I live in a decommissioned church, built around 1895 as the Methodist Episcopal church for Narberth, Pennsylvania. My wife Nancy and I bought the house in 1996, just after its 100th birthday. The church was displaced by a much larger building across the street in 1929 and was eventually converted to a residence in the 1950s. The main sanctuary was about 65′ long by 30′ wide with a cylindrical apse and raised altar at the south end. The ceilings in the sanctuary were 17′ high.
Posts under ‘Pennsylvania Church House’
This project moved in three phases. First, we attacked the lower level. Then, we moved upstairs and took on the dining area, kitchen, and main-level bath. Finally, we moved upstairs to do the master bedroom “loft.” We lived in the house through the whole process, which is why we moved in phases. It actually wasn’t too bad. I sealed off each section with plastic (and even with a temporary door during the last phase).
While we liked the location, the basic architectural form, and the overall size of the church house, it had several major deficiencies:
- We had two tiny bedrooms on the upper level with 7′ ceilings and we had two rapidly growing boys. We envisioned six-foot teenagers and their friends cramped in that space.
- We had no family/tv room.
- We could not get to our backyard, except through a convoluted path down an improvised stair.
- There was no off-street parking, nor bulk storage area (e.g., Shed, garage, etc.).
- We had 1500 square-feet of lower level (former apartment) but couldn’t really get to it and it was not comfortable even if we could get to it.
- We had an improvised master bedroom spanning two smaller bedrooms, which was kind of in the middle of the main living area.
Here’s the lower level before demo started.
Our church house was constructed with a rubble-stone foundation. That means basically that the builder dug a deep hole in the ground and then started constructing thick stone walls to form the perimeter of the structure. The walls are about 24 inches thick at the base. They seem to extend 2-4′ below the level of the lower-level floor, which is between 10′ and 6′ below grade depending on where one is on the slope of the site.
As the walls extend upward they become thinner. At the top of the building they are about 12-14″ thick. When the walls emerge from the grade, the outer face is nicely dressed and pointed, whereas the inside face remains pretty rough.
After the demo and getting the columns out of the way, we were ready to prep for the slab. Much of the prep involves the plumber, as he has to put in both the waste lines and the hydronic heating tubes before the slab is poured.
After the slab was poured, the guys framed the walls on the lower level. Like most framing, this happened in a snap, maybe two days for two guys. They lay out the walls with a chalk line and crayon on the slab and then frame up the walls.
Before I invested a lot of money in my lower level with all its new plumbing, I wanted to make sure that the waste line was reliably connected to the municipal sewer. I had replaced some of the sewer main the previous winter and was pretty sure that there was a lot more bad terracotta pipe between the house and the main sewer line. Sure enough, I had the plumber snake the video camera down the line and he declared that the terracotta was basically gone (100+ years old) and that my sewer line was really just a tunnel through the dirt.
One of the big moves architecturally for this renovation was to excavate the side yard so that the entrance to the lower level could be at the level of the sidewalk. Originally, we had to climb a half dozen steps, traverse a few feet of walkway, and then step down a half dozen steps into the “basement.” It was actually my idea, which the architect liked, to excavate next to the house and make it a straight shot into the lower level from the sidewalk. That worked well; getting in and out of the house is a breeze.
The big idea the architect brought to this project was to put a spiral stair in the apse to connect the main level with the lower level. Furthermore, there would be a door out to the back yard halfway down the stair off of a landing. Here are some shots of how we did that. A custom curved stair manufacturer Stairworks built and installed the basic stair and rail. They did a nice job…actually they did a nice job twice. They messed up a measurement the first time and had to completely rebuild it. To their credit, they didn’t even blink and just did it.
Here are various shots of the exterior masonry work on the Church house. We added a door out through the middle of the apse at the stair landing, which came out great. We also did various patching of holes from relocated windows and doors. A big part of the job was putting in 100 linear feet or so of new stone retaining wall. This substantially improved the look and function of the back yard.
Most of this project focused on the lower level. However, because the spiral stair connected the lower level with the main level, we had to do a fair bit of work in the kitchen/dining area. I had done a “quick and dirty” kitchen renovation a few years ago myself and decided that it was good enough to leave in place. Thus, we mostly confined the main-level effort to the stairwell/apse area and the resulting open dining area adjacent to the kitchen.
I’ll start with how it ended up…and then show some of the steps.
I reclaimed about seven doors from the main level for re-use on the lower level. These are very nice antique doors in oak and mahogany, originally in a hotel, and complete with numbered keys. I had another dozen or so doors custom made to match those antique doors pretty closely. I was very impressed by the prices at Allegheny Wood Works, and I was also happy with the resulting quality. I love that they post their price lists on the web. I ordered some of the doors in paint-grade poplar and some in mahogany to stain to match the antique doors.
For trim, we had the millwork supplier run custom casing and baseboard profiles to match what is upstairs. It’s remarkably inexpensive to do this. I think we paid $1.50 – $3.00 per linear foot for a complex casing milled from poplar. I don’t regret this for a second.
This is not an interesting topic. However, I couldn’t find what I needed for this little project on Google, so figured I’d create a post that is likely to be found when people are searching for a solution to a leaking relief valve.
Your water heater has a T&P valve, which stands for Temperature and Pressure Valve. This valve opens when temperature and/or pressure exceed a pre-defined threshold. This is a safety feature so that your water heater does not explode if the pressure goes too high. I have a Weil Mclain Superstor indirect water heater and the T&P Valve is on the top, as shown below. It usually is designed to open at 210F and/or 150 psi, which is waaay above the safe operating temperature and pressure of a domestic water heater. Watts is the leading brand of these devices.
Your boiler (for your forced water heating system) also has a relief valve. However, this one is just a pressure-relief valve. It usually opens at 30 psi, which is well above the system pressure of most forced-water heating systems. So, while your water heater has a T&P valve, your boiler has a P valve. The valve on my Weil Mclain Ultra is shown below. The valves in my system all are bronze with 3/4″ threads.
In Pennsylvania, where I live, these valves seem to last about five years. They either corrode or the thermal expansion element seems to fail. Below you can see the inside of a pressure-relief valve and see that the spring-loaded valve seat is corroded.
It’s not good when these things fail. Of course for safety reasons they are designed to fail open, which means that water starts to flow out the valve and onto your mechanical room floor. Sometimes they just weep or drip. This is typically the way the P Valves fail. Sometimes they spew violently (more typical of the T&P valves.) In a new house, you’ll have some nice floor drain right below the valve. In a 19th-Century Stone Church you have a lousy floor leading to a sump and you’ll probably have a big mess. Indeed, when my T&P valve failed open a few weeks back, I believe that hot water sprayed onto my floor for a day or two before I noticed dampness in the adjacent room. Anyway, replacing one of these is no big deal if you have basic plumbing skills. You buy the replacement (a Home Depot item) and you unscrew everything and replace the missing valve. On a water heater, the fittings may be sweated (soldered) copper, in which case you need a torch and soldering/de-soldering skills. Installed correctly, a T&P valve has an open length of pipe pointing at the floor so that hot water doesn’t burn a human standing nearby.
On a boiler, the installation is pretty much the same. I was lucky enough to have two shut-off valves on either side of the boiler, so replacing the valve took 3 minutes. The valve at Home Depot had a 3/4″ female fitting on it, so it required a 3/4 nipple to connect to the tee on the boiler outlet. Use teflon tape or pipe dope on the threaded fittings. The replaced part is shown below (towards the right side and attached to the galvanized pipe with the teflon tape showing).
So, when you have water on the floor of the mechanical room, some possible culprits are the T&P valve on the water heater or the pressure-relief valve on the boiler. They’re both pretty easy to replace once you know what to look for and what to ask for in Home Depot. (There are other potential culprits too, like leaking hot water heater tanks or leaking heat exchangers in the boiler.) Of course, if you have never done any plumbing, call your plumber. But, you may be able to save a return trip by telling him or her in advance what you think is dripping/leaking/spraying.