This is the story of a Remodeling a Bungalow in Lauraville, Baltimore. Homeowners AJ & Kenneth graciously shared the details. Enjoy. ~jb
It’s in the Water
They always say put the money where the water is. In other words, you as a homeowner often get the most from your remodeling dollar with work on the kitchen and on bathrooms. AJ and Kenneth smartly adhered to this rule.
The Kitchen, Remodeled
As hinted at previously, remodeling is often guided by changes in collective lifestyle. Today, and if you are up on the trends, you know that the kitchen has taken a more prominent role in living. No longer just a place to prepare food, the kitchen now is a gathering point for coffee, meals, and daily planning. The bungalow’s original design did not necessarily accommodate this.
So, what to do? The answer — modernize. AJ and Kenneth removed a wall at the rear of the house, which originally divided a somewhat cramped kitchen space from an enclosed sun porch. (If you remember from the last posts, the space taken from outdoor living here was later replaced with a multi-tier composite deck.)
This interior reconfiguration was made possible by installing an engineered beam at the point where an outside wall once stood. The beam substitutes for the support, or the bearing, that this wall once provided. It allows for greater flexibility in the designing of interior space.
– Working Outside In
The removal of the outside wall more clearly reveals a bank of windows (also upgraded), giving fantastic views of the yard. These windows are a testament to the builder’s intention to provide ample light, ventilation, and a sight-line connection with nature.
With this annexation came an eat-in-kitchen, including an informal breakfast nook. For AJ and Kenneth, this new space now is not only a great place to eat and drink, but more importantly, a location from which to watch the gathering of birds at bird feeders.
Baths, Going from One to Two
Bungalows in their original design typically placed a single bathroom between two first floor bedrooms. In today’s fast paced world, often with several competing schedules demanding bathroom time, the need for multiple bathrooms is amplified.
At the stair landing upstairs, AJ and Kenneth removed the doorway to the right and sheetrocked over it. They removed a partition wall that split the two bedrooms. A new partition was built. They salvaged the door with door casing and trim and later transplanted them. A once small secondary bedroom was converted to a master bath, complete with sitting and storage areas.
This configuration in essence turns the second floor into a sweet master suite. Refinished heartwood pine floors, barely touched through the years, run from the newly created bath into a comfortable area for sleeping.
– Stack Bathrooms
The placement of this bath is not insignificant. It is stacked immediately above the original bath, itself reworked during the upstairs bath installation. This stacking, a builder’s term, allows for easy, efficient, and cost-smart installation of new plumbing lines.
AJ and Kenneth were on an extended trip to Europe as these renovations were performed. AJ continues, “We frequently entertain friends from Europe.”
For the original bath, the five-foot tub/shower was replaced by a more space efficient rounded corner shower. Now multi-tasking as a guest bathroom, overflow for the guys themselves on busy mornings, and as a powder room, AJ says of the bath, Our European friends are accustomed to this type of arrangement.
The House Main Plumbing Supply
Around Lauraville, like many the older neighborhoods around the city, you will find some galvanized steel buried some 36 inches below the earth. The house main, that is — the main supply line running water from the city meter into the house was installed as galvanized steel. Brian Marvel, at Forster Plumbing, confirms this.
While appropriate for the time, as this material is strong and easy to work with, steel in this type of application is at the mercy of oxidation, calcification, and rust. Decades of willful service lead to diminished water pressure, or worse, catastrophe.
This operation, the replacement of a main house supply, requires trenching from the curb to the house’s foundation. Once exposed, this piping is then replaced with a more functional, and long lasting, copper line.
Often requiring the use of heavy machinery, this job does carry a relatively steep price tag. When moving into an older home, it is wise always to inquire about and/or to prepare for the eventual replacement of this. For AJ, it topped his list of priorities. He performed this fix shortly after he arrived.
Radiant Baseboard Heat (Hot Water Heat)
While it is fair to say that forced hot air is the most widely used form of residential heating, it simply was not an option in the early parts of the last century. According to Jerry Fitz of Fitz Mechanical, bungalows in our area were typically fitted with a coal-fired boiler system. These systems, he says, were often converted to run on oil, but were later swapped out altogether in favor of gas-burning systems.
AJ and Kenneth, with efficiency of space in mind, and resistant to the idea of adding bulky ductwork to the home, replaced the original free standing radiators (fed probably by larger and less efficient 1 inch plus piping) with a more streamlined and sleek baseboard system. While it is arguable whether these systems offer a more efficient means of heating the home, Jerry says, “They are certainly comfortable, and are very practical in homes of this age.”
Run along outside walls, and concealed by covers, copper lines transport heated water throughout the home. They are easy to maintain, and distribute, or radiate, heat evenly throughout the space serviced.
It’s in the Air, too
In seeking modern comfort, a renovation often includes the installation of integrated air conditioning. A relatively recent invention and certainly not employed widely at the time the home was built. Whole-house central air conditioning could have been chosen to replace the conventional units that exited windows around the house.
Ductless Mini-Splits work well in conjunction with Hydronic Heating Systems
In a smaller home, and in keeping with the plan of maximizing livable space, AJ and Kenneth decided instead to go with dedicated mini-splits. While relatively new to the US, and very similar to central air conditioning, the mini-split or ductless split system has many advantages over its brethren.
Most of us living around Lauraville have, at one time or another, employed one or more window air conditioning units. Let’s be honest, these puppies are not attractive, they diminish the security of our houses, and they are, in fact, energy hogs. Expensive to operate, they often lose conditioned air right out the same windows in which they sit.
– Air Conditioning without Ductwork
Central air systems, while more efficient, require the installation of ductwork. AJ and Kenneth knew that ductwork would not only encroach on an otherwise finishable basement space, but it would also be difficult to elegantly run to the second floor.
Perhaps guided by their HVAC contractor, Fitz Mechanical, they chose instead several ductless split system air conditioners. Offering the quiet operation of a central system AND the luxury of zoned cooling, they are considered very efficient. They not only provide cooling like a window unit where and when you need it, but there are no joints in ductwork through which to lose cooled air.
They are easy to install, and some, as the one found in the master suite, double as heat pumps. AJ and Kenneth eliminated the radiators that originally serviced this room, killing two birds with one stone. These radiators, prior to remodeling, were fed by iron pipes run at and exposed in the rooms at the front of the home. AJ puts it like this, “Ugly,” he says.
* Implement a Cooling Plan
We love sleeping with windows open slightly, AJ says. And if you hang on with him for a few minutes, AJ will proceed to describe an elaborate dance by which he harnesses the natural effects of cross ventilation.
I won’t go into too much detail on this here, but AJ is simply maximizing one of windows’ primary purposes. Often overlooked in today’s workaday world of comfort-controlled buildings, the guys will coordinate open windows in the day and night, with cooling cycles in the evening. The end result is comfortable and efficient living, and a cooling bill that will not break the bank.
Insulate, Insulate . . . Insulate?
Homeownership and priorities attached to it have changed throughout the decades. And as I have hinted at throughout this piece, these priorities may now be shifting more dramatically in response to a slowing economy and rising energy costs.
AJ and Kenneth took many steps to help minimize the cost of powering her. They insulated heating lines and installed replacement windows. These windows (look for low-e, Argon injected) insulate the home from heat loss and solar gain. In other words, they help lower energy costs.
But these steps are by no means the end of what these guys would like to do. To put it clearly, and as I often say — insulate, insulate, insulate. An area of challenge that may arise for many bungalow owners is the task of insulating above what AJ terms, the igloo.
As a one-and-a-half story house, the roof right tight to the second floor, it is often difficult to intelligently insulate there. To complicate the matter, the home has a ridge vent installed at her roof’s peak. Great itself at moving hot air out from under a summer-sunned roof, it is a ventilating apparatus whose effects could be totally neutralized by a poor or unsuccessful attempt to insulate.
– Working with Pros
While insulating crawl spaces and/or exposed joists in basements is easy enough to do yourself, retrofitting a home with insulation may be a task more suited for a professional. Because of this, I enlisted the help of Brian Walsh at Carroll Insulation. With 20 plus years in the field, he is what I would term an insulation expert.
Here is his advice on insulating bungalows:
With bungalows, I really take it on a case by case basis. I approach each one differently, but first I always want to check to see if the ceiling of the second floor is insulated. Many of these of-era bungalows have knee walls (fitted with doors) that homeowners now use for storage.
If we can assess the joists there, we will blow in a full 13 inches of fiberglass material to get an R38 insulation value. Similarly, we will insulate the outside walls incorporating netting that holds our material in place.
Many of these bungalows had gable vents originally that by themselves provide decent air flow off the roof. Homeowners may add an attic fan or a ridge vent to this set up. In these cases, when attempting to insulate under this roof, it is important to incorporate StyroVent or some other attic ventilation chute.
From inside the knee wall, you can attempt to slide these up between the rafters and blow in insulation up to the collar tie. However, slipping these things in is no easy task; they often get hung up and torn by roofing nails.
With people more concerned with lowering their energy bills, many are looking into insulating this area of their house. Generally my feeling is, though, that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. These houses were built tight, and part of what you pay for when you buy them is not today’s energy-efficiency, but the charm of an old house.
– Bungalows often weren’t originally Insulated
Many of these houses were not insulated originally. Ironically, before we hung up, our discussion turned briefly to the exterior. AJ and Kenneth had mentioned previously that they had intentions of eventually re-siding the house. I passed this information on to Brian.
In these kinds of situations, Brian said, we will typically come in advance of the siding guys and drills holes around the house. We then blow insulation into the stud cavities from the outside. He continues, Mind you, this job runs at about $1.50 a square foot. But it is a very effective way of insulating an older home.
Siding also as Insulation
As mentioned previously – the exterior is clad with asbestos shingles. Asbestos shingles were used widely on residences from the 1930s through the 1970s. Installed on a home, they are not dangerous. Ironically, they provide superior fireproofing and insulation over many of today’s products.
But it is AJ and Kenneth’s intention to eventually address their siding. Because these shingles only become a health hazard if they are disturbed, many siding companies are experienced at installing new siding right over these old shingles.
Before new siding is applied, the house is wrapped with a layer of 3/8 to ½ inch rigid polystyrene, or foam, insulation. With these rigid panels, the home gets an additional 3 to 5R of protection. Most siding professionals demand it; not for insulation value, but because they simple need a completely flat surface over which to place their new siding. The added benefit of lower energy costs goes to you.
For more discussion on siding materials (including asbestos shingles), please see the Outtake below.
Efficiency in Remodeling (and there is always a wish list)
In many ways, AJ and Kenneth are your prototypical bungalow owners. I would hope they would give me that. I am grateful, too, to have had the opportunity to use their home as a bullet point in the bungalow’s story in North East Baltimore.
For AJ and Kenneth, they understand the bungalow’s significance. They know what they have. A classic American home set in a one of Baltimore‘s more active areas of reclamation. While the traditional bungalow itself was designed with efficiency in mind, it, like all homes built in its day, has gone through changes not limited to its physical appearance.
– Energy Efficiency can be Allusive
Efficiency, today, seems to mean something just slightly different than it did then. While a flat economy and raising energy costs seem to govern our (collective sense) home improvement choices now, more elemental human needs, however, always remain.
Home not only as shelter or investment, but as extension of self. AJ and Kenneth have efficiently maneuvered the course of fitting this home to their needs. Does work remain? Of course. Sure, these guys have thought about blowing out the roof of the second floor and/or installing more elegant French Doors on the rear of the home. House wise and efficient? Maybe, maybe not. Is the now the time? Maybe, maybe not.
With the smart salvage, intelligent usage, and mindful budgeting, I have faith that these guys will make the decisions that work for them. Maybe it was Jerry Fitz, our HVAC contractor, who unknowingly put it the best. Efficiency, he says, is output vs. cost to operate. He, of course, was speaking about mechanical equipment, but again I will run with it.
AJ and Kenneth get a high level of output from a home they are not killing themselves to afford. Efficiency – not just energy, but total. For every dollar in (though surely reclaimed one day), they get a little bit of living out.
>> More Moxie (Related Links):
*A comprehensive resource on asbestos shingles.
*For more info on split systems, here is a great article.
Outtake :: The Bungalow’s Siding
Original siding for many of the bungalows built in the bungalow’s day took the form of cedar shake or German clapboard. Wood, of course. And wood as we know expands and contracts. It wears, and generally needs paint or some other coating to perform its best.
Manufacturers of vinyl siding, further, and the leagues of individuals that sell it – offer a relatively maintenance-free alternative. Both have pros and cons; both make a very acceptable method for wrapping a home. With AJ and Kenneth’s home – an asbestos shingle on it.
* What to Know about Asbestos Shingles
But, can this cladding actually help in dating her?
Asbestos shingles, fire resistant and inert (don’t be mislead by your own misgivings), were a very acceptable siding material. Many of us recognize them; asbestos shingles were installed widely on homes from the 1930s till the end of the 1970s. 1930s? Is this a tip? Was this house, as the second group of papers seems to suggest, actually built in 1933? Does the answer lie in her siding? I don’t know.
I tend to think not. My instincts tell me, and inquisitive homeowner might pursue, that the shingle was a replacement to/cover up of the earlier wood. That said — the asbestos shingles certainly serviced this bungalow and many others.
AJ tells me that there are only two coats of paint on them. This, of course, is a direct result of their make-up. Asbestos-fortified cement board, the asbestos shingle is very stable, in other words, it is resistant to both water and temperature changes. It is strong and difficult to damage. In general, as AJ suggested, all that might remain from this house is this now outlawed siding.
We are now, of course, aware of the health risks that any product containing asbestos present, hence, its total discontinuation globally. But asbestos shingles, if left undisturbed, represent no health or environmental risks. (For more information on asbestos, please see the More Moxie links above.)