Kevin O’Conner and Norm Abram introduce this episode from the backyard, where they examine and describe a few of the architectural features taking shape on the back of the house. They preview Tom Silva’s installation of the decking and Roger Cook’s installation of the upper retaining wall.
The volume of water coming from the roof presents problems. Roger’s solution is a pair of four hundred gallon dry wells to capture that water and filter it back into the soil. Digging, the team encountered ledge (solid rock) but eventually found the right spot for the wells.
Closer to the house, Roger shows the progress on the retaining wall, which will project fifty inches above grade on the lower side, and twenty inches about the patio. Constructed of Pennsylvania flat flagstone, this wall must keep the heavy bluestone patio from migrating. Roger’s crew dug down to ledge and set stone directly on top of it, starting with the largest and heaviest pieces. Larger pieces face surfaces where they might be seen, while smaller pieces fit into the below grade portions of the wall. The stone comes in a variety of sizes, and that means craftsmen must fit it like a puzzle. Roger’s rule of thumb is to find pieces at least two thirds the thickness of the wall and then filling the remaining gap with smaller pieces. Reversing this at each course creates a solid meshed structure. Where this is not possible the crew uses galvanized metal mesh reinforcing “cloth” embedded in the mortar. Because this is a retaining wall and cannot move at all, Roger’s crew must use mortar. He chooses a black mortar that’s less visible in the gaps. Several pipes trapped in the wall drain water from the patio to the lower yard.
Norm checks the home for insect damage with the homeowner. Norm looks for grade separation – a gap between the grade and any wooden parts of the house. Unfortunately, in a few places the grade has touched the wood, creating a path for insects. To handle existing problems, This Old House found Bill Seigel, a pest control expert. He finds some flooring placed on the crawlspace that termites have infiltrated and destroyed. Norm recommends removing all the wood in the crawlspace. Termites also infiltrated and destroyed a load-bearing beam. Tom corrected that by cutting away the damaged wood and replacing it with new pressure treated wood and a new pressure treated post fixed to the original pier with a metal bracket that keeps the wood off the concrete. Even pressure treated wood should not contact masonry. Bill Seigel’s men apply a borate treatment to the wood as a preventive measure; this chemical discourages termites but is safe for the family.
The garage has problems. For a long period part of the shingles were underground, and termites infiltrated and destroyed sections of the wall. The homeowner elects to clean the area and prevent subsequent damage. To accomplish this, Siegel’s men drill a hole into each stud bay and then fill the bay with a foam containing a termiticidal agent. Over time, the foam disappears leaving the termite killing chemicals in the wood. Like the borates, this chemical is safe around people.
Kevin’s next stop is the deck. There, Tom uses a new system to install ironwood planks. Even with the pressure boosted, a nail gun cannot drive a nail completely through this tough variety of wood, so Tom uses a stepped dowel. A special stepped drill bit creates the right sort of hole and a dab of wood glue on the end of the dowel ensures it won’t back out. To ensure the boards don’t move, Tom supplements the dowels with marine adhesive. After hammering in the pegs, Tom cuts off the tops and sands them smooth for a nice finished look.
Kevin visits another house designed by project architect Treff LaFleche. At one time, a large estate included a carriage house. This was subdivided, and Treff worked for clients who had purchased the carriage house, and decided it was not conducive to renovation, so this particular house is all new work. It is a mixture of shingle-style and modern style. Features include a rounded dormer LaFleche calls an “eyebrow” dormer. He also used shingles on the roof. To prevent the house from looking too much like a cottage, LaFleche elected to finish the lower walls with stucco.
Interior design draws guests into a large, pavilion like informal room with a great deal of glass and a sunken floor. Next to this is a combination library/dining room. LaFleche maintains that the dining room is underutilized, so combining it with another room makes sense. On the other side is the kitchen (LaFleche believes hallways represent wasted space and avoids them). The kitchen wraps around a large central island and features a full-sized table. An office not far from the kitchen contains cabinets for storage, pin-up space and a work surface, but remains connected to the rest of the house by French doors. Going upstairs, Treff explains how he reverse the usual approach: the large and showy staircase is in back of this house (housed within a tower that “anchors” the corner of the L-shaped structure), while a much smaller staircase serves the front. LaFleche’s contemporary chandelier consists of a series of hanging globes, each containing a light.
The upstairs houses the large bedrooms for the children, behind sliding “barn doors.” These rooms share common storage in the hall. The master bedroom connects to the rest of the house through a short hallway that ties in a bathroom and large closet.
Back at the job site, Norm returns to the attic. Rich is there, installing a pair of air handlers, one for each floor. Heated water comes from the boiler in the basement through PEX lines into the air handlers. Unconditioned air flows across a radiator connected to the hot water and emerges hot. Another module handles cooling; this connects via refrigerant line sets to the condensers in the backyard. Two of Rich’s men seal the duct work with mastic to keep the conditioned air inside; all of the piping and duct work runs around the outside of the attic so some space remains available for storage. What makes this possible is a high velocity duct system – the main duct is just seven inches in diameter, and two inch flexible supply lines carry air to the other floors. Because of their small diameter, Rich can thread these ducts through joist bays and other areas that would not accept a standard duct. To keep the noise under control, the manufacturer faces the inside of the duct with a nylon material that attenuates the air noise. A single return handles the entire floor, because the pressure is sufficient to force air through the room and to that common duct. Share this article with your friends