Episode Descriptions


Season 19: Milton, MA
Project premiered on PBS
September 27, 1997
19 Half-hour episodes; Programs #1701-1719

Program #1701
The show opens in the historic town of Milton, Massachusetts, founded in 1662 and the site of the c. 1725 Colonial home the show purchased for renovation and eventual sale. The This Old House crew looks the old structure over, including the massive post-and-beam barn on the property. The diagnosis: questionable room layout for modern life, some rot, but a remarkable sound house with a lot of potential. Jinny Devine, owner for the past 38 years, recalls raising her family of four boys in the home.

Program #1702
Our host arrives to find excavator Herb Brockert preparing to knock down the rotting ell off the barn. The crew salvage a few valuable bits before it goes, including the cupola and an arched window. A group of young men, from a program that acts as an alternative to juvenile detention, work to dismantle the brick patio in back of the house and haul in fiberboard to protect the house's delicate old floorboards. Architect Rick Bechtel and our host discuss some ideas about reworking the house's floorplan, including moving the kitchen from the dark northeast side to the sunny south. Our host goes to New York City to visit the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club Decorators Show House, which has been going annually for 25 years, to get ideas for turning the Milton house into a similar showcase at the end of the renovation. Rich Trethewey checks out the house's aging heating system, complete with solar collector.

Program #1703
The show opens with a visit to the top of Great Blue Hill and its historic weather observatory (built in 1885) to view the sights: the town of Milton, downtown Boston (8 miles northeast), and the 7,000 acres of parkland that comprise the Blue Hills Reservation. At the jobsite, the crew takes up planks in the front part of the barn in preparation for turning it into a garage; the structure reveals various areas of rot and poor construction. Forms are in place to accept the concrete coming to make up the new workshop's foundation, and landscape architect Tom Wirth assesses some of the site's challenges, including a lack of proper access to the front prospect of the house. Historic photos show a gravel or shell drive that once passed by the home's front, and Tom thinks a similar scheme would be appropriate. Insulation specialist Graeme Kirkland shows us the results of a blower door test he's conducting: the house changes its interior air 11 times an hour in a simulated 15-mile-an-hour wind, and is clearly in need of some insulation and sealing. Architect Rick Bechtel shows us a model of the proposed renovation, while paint consultant Mac McCaw gives advice about how to paint the house's exterior. Finally, demolition begins in the old kitchen, destined to become a state-of-the-art media room.

Program #1704
Our master carpenter lays out lines for subslab ductwork in his workshop, and the crew strips off the barn's old shingles. They will use a shingle panel system when they replace the siding. Tom Silva shows us his new jobsite trailer, leased complete with office and secure storage room. A surveyor works to put together a certified plot plan, while we see the excavation work around the main house for the kitchen foundation and for a perimeter drain along the front facade, where water has been penetrating the rubblestone foundation for years. In the barn, our master carpenter puts in one of the new posts that make room for the garage to come—earlier he used new one-piece footing forms and a waterborne laser level to provide solid bases for the new posts, poured by a small-batch concrete delivery truck. In the future media room, the crew removes the lally column, holding up the building with jacks and a cripple wall before inserting a flitch beam of laminated veneer lumber and steel.

Program #1705
Our master carpenter's workshop continues to take shape, as Rich Trethewey lays out radiant floor heating tubes over a layer of rigid insulation. We meet audio/visual systems contractor Steve Hayes to get a preview of what the new media room may look like, and visit a showroom to see the range of equipment options. We see a virtual walk-through of the new workshop put together by Randy Levere, while the crew tears down the old kitchen addition, which has revealed itself to be woefully built. Paint stripper Brooks Washburn uses a paraffin-based paste to remove dozens of layers of old paint from the front staircase, and our host suggests trying it out on the historic front facade. Finally, the concrete arrives to complete the floor of the new workshop.

Program #1706
A big day on site: the structural insulated panels for the new workshop are hoisted into place—they, along with a massive ridge beam of engineered lumber, form the entire workshop structure, complete with window, door, and skylight openings. We are introduced to a range of metal roofing available to top off the workshop, while our host meets furniture and finishes restorer Robert Mussey in his shop, brings him back to the house, and gets some advise on the care and feeding of the historic pine paneling. Landscape architect Tom Wirth checks in with Milton town civil engineer Jim Greene about moving the driveway and any wetlands issues involved.

Program #1707
The house's new spaces are framed and sheathed, giving us a chance to tour the new kitchen and media room. The front facade is now completely stripped of its burden of 200 years' of paint, ready for primer and a new color. Architect Rick Bechtel and window specialist Mike Roach discuss the new windows they are specifying for the new work (all wood units, double hung, insulating glazing, applied six-over-six muntins), and decide that, rather than being replaced, the historic sash on the front part of the building should be restored and weatherstripped. At the workshop, we see new, low-cost, breathable building wrap, then watch as the crew installs one of the new skylights. Then a roll-forming machine spits out metal roof panels for the building's new standing-seam roof. Finally, we see the engineered wood product that is being used to trim out the house—it's very stable, warpfree, consistent, and cheaper than clear pine.

Program #1708
Victory Garden chef Marian Morash and kitchen designer Phil Mossgraber work to refine a plan for the new kitchen, with special attention to window and appliance placement. Out in the workshop, TJ Silva uses an airless sprayer to apply a stainkilling primer to the interior walls and ceiling, while the crew begin to apply the newly arrived shingle system: 2' x 8' panels, prestained, with braided corner units that go up quick and cost less than uninstalled traditional shingles. Security system consultant Steve Yusko shows us the wireless radio transmitter that will link the property's alarms with a central monitoring station, redundant with the regular phone line link. In the media room, a/v expert Steve Hayes pulls speaker wires and adjusts the rooftop DSS (digital satellite system) dish to pull in a clear signal. Finally, lighting designer Josh Feinstein gives us a tour of the many lighting control options available for the new house.

Program #1709
Our host arrives to find our master carpenter unpacking the new stationary woodworking tools for the workshop; they admire the newly shingled barn, whose panelized shingle system the general contractor estimates saved him almost two weeks' labor. At the main house, the crew shingles the low-pitch roof over the media room, taking special care to first cover the deck with a waterproofing membrane. Inside, we see the restructuring being done in the dining room: using engineered I-joists to level the ceiling and reinforce the floor above; carefully removing the old floorboards to get at the rotted subfloor, strengthening it with more I-joists and a new plywood deck. Our host meets chefs Julia Child and Marian Morash in the kitchen to discuss the layout, work surfaces, islands, tables, and flooring options. Out at the workshop, the team puts together the deck using an undermount system and decking made of recycled plastic shopping bags and sawdust, and checks out the new woodworking tools. We watch as John Stahl weatherstrips the house's old single-hung windows and does some epoxy repairs on the front facade.

Program #1710
Rich Trethewey is on site to see the new gas line being laid and the old oil tanks removed, courtesy of a gas company program. Coppersmith Larry Stearns shows off the fabulous copper weathervane he's made for the new workshop cupola, which he and the master carpenter place on the roof. Arborist Matt Foti and his crew work to clear the way for the new driveway, as well as cleaning up damage and debris from the spring's surprise snowstorm. We receive a tour of the studded up master bathroom, and watch as a new kind of retractable screen system is put in at the workshop's new French doors. Excavation contractor Herb Brockert shows us the work he's done laying in the new driveway and discusses his concerns about properly draining the site. Finally, paint expert Andrea Gilmore shows us the results of her research of the house's exterior: 16 coats of paint, the last eight of which were white, with earlier schemes ranging from the original dark brown with red trim to a putty color to a yellow ochre.

Program #1711
Our master carpenter inspects the new garage doors, made of redwood to look like old-fashioned outswing carriage doors but operated like modern overheads. The construction crew thickens the sills of the new windows to match the old trim style and installs a three-window mulled unit in the kitchen. Our host tours Milton with realtor Susan Bolgar-Wiesjohn to see what kind of properties are available in this town of 25,000, just 9 miles from downtown Boston. Lighting designer Josh Feinstein gives us an overview of the workshop's new lighting package, while landscape architect Tom Wirth and architect Rick Bechtel discuss plans for the shade garden.

Program #1712
A busy day at the site, as several weather-sensitive jobs are brought to completion. The crew puts the final touches on the cedar clapboarding and window trim, explaining to us the fine points of keeping out the water. A new fiberglass bulkhead is installed, while painter Seth Knipe shows us the proposed colors for the main house. Inside, we watch insulation contractor Don Sawyer and crew spray a fast-expanding foam into the open stud bays of the media room, into the joist bays of the crawl space, and down into the cavities of the master bedroom's walls, whose old fiberglass has been pulled out. Outside, landscape contractor Roger Cook supervises the installation of an in-ground sprinkler system to take care of the lawn-to-be, which a hydroseeding company sprays over the prepared soil. Elsewhere on the property, paving contractor Larry Torti shows us the new macadam driveway he's laying, using recycled paving as a base, liquid asphalt as a binder, and rice stone as a surface coat. At the new workshop work continues on screen doors for the new porch, and our host meets kitchen designer Phil Mossgraber to make decisions about cabinets, countertops and flooring.

Program #1713
Our host arrives to find the site thick with trucks delivering drywall, cement board, and interior wooden doors. In the rapidly filling barn, he meets electrician Allen Gallant installing a lightning arrestor on the workshop panel—it's a simple $25 device that protects all the house's and barn's outlets from damaging power surges. Off of the exercise room, a prefabricated cedar sauna goes in, while arborist Matt Foti trims and props up the old apple tree outside the workshop. Down by the road, stonewall builder David Nyren and crew build a farmer's wall across the old driveway opening and a riprap retaining wall at the bank cut for the new drive, and landscaper Roger Cook and crew lay in the shade garden's brick patio. Landscape architect Tom Wirth shows us choices for the latticework around the shade garden, and tells us about the specimen trees he's ordered for the property: a lacebark Chinese elm, two American hollies, and a cornelian cherry. Plumber Ronald Coldwell checks the state of the pipes and installs a freeze-proof sill cock. Tile consultant Gene Walsh lays out choices for the back hall (a green Indian slate), guest bath (concrete tiles), master bath (limestone floor and vanity top, 3x6 white tile for the walls, and kids' bath (handmade alphabet tiles with glazed and matte finish ceramic tiles surrounding them). Finally, the crew reworks the old vertical pine panelling in the dining room as horizontal wainscoting, as the room originally had.

Program #1714
The show opens at the Milton gravesite of Captain John Crehore (born 1694), the builder of the Milton house. At the house, our host checks out a new clogfree gutter system, a prefabricated wine cellar, and the central vacuum system. He and the plumbing & heating expert review the hot water plan for the building: radiant tubing on the first floor, a high-efficiency gas burner and hot water tank downstairs, and a superinsulated pipe to take hot water to the barn. The This Old House team installs a prefabricated wainscoting system in the media room; made of paintable medium-density fiberboard, it is modeled by the manufacturer on the existing wainscoting in the house's dining room. In the kitchen, designer Phil Mossgraber checks in and unpacks the new cabinets, while writer Daniel Levy gives us a short historical tour of the old house, including a look at a secret passage that may have played a role in the Underground Railroad. In the patio garden, landscape contractor Roger Cook works with members of the Milton Garden Club to plant the newly arrived shade plants, and accepts delivery of new trees from the nursery.

Program #1715
The finishes have begun at the Milton project. We see the shellac and wax work painter John Dee is applying to the stripped old-growth white pine in the front hall—it now matches the look of the adjacent parlor. The crew directs a crane as it swings the new, 490-pound soaking tub through the master bath window. We visit the Wisconsin foundry where it was made. Meanwhile, tiling contractors the Ferrante brothers prepare 16 x 16 limestone tiles for the bathroom floor using an extra-large wet saw. Outside, our host meets a termite exterminator who uses an insect growth hormone bait to wipe out subterranean colonies. Upstairs, HVAC contractor Ken Winchester shows us the very important air-to-air heat exchanger, which introduces fresh air that picks up the heat of the house's exiting stale, damp air. In the courtyard, the new iron fountain has arrived, and the crew puts the finishing touches on the green lattice cedar fence. We meet Glenn Bowman, who is cutting and installing soapstone countertops in the kitchen.

Program #1716
The show opens to find landscaper Roger Cook and crew putting in a granite block curb around the driveway island to protect it from wayward vehicles. Inside, Charlie Abate shows us the butcherblock island countertop and discusses its care and feeding. In the old front rooms, painting contractor Steve Kiernan explains the steps he and his crew took before painting the woodwork in the library and shellacking the wood in the parlor. Outside, the crew installs the new gas barbeque and side burner unit, while mason Lenny Belliveau shows us how he's dry laying a brick floor in the screen porch. Our plumbing & heating expert installs a chimney cap over one of the fireplace flues and shows us the aluminum liner he placed in the flue that handles the moist and relatively cool gas burner exhaust. Chiller units outside and barely detectable outlets inside make up the visible portions of the house's air-conditioning system. Jeff Hosking shows us the cleaning-screening-shellac-wax process by which he is reviving the old floors, while a new laminate floor goes down in the exercise room in the barn. The This Old House crew works with medium-density fiberboard to make cabinets for the media room, and Charlie uses a plywood panel product to put up a beadboard wainscoting in the house's utility rooms, back hall and stairway.

Program #1717
Interior designers begin their work as the construction crew scurries to finish up the job. Painter John Dee uses a wood filler to repair the deteriorating front door, while kitchen designer Phil Mossgraber shows us features of the cabinets and the newly installed appliances. A designer from Laura Ashley Home Stylings discusses the family room's white painted woodwork and "crackle-coat" wallpaper, while Glenn Bowman routes out an integral drainboard in the kitchen's soapstone countertop. Upstairs, we see the new electronic shower control, and designer Cheryl Katz describes the process by which she went from raw space in the master suite to a finished design. Jeff Hosking and the crew lay a new wide-plank pine floating floor in the dining room and we see the ceiling mural decorative painter Julie Williams is putting up in the media room using a unique color-transfer medium.

Program #1718
The show opens to find Roger Cook and crew laying a sod lawn and we receive a one-button key-fob controller demo from security expert Steve Yusko. Inside the house, we see the new flower sink and check out the new high-efficiency front-loading washer and drier. In the wine cellar, Quarterly Review of Wines editor Randy Sheahan tells us some of the hows and whys behind the 216 bottles he's chosen. In the media room, a padded fabric wallcovering goes up, while upstairs, carpet and a master closet system are installed. We meet Robin Raskin, editor of Family PC magazine, to see some of the must-haves for the home office. Lighting designer Josh Feinstein and electrician Allen Gallant show us the lighting and control package in the kitchen, while our master carpenter gets a test-drive of the new media room with a/v contractor Steve Hayes. Tom Silva shows us the old-fashioned brushed-brass rim locks he's using throughout the house.

Program #1719
The grand finale in Milton, with the house completely furnished with the work of 10 separate decorating teams. We tour the house, the barn and the grounds. The wrap party begins and the contractors and subs get a big thank you for a huge job well done.