salvage yard, Richard Trethewey
Richard Trethewey talks radiators with Fran Fahey in his Somerville, Massachusetts, salvage yard.
Old houses can be like old cars," says Fran Fahey, owner of A-1 New & Used Plumbing Supply. "Sometimes you raid them for parts. And if the parts are good, you can resell them." If that's the case then Dan and Heather Beliveau's well-preserved row house in Charlestown is a Cadillac of sorts. Their home is filled with the period details that draw us to historic buildings: elaborate plaster ceiling medallions, tiled fireplace surrounds and ornate cast iron radiators. While the Beliveaus love these old fashioned charms, the family car needs a tune-up to get up and running again. The antiquated heating system will be updated and so the house's bulky old radiators must go. Rather than leave them on the curb for the trash man, Dan and Heather are headed to Fran's nearby salvage yard, where they hope to turn their radiators into a cast iron tubs. Salvage goods are now more popular than ever, says Fran, who's been in the business for over 20 years. "Fixing up old houses has become a hobby for people," he says. "I think it reminds them of childhood, of being at their grandmother's house." "There aren't a lot of old fixtures around," Fran claims, but you wouldn't know it from a look around his salvage yard. Spigots hang from the rafters, tubs lounge in every available corner and radiators stand at the ready, waiting for renovators to bring them home. "We have pieces from as far back as the 1860s," around the time when the Charlestown house was built, and vintage goods come to the yard from all around the country. If it's an old radiator you're after, you're in luck at A-1. "People come looking for old radiators for any number of reasons," says Fran. "They might be remodeling and need one to match the others in the house. Or they might need to replace one that's leaking." Fran stocks everything from antique, cast-iron models with flourishes of ornamentation to basic 1940s and 1950s models that are more modest in design. He and his crew test each of them for leaks with 65 pounds of water pressure, sandblast them to get the paint off, prime and repaint them and ship them to old house aficionados all over the country. The salvage process is a circular one. "Someone will remove an antique radiator wanting to modernize, while their neighbors are out searching for the perfect old fixtures to restore their home." Shopping at a salvage yard can save money as well as time. Period renovations often require items that are no longer made or are expensive to reproduce. For Dan and Heather, a trip to A-1 enabled them to engage in a good old fashioned barter, putting their old radiators toward a king-size claw foot tub and pedestal sink for their new master bath. Salvage yards insure that old house details, and history, are preserved.
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