Touring a Historic Home in Avon Hill

Project: Bob's Shingle Style Home, Episode 7, Part 2



Bob visits the roof where Fred Mitchell is installing a state-of-the-art copper lining in the rebuilt wooden gutter system. Shinglers replace the asphalt roof with the red cedar shingles that would have been used originally. The electrician explains why plastic-sheathed wiring will be used for the considerable rewiring to be done.

Part 1: Installing Copper-Lined Gutters
Part 2: Touring a Historic Home in Avon Hill
Bob and architectural historian Brian Pfeiffer tour an 1887 historic home in the Avon Hill neighborhood of Cambridge, MA. The architectural firm Hartwell and Richardson designed this house as well as Bob's Shingle Style home, and Bob notes distinct similarities.
Part 3: Installing Fire-Rated Wood Shingles and Wiring the Third Floor
This project centers around the remodel of Bob Vila's own gracious Shingle Style home in Cambridge, MA. It's a house with a lot of history and beautiful architectural details, many of which were obliterated in remodels of the 50s and the 70s. On the centennial of the house's construction, Bob gets together the best talents in the business to recreate and renew it to its former glory, making some important modifications along the way that will transform this into a dream house for today.

Also from Bob's Shingle Style Home

Hi, I'm Bob Vila. Welcome home again.

As you can see we've got a jump start on side wall shingling here on the back side of the house, and today we're spending some time up on the roof putting red
cedar shingles back on it, also doing some repair to the gutter work.

And inside we'll be looking at new electrical wiring, talking about what kind of cable you use when you're re-doing an old house like this one.

Then we're going to take a little tour of a neighboring house also designed back in the
1800's by Hartwell and Richardson, the architects who did this place.

Stick around. It's good to have you home again.

Bob Vila's home again.

Well there's a lot of roofing repairs to be done here but before we get to roofing, we've been repairing gutters, right Riley?

Yes, we have.

And you and Denny Ruffini here have got a lot of the work completed.

What size gutters did we have here?

There were a lot larger than what we're used to, they are 5 by 8's.

Mm-hm.

And this is a profile of them right here.

And this is 100 year old piece of wood right?

It's a hundred, it's a one piece gutter. And it's just something you can't find any longer.

Yeah, but it has to be this big to carry this amount of rain water that's being shed by this gambrel roof.

A lot of volume coming off this roof..

So how do you solve this quandary? They don't make these anymore, right Danny?

Right. So what what we did here is we took a stock 4 by 6 gutter and we ripped in half, and we ripped the top off, and we added another piece of vertical grain fir here and here, and glued it all back together.

And this is more practical than trying to actually mill your own gutter out of one big, gigantic piece of doug fir.

Yeah, exactly. It would be some awful big blades for the shaper.

Exactly.

So these are already installed up there, right?

Yup.

And, here's an interesting place to look at, where you've had to join the gutter. Now why don't you just butt-joint pieces of gutter like this when you're doing repairs?

Well we make a forty five cut, called a scoff joint. It gives us more of a glue area to glue on.

Sure, you can see it right here. If you just made a regular cut through, you'd just have this much area to glue on.

Right.

If you have an angled cut, you've got much more

Exactly.

Surface to nail to. And what did I interrupt just now? What's this all about?

Well, we're right in the middle of putting up the planter detail. And one of the things we have to be sure to do is continue our ventilation because now we're re-insulated this whole house, and so we put a soffet vent in and so the venting is in. We've got our face piece on, now we just the back piece on.

And then you put another one back here, and that fills in the flat part of the overhang. Which is referred to as a planchard.

Right.

Correct.

And then there's no real fascia, just a little bit of moulding here?

Just a, just a little bit. Custom molding.

Alright, well the next place we want to look at is around the backside of the house, where we're doing some copper work.

Okay. Here on the south-east corner of the house we can see the, the completed planchard detail.

Right, with the venting in here.

Yeah.

Trim piece that's identical to what was here to begin with.

Mm-hm.

And the built up gutter of course. But what's the story with all the copper Bob?

Well, a wooden gutter to begin with is not an ideal gutter. We've taken this one and laminated it, so it's in pieces now.

And you can't really expect that to stand the test of time where it's all glued together.

Yeah, we've done it for restoration purposes, so that we have the look.

That's right, of what was here before. So what we're gonna do is line everything with the copper, and now this will stay here for decades to come, it will stand.

Copper liner should last for practically a century.

Right, and we have Fred Mitchell here on hand, and he's...

Hi Fred.

Hi Bob. How are you doing?

Let's go do some work.

This is very impressive work . Now your specialty is copper work on roofs, flashing and gutters and the like.

Right, whatever's needed.

And what are we interrupting? here you already soldered one of the joints.



Well we soldered the joints, put it and eight, eight foot lengths as long as possible. And then we'll make up our own outlets It is sort of the back scene, cut the whole exact.


So this has been just made up out of the sheet metal.

Right.


All snipped around in there. It has the curve to fit in to the curve of the gutter.



Right.



Are you ready to solder it?



And we locked the back seam solder that.


Wow.

Hoping it falls right in. Put on some of the liquid flux to make the solder stick otherwise it rolls off like a duck's back.

Uh huh.

And then you have been heating those irons up we will heat up our irons in the propane tank. And with the acid and the iron just the right heat will possibly tack one side then the other side so it's not gonna shift.


Is the solder lead?


Half and half. We're still allowed the roofers are allowed to use half and half. Plumbers I think are now ninety-five and five, is that right, Bob?

Well what's, half what and half what?

Oh. Half tin and half lead.

There you go.

You're right.

Yeah, this is not gonna come in contact with any kind of water that's consumed on the house. Just rain water. Alright. So that shouldn't be any problem for many years to come.

Now, the next question I have, Fred, is how do you manufacture this? Obviously this has been bent on a break. And you've gotten that nice drip edge on it and everything. But then up here, how are you going to bend it to fold over?

Well, I usually leave that til last and not try and guess or or think where it's gonna be. Because if it's off a little, it's a mistake. And I can form it with a little 2 by 6 and.

So you just take this.

Just take this and hold it just at the roof line. And then with your hand and mine we'll just fold it over makes it easy.

And it bends right here.

It bends nice.

Then I'll slide it up a couple of inches, and with my hand, I'll go along like that, and as you can see it.

Yeah, you can see it.

Then you can see it wiggling it's way in and it's fine.

So its.

You gotta be careful, you don't run your fingernail in, into the wood and
almost died, but.

But you're doing the whole thing just with your thumb.

Nice and easy.

Yeah. Yep.

And then you nail it right through into the sheathing.

And then we'll nail it right off.

Beautiful work. Thanks a lot Fred.

We've got to break for some messages. When we come back we'll be touring another one of these great old shingled houses.

Stay with me. Right here in my neighborhood, in Cambridge, there's another house, built at about the same time, also by the architects, Hartwell and Richardson.

Joining me for a tour is Brian Pfieffer of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.

Brian, tell us about this Avon Hill neighborhood. When was it developed?

Mostly in the late 19th century, but the street we're on was from the 1880s. It was farmland that had been sub-divided into lots.

That's the story usually. And this is one of the most prominent houses on top of the hill here, isn't it?

Absolutely. It's really great example of Queen Anne style architecture.

What makes it Queen Anne?

Well, the irregularity of the shapes. If you look at it, you know, you've got a tower over on one side, a gable here on the front, high hip roof, bow window over there. There's nothing symmetrical about it.

So that there are all sorts of different elements all blended together.

Absolutely. And then a number of decorative elements which you'll see inside as well. The shell over the window, the shell over the door. Some of the kind of carving and decorative work that was inside and outside on buildings like this.

I tell you, what really catches my eye is the condition of that slate roof. Not just the condition, but the the the workmanship that went into creating that. Look at the curved slates both on the dormer there and if you look at that tower. Can you imagine? Each one of those slates on that tower has to be individually cut and fitted to create that fish scale pattern, doesn't it?

And there's a particularly nice detail in the copper cresting, which doesn't survive in a lot of buildings of this sort.

Now Brian, what do you suppose it cost to build this house?

Well, this house was estimated to cost 25 thousand dollars when the builder started, but it ended up costing them 50 thousand.

Amazing.

And I understand it's in incredible preservation because it has belonged to Leslie College all these years.

Having a single owner for a long time really helps preserve a building.

Okay, Well, let's take a look inside.

Sure.

It's a large hall, isn't it?

Yeah.

In its day this was one the most expensive houses built in Cambridge. And this hallway was certainly a good part of that expense.

Well, the hallway is more than just a place to come in and take off your jacket, right?

Sure. For a Queen Anne house like this was meant to be a kind of great living hall. And the fireplace was going to create a warm center for life in the house. Little Inglenook seat by the staircase was a place to sit in a cozy spot and then all this paneling and carving.

You know, yeah, what what catches your eye immediately is the condition of all this beautiful golden oak. Quartersawn golden oak, look at all the detailing, the grain of the quartersawn oak in there. The condition, though, it's never been painted, it's never been touched.

No, it doesn't really need, not even chipped or marred. And I think you can see a lot of the detail, the carving is really crisp and clean.

Look up above the mantle. Yeah, there's a pair of griffins holding on to an urn.

Yeah.

Now do you suppose that all hand carved?

I would take it to be hand carved by the way that the background is with the chisel marks and these wonderful tendrils that stand almost free, and then this undercutting here, the leaf, which you can only get through hand carving. You can't stamp it out by machine work.

That kind of depth. Yeah. Look at these doors. Do you suppose we can go in through here?

I would suspect so.

Again, everything is quartersawn oak.

Hey, they glide perfectly like the day they were put in.

What room do you suppose this was?

Built probably as a dining room. Sure.

By the sideboard here, it would give you a good indicator of it.

Indeed, and it's not a vast room: it's maybe, sixteen by twenty.

Uh-huh.

But, what detailing again, huh?

Yeah, and very cleverly worked into the drawers of the sideboard.

Oh, these are drawers. And you're right, see the bottom of the shell is a pull.

Excellent. Beautiful work.

Now, what's the year of this house again?

Eighteen-Eighty-Seven.

Eighty-seven. So, this is still not machine made.

You think this is all handmade?

A lot of houses this period would have machine made work, but the kind of expense and care put into this house, this is mostly handwork.

Yeah.

And I think it mostly shows. Again, the chisel marks and the details of hand-working as opposed to machine stamping or casting.

Indeed and this can just be pictured as the, the built in sideboard with all the heavy silver dishes and the serving pieces.

Built for display in these little shelves provide a little extra display.

Places to put everything you need at the fancy dinner. That's a marvelous room.

Is the whole house done in golden oak like this? Principally, you'd find it in the first floor, in the major public rooms and then as you go up it might get simpler. But it depends on the house .

This is really a grand staircase. Now, it looks like the same kind of treatment that we have over in my house.

In terms of the, the three different baluster designs.

Sure, well again thinking of the the pre-classic. These are taken from colonial revival, in the colonial revival taste or the Georgian taste from the United States.

You'd find that in houses, fancy houses of the 18th century. They liked it, so they put it in here.

Indeed. So it's, it's, it's a detail that, that we see in eighteen century Tory houses.

Sure.

And here a century and a half later almost, they're borrowing it and putting it back to work.

But, but using it very differently too. To make a screen up here to create a, a way of looking through.

In a picturesque way. A way it would never have been used in the Georgian Period.

Well, we have something similar in our place, between the second and third floor rise.

Sure. In the screen it sort of lets you knows there's a staircase going up.

But you don't look directly into the third floor.

The stained glass behind us here. Brought all of way up to a corner.

Is that typical?

Well, for the Queen Anne and, and that period, yes. Because what what they've done is they've brought it as close to the corner as you possibly can. More or less pretending the structure doesn't matter, so you can get windows right up there.

They're defying the structure, yeah.

Sure.

Now I understand that the problem with the buckling of the glass that you see here. Is this something that occurred recently when they added glass panels or Plexiglas panels to the weather side?

That's my understanding, too. And for conservation, it's a, it's a real lesson. And the more you tinker with an old system with modern materials, often the more damage you do.

Indeed.

In this case, creating a little, basically a little greenhouse between the Plexiglas and the window that created those temperatures.

And that extreme heat melted the lead canes and caused the glass to.

I believe this is south facing, so it'd get a lot of sun that would really make that happen.

Well it's a spectacular house. I wish we could spend more time here. Thanks for the tour, Brian.

No, thank you. All right, our copper smith Fred Mitchell is almost finished with this gutter work but we're getting started on the re-installation of cedar shingles up here.

And you know it's nice because we're going we're talking single style houses are originally, they've always had wooden sheet or single roofs as well as side walls, let's send her up to our roofing contractor.

Jay Sargent. How are you, Jay?

How you doin'?

Before you get too far along, let's talk about what we're doing here. Now you you stripped away a portion of the existing roof there's two roofs there, right?

Yeah, yeah. Two roofs are on this one.

And we figured that the top roof is probably 20 years old, you see there are a lot of curled and blistered shingles.

There are a lot of popped up nails.

There will be a lot of flashing to redo up there as well, right?

Yeah, up around the chimneys and the pipes.

But you always start down here at the edge and you got three courses now. A lot of communities Have a lot of concern about using a wooden shingle because of fires.

Yep, you have to use a fire rated shingle on the roofs now so that if the house catches on fire, these aren't going to go up immediately, and they won't set fire to other buildings. Or if embers land on these they're going to smolder and go out.

Exactly, there's minerals and salts that are applied to the cedar so that they gas off and in a fire, it actually extinguishes the embers I understand.

Right, right.

It starves it, and no oxygen gets to it. And yet the look of it, is just you know as pretty as any red cedar.

Yeah, it just soaks into the shingle. It doesn't really change the color of them.

And Riley you've got some of the important product right under you right there.

Yes.

Because we've got our traditional sheathing, just boards. And we're going to shingle right over that but, in between we are putting in some special products. Right now, this is an ice dam right.

This is a ice dam right now, exactly. This is where you 'd have a backup problem here. So what we're doing is putting down this ice and water shield.

Exactly.

And this is a backer part so doesn't stick to itself .

And that goes right over the copper apron that's down here. Now, this is a relatively new product. What's this called?

Right. This is called Cedar Breather.

Right.

And it does exactly what it sounds like, it allows the cedar to breath.

Yeah, when you look at it, even when it's nailed and compressed there's still going to be a space maintained, all throughout the surface of the roof. So that's there's a bit of air circulation, underneath the shingles.

That's exactly right. Because the shingles we're putting on here are dry. That's why they're spacing them, as they put them on.

When it rains, they are going to absorb moisture. They'll reach what's called a saturation point and they're virtually like sponges up on the roof.

That water's gonna drip through, hit the Paper and come down. But when it stops raining they are going to be soaking wet and if they don't dry they rot.

Exactly. That's what...

One of the reasons why a lot of cedar shingle roofs that are applied directly onto plywood, sometimes don't have as long a life expectancy because there's no breather space.

That's right.

The cedar breathers are real good idea Now, you're using stainless steel annular ring nails right.

Yep using that 'cause there's going to be so much moisture in the roof that these are never gonna rust or rot. They'll to be here as long as the roof is.

Exactly.

Shingles won't loosen up.

Now you start down here.

Why do you leave this much of an overhang? It's almost two inches.

An inch and a half. We leave that so that, when the water runs down, it's gonna run down and drip into the center of the gutter.

It can't run back at all, hit the back side of the gutter maybe run into the house.

Now you've got a little bit of a tricky start here cause it's not a straight gable coming down it's got a flare doesn't it?

Yeah Washes out. We're going to have to run shorter courses of shingles here like this to make the transition, because with, with the longer 18 inch shingle, it leaves a big gap.

Exactly.

You want a shorter.

So what you're doing is you're putting a short course.

Put a shorter course and then a layer of paper to cover you know any of the gap and another short course another layer of paper.

Jay, will you be leaving this much space in between all the singles throughout the gap?

Yeah, we leave about a quarter inch gap in between the shingles because there's going to be so much water onto these and they're not protected like side balls singles

Right.

With no paint they are gonna expand and contract, and we also need a bigger gap for the water to run out so it doesn't gather.

All right. I'll get out of your way. I wanna go on the underside of this roof and take a look at some of the things that are happening in the room.

Now underneath all those roof shingles we have a brand new roof structure basically. The old hundred year old roof is back there but you see all this New timber that is strengthening it so that we could create a cathedral ceiling in a space that's about 24X28.

That's quite a big span and we made some other changes, like the partition wall that was here, is now cut into we have got a nice recess for a big screen TV.

And we got dormers that are going in this side but let's interrupt Brendan Driscoll over here at Driscoll Electric. How you doing?

Hi Bob. How are you?

Let 's talk a little bit about the wiring that you're doing in here, 'cause essentially this is new work.

That's right.

And the architect has specked basically where everything goes. What you're pulling wires along right here now aren't you?

That's correct. Pulling in some circuits for some convenience receptacles and some lighting.

Yes all those windows and the ceilings of the little dormers that we've built will have recessed lights, and you've already gone around the room.

And boxed it I see?

That's right, basically laid the room out and now were just pulling cables in to all the different locations.

Alright, so where does this one get pulled in through?

This one's actually gonna come down the ceiling here.

Behind the strapping , right?

That's right.

OK. Now, what kind of cable is this that you're using?

This is nonmetallic sheathed cable, that we're -

And what size is it?

14-2.

14-2. And that refers to the strength of the copper wire that's in there, right?

That's right.

OK. Now, most people call this Romex. And they kind of think of it as the generic name, but it's actually the the brand name for a type of wiring that was invented and developed by General Cable in Rome, New York. Did you know that?

That's right.

Interesting trivia, right?

1922.

Right. And it's one of the things that made it so easy to remodel old houses. That you can pull this cable right through the old work and fish it through walls and plaster and get it to new locations.

That's right.

OK. Now the, I think the plan calls for a built-in in this location, a cabinet that'll store videos and the like.

Now when you put a box out and you know you're gonna have a cabinet in front of it, have you got it in the right place?

We're actually gonna bring that out another quarter of an inch pull up so that it's flush with the surface.

OK, OK, that was my main concern. All right Brendon, I won't, I'll get out of your way.

Right got to break now for some messages, don't go away.

I'm afraid that's it, we're running out of time. Come home again next week when we're going to be building a deck off the kitchen door as well as a little privacy fencing, and hopefully, our windows will be here.

'Til then, I'm Bob Vila, it's good to have you home again.

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