Posts under ‘Pennsylvania Church House’

Existing Conditions

January 18th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 1. Planning

Church House - Summer 2009

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.


Master Bedroom and Bath “Loft”

January 18th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 7. Upper Floor Renovation

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).

The upper level during demolition.


Goals for Church House Renovation

January 24th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 1. Planning

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.



January 24th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 2. Demo + Structure

Here’s the lower level before demo started.

Lower level prior to demo. Floors were southern yellow pine on joists resting on a stone footing running down the middle (with dirt below). Walls were pine tongue-and-groove, which I had painted white when we moved in.


Steel and Stone

January 24th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 2. Demo + Structure

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.

Here the steel has been installed but just the top section of the column has been removed. The rest was knocked down and hauled out. The new steel column rests on a new footing which will be covered by the new slab when it is poured.


Slab Prep and Pour

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 3. Slab Prep and Pour

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.

Here you can see the waste lines for the boys' bathroom in place on the raw grade.


Framing Lower-Level Partitions

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 4. Framing

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.

Framing in progress on lower level. You can see how insulation is used in wall to left.


Pipe Shark

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | 3 Comments | Filed in 6. Exterior, Replacing Sewer Main

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.

A Really Nice Shed

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Shed

I might have one of the nicest sheds there is, certainly the nicest in my little town.

It was built for me by, a one-woman web-based business that contracts with an Amish carpentry outfit to build the sheds and another central-Pennsylvanian guy to deliver them.

My shed being delivered. The delivery guy does this every day. He has a little gas-powered hydraulic tractor that he attaches to the shed and pulls the whole thing over the ground and into place. This took some doing and I had to pitch in, but we got it done in about two hours.


Lowering the Side Entrance by 4 Ft.

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Reworking Side Entry

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.

This is how the 1950s entrance looked after excavating the side down to grade and ripping off a little vestibule which had been added to provide shelter for a separate entrance to the upper level (blocked over in this shot).


Spiral Stair in Apse

February 9th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Drywall and Finish Carpentry

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.

The landing of the spiral stair. I had Bernie make the floor boards fan shaped, which really seems like the way to go for this shape.


Exterior Masonry

February 10th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in Exterior Masonry

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.

Third-generation mason Heath creating a new door out the back of the apse. You can't tell it wasn't there originally.


Main Level Modifications

February 10th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Drywall and Finish Carpentry

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.

The finished kitchen/dining area facing towards the spiral stair.


Miscellaneous Finish Items

February 10th, 2010 by KTU | 1 Comment | Filed in 5. Drywall and Finish Carpentry

Shelf for front-loading washer and dryer. I like this solution better than the modules the manufacturers sell. This shelf allows laundry baskets to be tucked under.


Interior Doors and Trim

February 10th, 2010 by KTU | No Comments | Filed in 5. Drywall and Finish Carpentry

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.

Double doors into shop/office. I used glass here as I wanted to be able to close off the area, but still feel part of the action in the TV room.


Replacing a Pressure Relief or T&P Valve

March 19th, 2011 by KTU | 2 Comments | Filed in Notes on Approaches, Pennsylvania Church House

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.

The T&P Valve on a Water Heater (the bronze thing with a 90-degree angle and shiny lever on top)


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