Newton, MA 08 - Recap

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Kevin opens the show with a brief monologue about the community of Newton, MA, where the shingle-style home that is the focus of this project stands. Newton is thirteen communities on the edge of Boston. It experienced tremendous growth around the end of the nineteenth century, mostly around Charles River powered industries like grain milling, sawmills and textiles. Kevin then finds himself in a park beneath a huge stone bridge – part of an aqueduct, where he meets Rich Trethewey. Rich explains that Boston built the enormous water pipe in 1887 to support the growth in the region. The part that crosses the Charles does so at Echo Bridge, named for the acoustic properties of the largest arch.

Back at the project site, Kevin speaks to Roger Cook, who supervises the transplantation of an enormous weigelia. It is too large for the front yard so Roger and his men will move it to the back yard. New plants will replace it in the front.

Also in the backyard, neighbors have installed a basketball court surrounded by a high chain link fence. The homeowners don’t want to see that, so Roger changes the plan to transplant some larger shrubs from the front to the back, positioning them to block the view of the court.

A little farther up the yard, Roger explains how his team will install a retaining wall made of Pennsylvania flat fieldstone secured with mortar. This wall must be strong enough to hold the bluestone patio in place, hence the need for mortar.

Inside, Kevin details some of the changes to the foyer: one room split into two, with a new closet for coats and radiant heat in the floor (which sits over a cold crawlspace). The old windows are single pane glass – replacement is vital to an energy efficient renovation.

In the front room, Tom describes how they’ll replace fifty existing and ten new windows with a vinyl clad outside, insulated glass, wooden inside design. Tom then demonstrates how he measures the window for the factory, and then how he removes the old window and installs the new one, saving the interior trim. He discovers the previous window replacement contractor did not remove the sash weights or insulate the weight race as they should have, so he’ll remedy that. He also insulates under the sill with a two part expanding foam compound that sets quickly. Before seating the new window, he caulks all mating surfaces to insure an airtight seal, then shims the window to center it, checks the window for square by measuring the diagonals (a properly square window should measure equally along the diagonals). All measurements verified, a few screws and more shims hold the window securely. The final test is to ensure the window isn’t bowed in – when he discovers that it is, Tom installs a few more shims to correct that problem. For final insulation of the gap between the window and the framing, Tom uses a minimally expanding foam compound.

Under the porch, Rich Trethewey explains how he’ll add radiant heat to the floor over a crawlspace. With sufficient insulation, this will make the parts of the house above this crawlspace tolerable in winter. Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) tubing carries heated water into aluminum tracks that carry the heat to the floor.

Upstairs, Rich demonstrates how PEX has a memory; he uses an expander tool to flare plastic tubing before fitting it over a brass connector. As the plastic attempts to recover its previous shape, it forms a watertight seal around that brass fitting. The he shows one way PEX is superior to copper: for this job, the nearest place to bring the second floor bathroom supply up is many feet away. Inside the ceiling, these pipes must pass through nine joists, which would require nine couplings for a copper system. PEX is flexible enough to thread through without that. And, because it lacks all those joints, it’s far less likely to fail.

Norm travels to Pennsylvania Dutch country – Germansville, Pennsylvania. There, he’ll look at the manufacture of wooden countertops. That factory started as a sawmill. Considering ways to use the scrap, they began by making cutting boards. As customers asked for larger and larger examples, they realized there was a market for wooden countertops. Inside, Norm checks out a checkerboard bar top destined for a Colorado bar and a butcher block finished with food grade oil. He checks out a bamboo countertop made from thousands of end grain pieces glued together; its dark color derives from a kiln treatment. Finally, he looks at a walnut bar top for a private home before visiting the shop, which has begun work on the countertops for the project house. Eight feet long and three inches thick, the countertop will suit the kitchen island nicely. A brief film shows how craftsmen saw the randomly sized pieces, then prepare and glue them – teak, the material of this countertop, must be cleaned with a solvent or the oils in the wood will make the glue fail. Glued with an FDA approved adhesive, the blanks will remain in the clamps for a full eight hours. They go into a planer that smooths them, and get cut down to the right thickness, glued again, and eventually emerge as a thick, heavy slab. Workers then cut that down to form the countertop. The final step is a series of passes with the router that create the “super double Roman ogee.” These require carbide knives, the only knives that can withstand the particles of silica embedded in the teak.

Back at the job site, Kevin, Tom and Rich discuss the project phases presented in the next episode.