Vintage Wood Frame - List of upgrades? New technology?

gardurnitDecember 16, 2009

This is a different kind of post. I like new technology. I'm a scientist and aware of most new technoliges.

But I'm not aware of what's available in the marketplace. So I'm here wanting help.

The post is long but the above explains what I want.

Thank you.


What I am looking for help with:

I'm looking for some web sites that can help me with 'my old house' .

Product sites that cater to old frame buildings or sites that support people working on old frame buildings is

what I hope to find.

My home is in an area of about 50 similar homes. This kind of home is touted as being long lived.

see the videos

How Buildings Learn - Stewart Brand . youtube has 5 of them each 30min long

He says that old buildings that can change with their needs are the ones that last.

He points to the Painted Ladies in San Francisco where you see

many bright colored homes together having been used for rooming

houses, offices, private homes over the years

I've been to '' and found too much.

What I want to focus on today is the wood frame structure and finding sites

that cater to it. They should have new technology for this type of building.

I have to weigh the upgrades against the future rents or sale price of the property. *see below for description

About the house

The old home, I believe, is unique relative to the concrete slab 1 story homes

many people have in my town.

The fact that I have 9' ceilings, attic, basement and all wood construction tells me that my house might be

subject to unique improvements which benefit this type of house. Other unique qualities is lack of wall insulation

and in floor outlets for electricity and plumbing (in some cases).

I think this type of house would benefit from upgrades which might not work in other houses.

Examples are things to take advantage of the fact of having a basement. To me this means

access to all my utilities quickly.


As an example I bought a power monitor which will easily install

because I have access to all my circuits along any spot in the run.


I expect to see grey water diversion devices available first for new homes then for homes where they're easily

added. My home is one of the easy to add because plumbing is so accessible. Grey water diversion means I

then need to have storage or treatment and this means more products to buy or sell to my kind of home.

Need for addition product purchases

If I wanted to add grey water diversion it would be easier in my house than most since my plumbing is

immediately visible from the basement. Second floor plumbing usually comes strait down to fit into the

existing plumbing and I can see it.


Signals are things we should see soon where you monitor solar heating or cooling and wind (in some areas)

along with sensors for anything you might imaging ( moisture in the eves, attic temps, etc)


A thing we face is that homes like this 4000 sq ft are hard to rent or sell.

They're in a commercial neighborhood and are not suitable for families.

Often they're rented as group homes. Sometimes a business like an attorney will

buy it for an office. The area is changing finally after 35 years I've owned it.

I look forward to a better neighborhood utilization which can benefit from the location, size,

and lower cost of rents.

I know the house needs improvements to compete with properties which are new.

I have to weigh the upgrades against the future rents or sale price of the property.

Thanks for reading and recommending any sites you have been to. They can be product sites

that cater to old frame buildings or sites that support people working on old frame buildings.

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My favorite site is which has a SUPERB homeowner's/how to do it forum. It is not filled with ads but folks will gladly share what they used and what they recommend to avoid. is another with a homeowner's forum. Not everyone is a DIY'er, but all the homeowners know their stuff.

Both sites are good, but I find ohweb an easier site to maneuver through.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2009 at 6:26PM
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I don't think there is a quick site solution to what you are asking for. My morning coffee reading for the past two years has started on gardenweb and taken off from there, using links and keyword searches in google. It's been a lot of fun, and I've figured out many things that will be useful to me.

One of the first things we did when we bought our house was to have all the old, smoke-stinky wallpaper taken out. It was from the 1980's. If it had been from the 1880's when the house was built, I might have tried to keep it. Anyway, I can't remember if it was apartmenttherapy or gardenweb that put me on to Farrow&Ball paints, but I hate to think what might have happened if I had not used their stabilising primer on my 120 y.o. bare plaster walls. Apparently old plaster can be extremely alkali, and can cause all kinds of problems when you go to paint. The primer I used neutralized and "fixed" the plaster, so that paint systems could go on without being subject to some alkali chemical reaction. Also the colors were great for a historic home. So this was one little tidbit I picked up from my browsing that was a big help.

Another think I figured out over time was the use of solatubes. I did not think I could use them in this house, because the main places I would want them (kitchen and conservatory) are on a lower floor of the house. But in my browsing I just recently noticed they can have a 20' run and still be quite bright. And what could be more appropriate for a conservatory than natural sunlight pouring in. (Incidentally, the tube diameter is 10 3/4", a challenge to run through the second floor, but I have a plan to make it work.) So, I don't live on the ocean or operate a lighthouse, but I'm gonna have a least 4 Fresnel lenses in my house. How cool is that?

Reading Victorian house blogs has been very useful to me. Craig and Yvonne's, The Devil Queen, and especially the Petch House are all great blogs to check. Greg over at the Petch House is wonderfully meticulous in both his execution and in his writing about it. Some of these blogs have lists of links to other old house reno blogs. Reading about what other people have done to their houses over time has given me a wonderful sense of the flow and natural order of work on these houses, and what some of the unexpected twists and turns might be. From reading these I've decided to have a consult with a structural engineer before I do any more to my house. Also, from reading, I decided to have an architect use 3D software to model my house as-is and as-planned, down to plumbing run locations for any remodeling. Modvic was a great restoration, but they did not have a computerized 3-d model of the house, and ran into issues both when placing a new stairway, and some plumbing runs. i think the cost and delay resulting was much more than what it costs to have someone come out and measure and plunk it into a computer program. Lessons learned.

I think you might enjoy the renewable energy for the home forum here on gardenweb.

I spend the most time in the old house forum, then kitchens and baths, and finally, home decorating. Ah, home decor, that elevated place you get to when all the functions of the house are in order and you can turn your eyes to the icing on the cake. What luxury to think about curtains instead of new 20 amp circuits. "What should I put on my mantel for the most eye-pleasing effect?" instead of "how the heck do I get this fireplace working and mantel restored?" Someday I will be there. And to me, no discussion of home decorating is complete without mention of the Cote de Texas blog. Finally, somebody who writes about home decor in terms that an engineer can understand. Check out her top ten #4 entry on curtains. Finally, I know why something looks right to me, in very clear terms and boundaries.

So, I don't think there is one place you can go to read and find what you want to know in an afternoon. I think it's more of an evolving process, and an enjoyable one.

Best of luck!

    Bookmark   December 21, 2009 at 8:15AM
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It's really hard to ascertain just what your question is. Any technology can be retrofitted into an old house given enough will and cash. But it is not necessarily an unalloyed good to do so. Many old house devotees appreciate the rougher edges of these structures, and the age characteristics that it took decades or centuries to acquire. A total gut and re-fit will send all that character to the landfill. Which is a shame because you then have a franken-house that is neither all new nor all old, and the appeal has been lost for some potential buyers.
Don't rip out all the character with hope that a new, hard-edge shiny house within an old shell is desired by everyone. I like the rooms, details, materials and lifestyle that is contained within old walls.
What I'm saying I guess is that if you fail to respect the essence of the structure, and to respect you must have your eyes open and see what is in front of them, then the resulting work will always lack something. A richness, a context, a story. When a rehabber wipes the slate clean, that is all gone, forever. And that's sad.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2009 at 11:07AM
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Well-said, Casey. You just reminded me why I'm willing to put so much time into maintaining my 120 y.o. windows instead of replacing them.

Speaking of windows, gardunit you might want to search this forum about them, there is great info. Especially spring-bronze weatherstripping. I'd never heard of it til I got here. The windows forum also had good info. Try doing a search on Harvey tru-channel storms.

Another "crazy" thing I'm doing is to slowly go through the house and replace all the light switches with Classic Accents pushbutton switches. On my deathbed, I will be shaking my cane at my kids and yelling at them to extract a promise from the next buyer to not replace them. Loopy. I just have to believe I'm doing it for myself, to heck with what the next owner does. But what Casey says gives me hope; if the historic details in the house are sufficiently compelling, they might be kept in the house from owner to owner. But it only takes one owner with bad taste and a little money to destroy it all. I'll be spending thousands of dollars and hours to recreate the exterior detail that was destroyed when a p.o. had it all sawed off and sided in vinyl. They hated Victorians and wanted it to look like a ranch. I wonder if the next owner will saw it off and side it again?


Sorry, my solatubes must sound pretty frankenhouse to Casey. Oh dear, I am such a fan of his posts, especially that to-die-for bathroom! If I pair the solatubes with an encaustic tile floor in the conservatory, will it partially redeem them?

    Bookmark   December 21, 2009 at 1:31PM
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The best approach is a gut rehab to upgrade all systems in the house like windows, exterior and interior finishes, electrical and HVAC. The frame would only need to be modified if you wanted to modify the spaces or add on to it.

If you want to maximize the value of the property, hire an architect and be skeptical of "new technologies" that might not be cost effective over the next 5 to 10 years. Such approaches are often more effective in commercial/institutional buildings because of the greater length of ownership.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2009 at 6:43PM
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