station. Visit or you can follow along @ThisOldHouse on Twitter and Facebook, #TOHArlington.

    I’m Tom Kraeutler. Remember, you can do it yourself but you don’t have to do it alone.


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