Episode Descriptions


Season 18: Nantucket, MA
This project premiered on PBS
September 28, 1996
18 half-hour episodes; program #1601-1618

Program #1601
This Old House sets out for Nantucket the classic way, aboard a Steamship Authority vessel. On island, they tour one of our master carpenter's first jobs, a clothing store. Linking up with designer Jock Gifford, we take a walk up Main Street, one of the finest preserved streets in America. At the subject house, a tour reveals small rooms and poor systems, but a project with a lot of potential. Accordingly, we meet island contractor Bruce Killen and then the new homeowners, Craig and Kathy McGraw Bentley.

Program #1602
The crew starts the work day surf casting with local expert David Goodman (and full-time tile contractor)—and even catch a striped bass and a bluefish. At the house, Jock Gifford and the Bentleys use a model to go over the new design for the house. Whatever they decide they want to do, all exterior changes will have to be approved by the island's Historic District Commission (HDC). We meet commission head Mark Avery to hear about the group, its mandate, likes, dislikes, and proceedings; meanwhile Jock takes us on a photography expedition around the island as he prepares a presentation to the HDC about exterior changes—dormers, decorative shingling—proposed for the Bentley house. In the basement, Richard Trethewey finds very little plumbing or heating equipment worth saving; he then follows the energy story on Nantucket, from wind power to electricity generation to fuel oil to LP gas to wood. In a word, it's all expensive, so the choices the Bentleys make for their home will have large and long-lasting consequences.

Program #1603
The show starts with a visit to Nantucket's Unitarian Universalist church, a beautiful showcase of restrained New England architecture and trompe l'oeil painting built in 1809. At 3 Milk Street, we catch up with general contractor Bruce Killen, who has his building permit and is well into a gut job on the building. Reasons for this dramatic course include the fact that the building will need insulation, upgraded wiring and plumbing, new windows and trim, and a notable change of floor plan; it will also get rid of the bulk of lead paint. Outside, mason Dan Kissell is accepting a load of concrete for the new addition's footings. Our master carpenter takes a trip to an island plant to see where the concrete is mixed. We hear designer Jock Gifford's report on the Historic District Commission's judgment: the additions were approved, but any exterior details will have to be proven to have been on the building originally. To that end, Syd Conway, who grew up in the house, drops by to share some old family photos, one of which reveals a very Victorian entrance, with double doors and bracketed roof; the current Colonial door went on in the 1930s. Sure enough, homeowner Craig Bentley, while cleaning out the crawlspace, finds the double doors, complete with etched glass.

Program #1604
Our master carpenter goes lobstering with contractor/lobsterman Pierre Garneau, who has a family license to put out 10 traps. At the house, mason Dan Kissell takes down the unneeded (and unsafe) chimneys, careful to salvage the old bricks, which can fetch up to $2.50 a piece. Homeowner Kathy McGraw Bentley is assigned the task of cleaning the bricks of their old mortar. Engineered lumber arrives on site, in time for reframing to begin both inside the building and on the platform left by the recent demolition of the kitchen ell. We learn how to mix the perfect mortar with the masons, who are beginning to build the concrete block foundation for the new addition. Inside, job foreman Patrick Hehir and the crew work to insert a new engineered lumber beam into the second floor floor system, and begin to sister on 2x8s to the existing 2x6 joists.

Program #1605
The show starts with a visit to Sankaty Head Light, a Coast Guard property on the exposed Eastern edge of the island. Built in 1850 it, like the rest of the houses along the bluff that leads up to it, is in danger of being washed away by the encroaching Atlantic. Coast Guard Capt. Bill Batson gives us a tour and discusses the options for the future. Back at the house, general contractor Bruce Killen checks out the nearly entirely reframed house and discuss the efficiency and code considerations that led to such a radical reworking. Outside, designer Jock Gifford shows homeowner Kathy McGraw Bentley a sample of the new windows he's specified for the house, featuring true divided lights, interior energy panels, factory installed trim, and a factory applied three-part exterior paint finish guaranteed for ten years. The Bentleys need to go before the Historic District Commission to obtain approval for the colors they want to use on the building; upon approval they can order the windows. Meanwhile, longtime resident Foley Vaughn leads us on a tour of the village of Sconset on the Eastern side of the island. Starting as a humble fishing outpost, it's become a prime spot of charming cottages and historic homes, though erosion threatens to take parts of it into the sea.

Program #1606
The show opens with a little clamming, looking for quahogs at a secret location. At the site, we meet designer Jock Gifford, who uses the model of the house to explain the work going on: cutting a hole in the roof to accept the addition's gable. Inside, we meet framing contractor Paul O'Rourke, whose crew makes the cut, assembles the gable wall on the second floor, and pushes it up into place. On the roof, Bruce Killen reviews the progress of the new wood shingle roof and the ingredients that go into a roof designed to last 50 years, even in the harsh island environment: heavy roof sheathing, tarpaper, bitumen membrane along edges and in valleys, copper valleys and drip edge, a three-dimensional mesh that allows a layer of air beneath the shingles, and the shingles themselves—#1, vertical-grained, thick-butted (5/8") Western red cedar. Homeowner Craig Bentley considers the possibility of using a ground-source heat pump to both heat and cool the building, a good choice on an island with high fuel costs, since it relies on the ambient heat of the earth. We visit a system in operation in another house on the island. The next day, our master carpenter inspects the completed gable framing, while we see what the old double front doors might look like up against the house. Our master carpenter takes them out to Bruce Killen's woodworking shop in hopes of refurbishing them.

Program #1607
The show begins at Nantucket's Old North Wharf, much of which dates from the early 18th century and site of several small cottages available for rent. At the site, homeowner Kathy McGraw Bentley shows us the window sash color approved by the Historic District Commission, as well as the outside placement of the chimney, which had previously been slated for inside the building. Contractor Bruce Killen describes the cost of the extra framing work so far: $30,000. Outside, mason Dan Kissell shows us how to parge the new concrete block foundation so that it matches the old foundation, while cedar roofer John Rex reveals the secret of the roof's decorative diamond detail. Out at Bruce Killen's workshop, Bruce helps refurbish the building's old front doors, using custom knives to replicate the moldings and a large belt sander to remove the paint from the frames. Finally, lighting designer Melissa Guenet and electrician Sally Kay Bates show us the plans for the second floor.

Program #1608
The show opens at Nantucket's Whaling Museum with curator Mike Jehle. At the site, we see the first of two wells being drilled for the Bentley's ground-source heat pump; they meet an expert in the technology, Carl Orio, who explains how the heat pump works off the ambient temperature in the groundwater. Then we take a tour of some of the island's best open spaces, preserved through the efforts of the Nantucket Land Bank, a public body that competes against developers on the open market using funds it receives from a 2% fee accessed on every real estate transaction on the island. Back at the site, homeowner Kathy McGraw Bentley is hard at work at decisions about her kitchen and floors—our master carpenter reviews wood floor options with her and general contractor Bruce Killen. Our host discusses decisions about the electrical and lighting plans with lighting designer Melissa Guenet and electrician Sally Kay Bates.

Program #1609
Before heading over to the job site, we visit the 1827 African Meeting House, a former school, church, and meeting house used by Nantucket's black population until the 1920's and now the object of a restoration effort. Contractor Bruce Killen builds a new door frame for the restored Victorian double doors, which he and the crew hang. Then we go to Switzerland to see one man's solution to the high cost of building and real estate there: high-quality factory-built houses.

Program #1610
A visit to Nantucket's Life-Saving Museum teaches viewers about a key part of the island's maritime past. Meanwhile, the site is a flurry of subcontractor activity. Mason Dan Kissell shows us the rounded firebox—a traditional Nantucket design—he's building into the Bentley's new chimney. Upstairs, electrician Sally Bates is roughing in workboxes, using airtight plastic surrounds for those in the outside walls to aid in keeping the building well insulated. Installer Eric Branzetti runs the tubing for the central vacuum system and shows us the motor unit in the basement. Plumber Butch Ramos gives a tour of the rough plumbing, while out at Bruce Killen's workshop, work begins on the elegant Victorian brackets that will support the roof over the restored front entrance, as well as the new side entrance. Finally, the crew starts to wrap the house with a spun-bonded fabric to keep the winter drafts from blowing through the old sheathing.

Program #1611
The show begins with a visit to the Wharf Rat Club, a collection of old-timers who gather to chat each morning in a former quahog-sorting shack on Old North Wharf. Then we check out the progress at the house: a Victorian-detailed chimney is complete, as is the custom bulkhead door. Inside, general contractor Bruce Killen goes over the features of the newly arrived windows—wood construction, factory-applied two-color paint scheme and exterior trim, interior energy panels, vinyl sash guides, tilt-in cleaning, excellent weatherstripping—and we see one go in. Then we meet energy conservation specialist David Weitz, whose company is using a three-part system—foam, high-density fiberglass batts and extra-tough vapor barrier—to bring This Old House up to the highest of insulation standards set for new housing. At the workshop, our master carpenter finishes off the exterior brackets by making intricate decorative in-fill on the bandsaw.

Program #1612
Dr. Tim Lepore, the island's leading specialist in tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease and babeosis, tells us more about their prevalence here and what can be done to avoid them. At the house, preparations are underway for the installation of the restored Victorian double doors. Inside, Richard Trethewey shows us the new metal ductwork for delivery heating and cooling service to the house; he visits the shop where the metalworking is done. Outside, we get a lesson in sidewall shingling with Eastern white cedar, the preferred siding on Nantucket. Then we visit the Nantucket dump, rapidly reaching its capacity, and see the recycling facility that supervisor Jeff Willet hopes will reduce the flow of material and extend the life of the landfill. Back at the house, Bruce Killen and crew put up the front door roof, install the double doors and see what the brackets will look like at the restored entrance.

Program #1613
Realtor Hammie Heard shows us around the Dreamland Theatre, a downtown Nantucket landmark. First a Quaker meeting house, then a straw hat factory, then a roller rink, then part of a hotel on Brant Point before finally becoming the island's biggest movie theatre in 1904. Now for sale for $4.2 million, it stands as 15,000 square feet of pure potential with a great view. At the house, Bruce Killen takes a look at the interior insulation, used for sound deadening and heat zoning, and unpacks the new etched glass just in from California. Based on a rubbing of the surviving front door glass panel, it's a perfect match and the final touch on the refurbished Victorian entry. Our host arrives to see blueboarders David and Eric Sanderson tackling the tricky angles of the upstairs rooms, then goes with designer Jock Gifford to see a Victorian-style kitchen in another island home, part of Jock's work to help the Bentley's decide on the look of their new kitchen. Also helping in the kitchen design and ordering process is Gina MacVicar, who they visit at a local home center. Back at the house, Richard Trethewey and plumber Butch Ramos connect the ground-source heat pump to the hot water storage tanks and air handlers upstairs. Richard also tries out a new hole saw that reverses to expel the wood plug automatically. Finally, we review deck building techniques out by the new deck frame.

Program #1614
After a ride out to the beach reservation known as Coatue with Nantucket Conservation Foundation director Jim Lentowski to see both the natural beauty of the preserve and a 1920's fishing shack, used by the foundation's rangers, that represents a simpler time on the island, we return to the house. Our master carpenter questions Bruce Killen on his preferred method of clapboarding: 3" exposure, sunken nails, and no back-caulking. Bruce shows him several examples of this "Nantucket style" in the neighborhood. Out back, foreman Mike Lynch shows us the new deck system, which uses ipe, or Brazilian black walnut, an extremely hard and long-lasting hardwood. Our host takes viewers to a planned community called Nashaquisset, whose density, landscaping, and architectural detailing recalls traditional Nantucket. Back at the site, designer Jock Gifford shows us the Victorian fence he proposes for the house, citing a historical precedent on Main Street.

Program #1615
We visit the Nantucket Marine Lab and its director, Rob Garrison, to see efforts to augment the island's scallop population. At the house, Bruce Killen tells us that the Historic District Commission has rejected as "too fancy" the proposed Victorian fence, approving instead a simple Quaker picket. Painters Gerry Ratnecht and George Loranger applied a plastic filler to nail holes, sand, and lay down a top-quality latex paint on an island used to oil. Inside, Bruce sees carpenter Joe Topham finish out a new window with traditional Victorian trim. We meet landscaper Michael Flanagan, who is dry-laying walls of Pennsylvania fieldstone, then plasterer Howie Nair shows us what's involved in repairing the broken plaster cornice mouldings in the front room. Finally, we catch up with energy-conservation specialist David Weitz as he conducts a blower-door test on the building, trying to seal it up to meet the high standards of the utility company.

Program #1616
Our master carpenter boards the fishing boat of Capt. Tom Mleczko in search of the mighty striped bass and hooks one on his first cast. Fresh from his triumph, he arrives on the job to see a pressed-metal ("tin") ceiling going up panel-by-panel in the kitchen, while Barry Cohen and crew installing a decorative solid-surface bath stall in the kids' bathroom. In the mudroom, tiler David Goodman (the fishing expedition's first mate), lays out a Welsh tile mudroom floor; viewers tour of the small factory in Wales where the tiles were manufactured.

Program #1617
After a visit to the Milestone Cranberry Bog in time for the October harvest, viewers meet up with Bruce Killen who discusses the punch list—it looks like the project will not quite be finished by the show's last taping. Inside, tiler David Goodman shows our master carpenter how he copes a decorative tile molding for the powder room using a water-cooled diamond band saw. We visit with Chuck Davis, who brought back the old pine floors upstairs and is laying a new "floating floor" system in the rest of the house. Richard Trethewey and ground-source heat-pump expert Carl Orio fire up the new system and review the air-to-air heat exchanger in the attic, necessitated by the tight envelope the building now has. Our host arrives to find cabinet designer Gina MacVicar going over the kitchen, family room, and master suite cabinets, while outside, landscaper Mike Flanagan is putting in hydrangeas and day lilies to set off the crushed stone parking tray. Fence installer Ron Dugas shows us the new white cedar Quaker-style fence, with radii and gate.

Program #1618
The crew starts off the last Nantucket show up to their chests in water, harvesting the succulent bay scallop. At the house, the final rush is on. Our master carpenter sees a wallbed unit going into the library/guest room, while Richard shows us some of the toilet fixtures and faucets for the house's new bathrooms. One of the toilets, which the manufacturer calls the "Peacekeeper," flushes only by closing the seat. The following day, the crew arrives to find the final coat of paint going on the restored front doors, complemented by brass hardware whose high-tech finish will stand up to Nantucket's harsh seaside environment. Lighting designer Melissa Guenet takes viewers through some of the reproduction Victorian fixtures she's chosen for the house, while our host visits a lighting manufacturer's lab, where designers can learn how to use various types of fixtures to achieve the desired effect. Syd Conway, who grew up in the house, drops by to give his blessing on what's been done to the family homestead. Our host tours the nearly completed kitchen, with its stainless steel appliances and granite counters, then debriefs homeowners Craig and Kathy McGraw Bentley, who are pleased with the work that's been done. Finally, a belt-sander race at Bruce Killen's shop caps off the Nantucket project with accusations of equipment-tampering and race-rigging—and hearty thank-yous to the crew that made the project possible.