Cut Nail Rebuilders LLC is an equal share partnership that formed for one reason: we like working on antique houses. The original three of us come from different backgrounds. The short list of what we’ve been doing for the last twenty-five years is software engineering, scene design for theatre, film and television, running a commercial scenery business, 3D computer modeling and drafting, working in broadcast television, working as staff at This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop, framing condos in the desert, designing and building scenery in Abu Dhabi UAE, designing and building furniture, and consulting for historical renovations. Through all of the various parts of our careers, we were working on our own and each others antique houses. We made our hobby into our business and now have full control over the product.
We have very simple business plan. We buy one house per year. Our criteria are that it is in a nice neighborhood, is at least a hundred years old, and has lots of original detail in restorable condition. Sometimes there is less of the original in the house so we try to create details that fit with the style and age. The other thing we’ve realized in hind-site is that all neighborhoods are good in their own way. We have met many good and appreciative neighbors on our projects.
All of our renovations have some common elements. We always do a complete systems replacement. There is nothing good about plumbing, electrical, and heating from 1880 and usually it has been made worse with half-hearted updates. All of the systems work that we do is better than Energy-Star and building code requirements. We fully insulate our projects with the best available products, regardless of cost. You can read about this in more detail below. Our goal is to make a very energy efficient house that has maintenance free systems. Just as important to us, we want our finished product to have the charm and dignity of a turn of the century city residence.
Below are some more of our guidelines if you want more detail. If you have any specific questions, use the Contact Us page. We renovate one house per year and do most of the work ourselves, we are very familiar with every detail. We work there every day during the life of the project.
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General Building Guidelines:
- Gutted to the studs. Everything is new.
- Storage in old house baths is usually a medicine cabinet over the sink that has about 2 cubic feet of storage and a small mirror on the door. We’ve been building our own medicine cabinets lately because we can’t find any that look like they belong in the house. We also try to fit a storage cabinet with at least 15 cubic feet of storage behind tempered glass.
- Tile is still the easiest surface to maintain in a bath. All tile is installed on new, mildew resistant backer board.
- Ventilation fans are oversized so that there is never a mold or moisture problem. We switch it separately from the lights so that a timer can be installed.
- Tubs are new 350-pound enameled cast iron from Kohler with non-slip bottom. Cast Iron tubs last forever and hold the bath water temperature longer. They cost twice as much as acrylic tubs for good reason.
- Fixtures are chrome over brass from Kohler. NOT the cheaper chrome over steel.
- Toilets are elongated models from Kohler. They are low flow toilets that will actually work because the new drain system takes the lower flow into account. When you use a low flow toilet with an old drain system, the result is usually disappointing.
- Water supply is not copper pipe. It is PEX flexible tubing that has no joints or connections in the walls. This is important because any leaks usually happen at the joints. This tubing has been used in Europe for over 50 years and you can see it used in any of the last few This Old House projects. There are individual shut offs for every hot or cold feed to the bathrooms. Work can be done in any part of the bathrooms without shutting the water off in the rest off the house.
- Gutted and reworked to make open-plan kitchen and dining areas.
- Chimneys are one of the most troublesome pieces of a house this age. They leak at the roofline and become more porous as they age, possibly leaking carbon monoxide into the interior. Chimneys are removed to make more space and cut down on future problems. The new furnaces, water heaters and stoves have modern venting systems that vent directly to the outside.
- Sinks are extra deep undermount style and professional series disposal will hold up to heavy use over time.
- The original floor is usually under 10 layers of linoleum and tile. We restore it and re-lay parts of it in the new configuration when possible. We want to use as much of the original fabric of the house.
- Lighting is all LED or CF. The LEDs have 30000 hr ratings, which means you may never have to replace one. They use less than 10% of electricity compared to their incandescent equivalents. The fixtures are expensive but will save tons of money,energy, and carbon in the long run.
- Counter tops are a combination of solid beech and granite. The beech can be sanded, repaired and refinished indefinitely. The granite is bullet proof and is still a great choice for around a sink.
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Insulation.
This is a category where most builders do the bare minimum because most buyers don’t know what they should expect.
- Furnaces are new 95% or above efficient gas condensing type. They have two stage full variable speed heating and single stage full variable speed cooling. If you’re really interested in the technical details, we can tell you more. The important part is that they use very little gas and are very quiet.
- Central AC compressors that we use are rated above what is necessary for an Energy Star certification. This translates to central air that you can afford to run.
- Ducting is new and sized correctly for the AC.
- On-demand water heating is of the type used in Europe and Asia for the last forty years. Energy costs are very high in those parts of the world and we are now starting to go in that direction. With the on-demand water heat system, you cannot run out of hot water. It heats the water on demand to the temperature that you set. It stores no water, so it doesn’t lose any energy to standing heat loss. This heater saves around 40% of water heat costs per year. Its expected life span is 25 to 35 years. It’s twice as expensive as a storage water heater but we think it’s worth it.
- Walls that are gutted, the sills in the basement, and the roof are insulated with Icynene. Icynene is a premium product that comes at a premium price. It is roughly three times the cost of fiberglass. Walls that are not gutted get blown-in class one dense-pack cellulose. The sills are a major source of drafts and heat loss in houses this age. The ceilings are insulated for sound transmission. We doubt that you will see these insulation details in other properties on the market. It will add up to significant gas and electric savings. Again, you can see this approach to insulation on any of the last few TOH projects.
- Windows are new, tilt-out and Energy-Star rated. The glazing has a low-e coating and is argon filled for even higher performance.
Plumbing and Electric
- Drain, waste, and vent system is redesigned and new to meet the requirements of modern fixtures.
- Water supply is PEX tubing instead of copper. Using the PEX allows us to home-run every supply from the water heater to the fixture. Since there are no joints in the walls and PEX does not deteriorate like copper, it is very unlikely that it would ever fail. Another benefit is that there are no elbows to slow the flow. Because the tubing bends gently from source to fixture, the rate of flow is very high. There is no common water usage in our houses. Each unit has its own water meter and even its own outdoor spigot. Separate water and electricity makes less work every month for the condo association and lower condo fees.
- Electric system is new from the pole. It is 100 Amps and all of the wiring is new. Our standards dictate that no matter the age of the existing wire, it is replaced. There is NO wiring older than one year in our houses.
- All of the Closets have florescent lighting with a wall switch on the outside. It’s a small point, but well lit closets are nice.
- Doorbells are new hard wired. Wireless doorbells are not dependable and rarely last more than a year.
- All of the walls and ceilings are plaster. It is a much more durable surface than drywall (sheetrock). Walls and trim are painted with Benjamin Moore Low VOC paints. They are high quality paints that last much longer than home center brands. All of the trim is painted with oil-based paint. It is more difficult to apply and costs more but lasts about five times longer than acrylic based finishes (National Institute of Paint Technology testing). Where natural unpainted wood survives, we use traditional historically accurate finishes to match.
- Millwork (trim and moulding) is custom made to match the existing historical pattern. We make the new work match the old exactly.
Contact us if you have specific questions about any of our projects. Thank you.