Episode Descriptions


Season 16: Acton, MA
This project premiered on PBS
September 1994
18 half-hour episodes; Programs #1401-1418

Program #1401
The season begins with a tour of the country's oldest wood-frame house: the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts, built in 1636. We then go to the season's project house (and the oldest house the show has worked on): a 1710 colonial in Acton, Massachusetts, owned by Terry and Sima Maitland. Though suffering from bad sills and much settling, its real problem for this family of five is lack of space. The Maitlands' $150,000 budget will barely cover an addition, and our master carpenter and Tom Silva advise them to "let sleeping dogs lie," and not attempt to correct many of the original house's problems, which would soak up that amount and more.

Program #1402
The day begins with the crew moving the old milk shed to another spot on the property. Inside, Richard Trethewey has done an energy audit and determined that, with the addition of a stand-by hot water tank, the current heating plant is sufficient to handle the needs of the new addition. Architect Chris Dallmus reviews with the Maitlands the many design ideas they mulled before deciding on the addition's final layout. The need for the addition results from the lack of usable space in the original house. To illustrate the space-eating effect of the large central chimney, our host visits Minuteman National Historical Park and tours a "naked" chimney stack with historical architect Larry Sorli.

Program #1403
Homeowner Terry Maitland cuts down a tree to make way for the new foundation, while the crew lays out the excavation lines using a small laser level. Excavation contractor Herb Brockert arrives to dig, while out back the old septic field is expanded with a new tank and new leach lines. Inside, the guys review the demolition plans, pointing out the importance of not going beyond the planned areas of reconstruction. Architect Chris Dallmus guides us through a model of the new addition and discusses a possible window choice. Halfway through the excavation, Herb hits large boulders or ledge at about four feet, dashing the Maitlands hopes for a full basement.

Program #1404
We tour the newly demolished back areas of the house, and see how woefully underframed they are. In preparation for the new foundation, the crew suspends the gable end of the old house with "pins" of engineered lumber supported both inside and outside the building. Herb Brockert removes part of the old rubblestone foundation, and a small-batch concrete delivery truck pours footings for the addition's lally columns. Steve revisits the Gallants' Victorian to see how they're liking it. A few days later, a preformed concrete foundation system arrives on site and is swung into place with a crane. Soon, a transit truck arrives and the crawlspace gets a slab as part of the foundation system.

Program #1405
At the site, lumber—conventional and engineered—has arrived, and the crew begins to attach the sill to the foundation. Terry Maitland lays down fiberboard to protect his old floors during construction, and discusses with our host his concern about the lead content of the old building: one of his children, who has been monitored for the past year, had a slightly elevated blood lead level. Our host promises the show's help. He then takes Terry into the basement, points out how little is holding up the living room, and suggests Terry replace the lally column that somehow got knocked down. We visit a c. 1760 tavern that has been moved across the state and rebuilt as a private home, with painstaking attention to historical accuracy. Back at the site, the first of the wood I-beam joists go in.

Program #1406
The framing crew continues working on the addition; a large steel beam to carry the upper floor is lowered into place. A framer demonstrates a pneumatic tool for attaching metal hangers to wood. The guys lay down the second floor deck, using construction adhesive and tongue and groove plywood. Inside, we find Terry Maitland putting in a footing for the missing basement lally column. We then meet a lead paint inspector, who uses an x-ray machine to gauge the presence and concentration of lead paint in the old building. Tom Silva works on replacing the rotten and underframed back of the old building. We meet a lightning protection inspector from Underwriters Labs, who assesses the building's system.

Program #1407
With the addition weathertight, its massing is apparent and seems to make a successful match with the old building. Inside, Tom Silva shows us the lightweight steel partition walls he's building, and Sima Maitland checks out the new windows and first floor plan. We then tour a plant in Tennessee where power tools—including the circular saw he follows from start to finish—are made. Back at the site, Tom Silva shows us how to do the exterior trim on one of the new windows.

Program #1408
Redwoodclapboards—finger-jointed and preprimed—start to go on the addition; our general contractor shows us a trick with a "story pole," which helps him space the clapboards evenly across a given field. Our master carpenter explains the challenges of waterproofing and venting the shallow pitch of the addition's shed roof, while in the master suite we see Dickie Silva screwing down the floor deck with an automatic-feed screw gun. After a tour of the master bath and new second-floor common areas, homeowner Terry Maitland and the lead abatement contractor discuss how the old house's woodwork will be treated during the upcoming deleading process. Our master carpenter warns Terry that the trick will be removing the old windows carefully so as to minimize damage to the interior plaster and exterior siding. Richard Trethewey investigates an old water well discovered on the property—with a proper pump it could supply irrigation water for the yard. Finally, kitchen and bath designer Glenn Berger discusses cabinet choices with Sima Maitland.

Program #1409
As he contemplates installing replacement windows in the original building, our master carpenter explains that it might make sense to replace the old, heavily weathered clapboards on the front facade instead of having to cut each window's trim into them. On the less-weathered west side of the house, the guys show us just what's involved in installing a replacement window and retaining the original clapboards. We watch the deleading crew in action as they remove lead paint from the original building. Richard Trethewey follows the installation of the well pump and tank, and visits a lab to have the water tested.

Program #1410
Tom Silva shows us his reroofing progress—stripping of old shingles, plywood sheathing, new shingles, ridge vent. Down at ground level, the old clapboards have been stripped off the front facade, revealing the reason for the bellying out of the lower left side. Associated interior demolition reveals wide feathered paneling behind the living room's plaster. The structural deficiency is solved by rebuilding part of the wall. In search of ideas for exterior paint colors, we visit historic Deerfield, Massachusetts, a town of remarkably preserved 18th and 19th century homes. Back at the site, landscape contractor Roger Cook installs a gravel path using steel edging and rice stone.

Program #1411
Homeowners Terry and Sima Maitland puzzle over exterior paint colors, settling on a pumpkin for the field and cream for the trim. They discuss a few details of the farmer's porch that may be reconsidered: a post up against the body of the main house, trim treatment along fascia, and a gutter. Inside, our host checks out a new central vacuum system, while the guys review the heating and cooling systems for the new addition: radiant baseboard downstairs and in the master bedroom, in-wall radiant tubing for mudroom, stairwell, and master bath. Preservation mason Steve Roy diagnoses the fireplaces on the first floor and decides that the chimney should be rebuilt from the roofline up. Finally, landscape contractor Roger Cook supervises hydroseeding of the lawn.

Program #1412
Tom Silva tests out the old-fashioned v-shaped gutter he made for the front porch, then takes us on a tour of the house, explaining his preparations for the spray-in insulation. Most of these are like for any other insulation job, like his use of vent chutes to keep the roof cool, though he did have to cover the windows to protect them from overspray and put up one side of the interior walls for those rooms he wants insulated for sound. Paul Kennedy explains the challenges he faced in working with the house's steel studs. Our master carpenter follows the spray-in urethane insulation process—from mixing the two-part formula on a truck to spraying it into stud bays, where the liquid expands to 100 times its volume, to cutting away the excess to allow for the drywall. The system not only insulates, but acts as a vapor barrier and air sealant as well. Outside, painter George Hourihan reveals some tricks of the trade.

Program #1413
We see Terry busily caulking the battered clapboards of the west gable in preparation for the top coat of paint. Painter George Hourihan applies the gloss latex top coat to body and trim. We join mason Lenny Belleveau to take down and rebuild the chimney from the roofline up. Our master carpenter meets up with architect Chris Dallmus for a research trip around Acton to find the proper design for a new front entrance, since the old one is now too rustic for the house. Sima Maitland reviews her choices for flooring: recycled longleaf and shortleaf southern yellow pine and old white pine. She decides on the white pine, and we visit the lumberyard where it and a wide variety of other 18th and 19th century architectural components are on display.

Program #1414
An in-ground propane tank is installed for cooking and drying. Inside, the wallboard is up, plaster is going on the ceiling, and Tom Silva demonstrates a new vacuum sander for finishing off the taped seams on the drywall. Richard Trethewey installs a flexible stainless oil-burner flue liner in the chimney, which will prevent flue gases from condensing and damaging the mortar and bricks. Our master carpenter uses a new jig to drill out holes for the rear exterior door's lock set. Sima visits a tile store to pick out a slate tile, and the Ferrante brothers use a diamond wet saw to cut it before installing it in the mudroom, laundry room and half bath.

Program #1415
We arrive to find Jeff Hosking installing the salvaged floorboards he found in a New Hampshire yard. Jeff discusses the challenges of working with such material, and shows a stationary double-drum sander he uses to take off a little of the boards' rough surface at a time. Upstairs, Joe Ferrante applies a colored grout to the slate tile in the master bath. In the dining room, homeowner Terry Maitland—after checking out a similar house nearby—decides to take down the plaster ceiling, in the hopes that an original beam and joist floor system lurks beneath. Unfortunately, what they find is not very pretty. . . On a more positive front, the guys build a historically accurate entryway for the house back at the workshop. Finally, a new lightning arrest system goes on the building.

Program #1416
The crew installs the new front entryway. Kitchen designer Glenn Berger leads a tour of the new kitchen, and our host takes viewers to the Bath, Maine, showroom and workshop where it was made. Glenn examines the restaurant-style range and hood. Upstairs, painter George Hourihan paints the master bedroom with new combination sprayer and roller, while in the master bath, Richard Trethewey shows us how to install a new toilet.

Program #1417
Our host arrives to find installer Michael Griffiths laying out a carpet for the master suite. It's made of recycled soda bottles. Inside, he meets up with Tom Silva, who shows him the new ceiling in the dining room (reboarded, plastered, and given a faux box beam) and explains the work involved in finishing off the replacement windows. Homeowner Terry Maitland discusses with them his expenses for the project (around $190,000) and the amount of donated materials (around $120,000)—the target of $150,000 was exceeded because of all the unforeseen work in the old part of the house. Steve meets interior designer Bill Reardon, who explains his approach to the project. Part of it includes a decorative wall finish of joint compound and successive latex paint washes, as applied by artisan Julia Clay. Up in the master suite, the carpet has gone down quickly, and our master carpenter prepares to install brass door hardware. We take a tour of the Reading, Pennsylvania, factory where it was made. Glenn Berger shows us the new laundry and the countertops in the kitchen—plastic laminate for the island and work areas, granite for the bake center and on either side of the range. The guys install the stainless steel kitchen sink, review the water- and energy-saving features of the new dishwasher, and connect up the ice and water service for the built-in refrigerator.

Program #1418
The final days. We arrive to find the telephone company burying a new multipair line into the house, leaving the west gable free of overhead wires. Landscape architect Tom Wirth uses a mockup to help Terry Maitland decide where to site the old milk house. Jeff Hosking shows us how he finished the old pine floors to achieve an amber luster. Lighting designer Melissa Guenet gives us a look at the combination of old-fashioned and recessed fixtures, both incandescent and halogen, that she specified for the new spaces. Upstairs, Paul Kennedy installs a paddle fan in the master bedroom's cathedral ceiling, while the crew discusses the remaining problem areas that the Maitlands will someday have to face: sills, drainage, and an unsafe outbuilding. Richard Trethewey takes us on a plumber's final tour through the basement and bathrooms, and interior designer Judy George shows us the decorated rooms.