Preview This Old House’s Cape Ann Project

Cape Ann TV project, preview, computer rendering

A computer rendering shows the changes planned for the 1891 Shingle-style house, including a new front porch with sweeping stone entry steps. With the existing garage removed, a new one will be built farther back, on the side of the house.
Michael Svirsky

There was a lot to love about the first—and only—house that the couple looked at in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a 17th-century fishing village-turned-summer community on Cape Ann, MA. John was captivated mostly by the 1891 Shingle-style home’s elegance.

“We walked through the front door and were taken back in time by the leaded glass, intricately carved balusters on the staircase, and dark hardwood floors,” he says. It was the coziness of the well-laid-out rooms, on the other hand, that attracted his wife, Molly. “The way the house is positioned, warm light just pours in,” she says.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, before renovation

Before: A 1970s garage addition obstructed the home’s facade, and the garage interior was moldy and damp.
John Tomlin

But there was one glaring problem with the house, the latest project being documented as part of This Old House ’s 41st television season. The garage, a 1970s addition, jutted out at an angle from the front of the house, obscuring the home’s gracious architectural character. “That double-wide garage door just overwhelmed the whole house,” says John.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, window install

Four arched windows, including this one facing the back of the property, will fill the breakfast room with light. Here, Charlie Silva (left), Tom Silva (center), and Kevin O’Connor join forces to lift the large unit into place.

Not to mention its impracticality. “I kept thinking about carrying in groceries,” says Molly. “To get to the kitchen from the garage, you had to go outside, up thirteen steps, then down the long front hall. That wasn’t going to work for us, especially with our three-year-old, Caroline.”

Builder: Silva Brothers Construction
Windows: Marvin

Cape Ann TV project, preview, Tom and Charlie Silva applying waterproof membrane

Tom and Charlie apply a self-sealing waterproof membrane to form a weathertight pan before installing the breakfast room window.
Webb Chappell

But while walking the property with a Realtor, John discovered a curb cut along the road and an old driveway that ran to the back of the house. “We quickly envisioned it as the new driveway, leading to a new garage,” he says.

Housewrap: Benjamin Obdyke
Asbestos abatement: Alpine Environmental Inc.
Blown-in insulation: Icynene

Cape Ann TV project, preview, installing electrical

This Old House host Kevin O’Connor, master electrician Heath Eastman (on the right), and George Lane of Eaton & Eastman Electric pull cable from spools for the house’s electrical service. The cables will be buried in a trench from the house to the street hookup.
Webb Chappell

Relocating the garage would be the most visible part of a renovation that would include a new, more centrally located kitchen and a rearranged second floor with more bathrooms, as well as new HVAC systems and improved insulation, siding, doors, and windows.

Electrical contractor: Eaton & Eastman Electric
Electrical panel and wiring: Schneider Electric

Cape Ann TV project, preview, front entry steps

This Old House mason Mark McCullough works with his crew on the front entry stairs. Granite risers and treads will complement the more rustic stone around it.
Webb Chappell

Demolishing the old garage and relocating the new one to the side of the property not only unmasked the home’s Shingle-style facade, but changed the traffic flow into the house. “For a modern New England family, coming into the center of a house through a garage has huge advantages, especially in the winter,” says project architect Tobin Shulman. The new garage will connect to the house via a tile-floored mudroom with benches and cubbies. Meanwhile, the house’s formal front entry will be dressed up with a grand bluestone-and-granite stair leading from a new circular drive to the rebuilt front porch.

Architect: Tobin Shulman, SV Design, Beverly, MA
Masonry: MJM Masonry Inc.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, the TOH team

The This Old House team—host Kevin O’Connor, landscape contractor Jenn Nawada, master carpenter Norm Abram, general contractor Tom Silva, and plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey—bring their expertise to the project.
Webb Chappell

The other major change to the first floor will be to relocate the kitchen, which had been sequestered in a back corner—a vestige of an earlier time when a hired cook toiled behind the scenes—to a more central location. “The idea is to get the kitchen involved in the heart of the home,” Shulman says. The plan positions the new kitchen between the family room on one side and a breakfast room on the other.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, new garage

Building a new garage rerouted traffic into the house from the front to the side. The homeowners can now enter through the garage, passing through a mudroom that connects it to the house.
John Tomlin

The second floor will also get an update. “The house was built with four large bedrooms, small closets, and a minimum number of bathrooms,” says Shulman. The new plan reduces the number of second-floor bedrooms by one but gives each of the remaining three its own bath and a large closet. The master suite includes a walk-in closet with built-in storage. There’s also an office for John and a laundry room.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, window install

Tom Silva and Kevin O’Connor install a new window in the west wall of the breakfast room.
Photo: Webb Chappell

After almost 130 years, the house’s wood floors have sagged in some areas, and the walls are uneven and not as true as they once had been. That’s part of an old house’s charm, of course, but the imperfect surfaces are less than ideal for hanging doors and setting cabinets.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, old garage

Once the old garage was removed, construction began on the new front porch and stone entry stairs.
Webb Chappell

To correct them, This Old House home builder Charlie Silva takes a tried-and-true approach. “If the floors are all over the place, you have to pick a reference point—a place to begin—and work from there.” The front-door threshold is usually a good starting point, he says. “It’s a given that can’t be easily changed.”

Cape Ann TV project, preview, side entry

Before: A rarely-used side entry will become the family’s primary entrance when the new garage and mudroom are completed.
John Tomlin

Charlie and crew are adding posts in the basement and sistering joists to strengthen and even out the floors as well as make them less bouncy. Perfectly level is not always possible, so perfectly flat is the goal, which is of more concern in some areas than others.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, reframing for new windows

A modified floor plan and new windows required the reframing of many interior and exterior walls. New electrical and HVAC systems were also installed throughout.
John Tomlin

“Ideally, the kitchen floor has to be level,” Charlie says. “It’s important for setting base cabinets and counters and installing appliances.”

Cape Ann TV project, preview, dormer

A second-floor dormer makes room for the master bathroom suite. Above the stone pillars, large, curved-top windows will shed light into the breakfast and dining rooms.
Webb Chappell

Some of the house’s exterior walls will need to be reframed with new studs, headers, and jacks fastened alongside the existing lumber. “Furring out an original 2×4 wall with new 2×6s allows for an extra two inches of insulation,” says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva. “Plus, the new wider framing makes a wall that is flatter, straighter, and stronger.”

Cape Ann TV project, preview, stripped siding

Stripped of its original siding, the house awaits new white cedar shingles. New windows were installed throughout the house.
Webb Chappell

Once the walls and ceilings are covered with blueboard and plaster, none of the new reinforced framing will be visible, which sometimes makes the extra expense a hard sell to clients.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, Kevin O’Connor helps install a window

Kevin O’Connor (center) helps Tom Silva prepare the rough opening for a curved-top window in the breakfast room.
Webb Chappell

“I always tell people to pay attention to and spend more on what they don’t see—framing, insulation, heating, etc.,” says Tom. “That way, what they do see—the finished surfaces—will last longer and perform better.” It means floors that don’t creak, nails that don’t pop, and doors that swing freely and don’t bind in their jambs or scrape the floor in a couple of years. “Pay now or pay later,” is how Tom puts it.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, granite treads

Masons install granite treads on the new front staircase. After installation, the treads are covered to protect them during the duration of the construction.
Webb Chappell

Also hidden from sight are the smart practices being put to work in the home’s up-to-date plumbing and heating systems. These include the use of sound-deadening cast-iron waste lines, instead of PVC pipe, to lessen the noise from flushing toilets and draining tubs, as well as the addition of radiant tubes to the mudroom ceiling to ensure adequate heat despite the large number of windows.

The entire HVAC system—including heat pumps and air handlers to cool the home, and a gas-fired condensing boiler to make hot water for the radiant heat—is highly efficient, says plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey. Each room will have its own zone that adjusts based on the number of windows, solar gain, insulation levels, and even the type of flooring. What this means is that the house will be consistently comfortable, while saving a lot of energy. “There’s a best way to do things,” Richard says, “and that’s what we’re giving John and Molly.”

HVAC, Boiler: Viessman

Cape Ann TV project, preview, diamond-patterned shingles

Webb Chappell

Diamond-pattern shingles above the second-floor windows add whimsy to the front gable end of the home. Homeowners will enter through the new garage seen on the right side of the photo.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, Tom Silva measures for a window

Charlie Silva

Tom measures the rough opening before cutting the sheathing to accommodate a curved-top window.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, new front porch and stone stairs

Webb Chappell

The new front porch and stone entry steps restore the elegance of this 1891 Shingle-style home, once masked by a 1970s garage addition. A breezeway to the new garage can be seen on the right side of the photo.

Cape Ann TV project, preview, Charlie Silva cuts a 2x6

Webb Chappell

Charlie Silva rips a 2×6 on a table saw. Extensive new framing in the old house required lots of custom-cut pieces.

Trim: AZEK

Cape Ann TV project, preview, back of the house

Charlie Silva

Decorative diamond patterns worked into the shingles add interest to the back of the house. A bank of integrated solar panels is mounted on the roof above the office.

Roof shingles, integrated solar panels: GAF
Landscaping: K&R Landscaping

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