The House Gut Vol. 3 – Investing in the mechanics of a house

The House Gut is a new series written by HumaneFoodie. She lives in NoMa. You can read the first installment of The House Gut here and the second installment on finding the right contractor here.

Basement Boiler

We had decided from the beginning that we wanted to make our house energy efficient, even if that meant spending more upfront.  One of the reasons we chose our contractor, Mark Richardson from Renaissance Development, was because he was excited about and had experience in green building. One of the first areas to focus on when gutting the house was the basic operations: heating, cooling and plumbing.


Mark recommended we use an open-cell Icynene spray foam rather than fiberglass insulation, which some argue is more environmentally friendly than petroleum-based insulation products.

New Radiator System


We have a TriangleTube high-efficiency boiler, which is rated 96.0 annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE).  The scale for typical boilers ranges from 80.0 (least efficient) to 90.6 (most efficient). While this option certainly costs more upfront, our gas bill (which covers heating three levels, hot water, and a lot of cooking on a gas range)has not yet exceeded $115 a month–and we live with three other people.  Our hot water is provided by the same boiler and is stored in a highly insulated tank that looks like a regular water heater.

We also chose to keep most of our radiators, and we found the rest at Community Forklift, a wonderful salvage store right outside of D.C. where you could get lost for hours among the doors, windows and vanities. (Stay tuned for House Gut Vol. 4 for more on material salvaging.)  We used radiant heat in the kitchen floor because there wasn’t a good location for a radiator in our open floor plan. Each floor is on its own heating zone, and the kitchen is controlled separately.

Continues after the jump.



Heating is not nearly as important in D.C. as air conditioning is, so we chose a three-zone (one for each floor) 14 SEER air-conditioning unit.  Because we could run most of the ductwork in the basement and second-floor ceilings, we decided that having a couple of soffits on the main floor wasn’t a big deal. We went with a conventional system, which was significantly less expensive.

Electrical systems

Water, plumbing and electrical

We had to replace all of our plumbing and upgraded to a 1” water line. We also had to upgrade our electrical system.  We have used mostly LED bulbs and some CFLs, which has kept our Pepco bill to about $60 per month in months that don’t require air conditioning.


Decisions, decisions! But it’s not all bad. A house gut is a fun way to learn about a city’s quirky or antiquated building laws. In our fair District, we learned that you can build a “granny flat” or rentable coach house but with many restrictions–like the owners have to somehow employ the tenants.  Shout out to the folks who are trying to change that, by the way.

Stay tuned for great places around D.C. where you can get salvaged or surplus cabinets, tiles, doors, vanities, sinks and toilets.

13 Comment

  • Thanks for this post– I know those kinds of decisions are not easy. I’m curious about reinstalling radiators– do you think that it would be possible to do this for an entire house, or is it only feasible for a few extra radiators here and there?

    • Not sure if this helps, but we reinstalled and moved an entire floor of radiators. I think if you were moving/replacing pipes, moving walls and replacing the floors, it shouldn’t be a problem. Our issues were in rooms where the original floors were staying. Our contractor had to match the old wood with new wood. He did a great job, but if you look close enough, you can notice the difference.

    • gotryit

      It’s “easy” if you have enough walls / ceilings down to run the pipes. If you run PEX piping, it’s really pretty basic plumbing.

  • I’m just going to use this to plug Mark Richardson…he overhauled our basement in Brookland. Top notch.

  • i thought you had to use copper plumbing in remodels… dc hasn’t approved that rubber/plastic replacement yet, no?

    • PEX has been approved in DC for years. It’s part of the International Building Code that DC has adopted. Copper is certainly fine, but so is PEX.

  • How much does it cost to re-do all your systems in a standard row house?

  • We have a Triangle Tube all-in-one system as well. We bought it during our basement renovation because getting rid of our furnace + water heater opened up a ton of floor space. Our furnace was also very old and likely would have needed replacing soon anyway.

    So happy with the new system – we used to have gas bills in the winter that were in the $200-220 range, but with the new system, our highest gas bill in the several months has still been less than $90. We also replaced the windows and doors on the back of our house and insulated our attic in the last year, so our reduced bills are due to all of those steps.

    • not to be a debbie downer but natural gas prices are also at historic lows right now… my gas bill has been way down too even though my house might as well be built of sieves.

  • Also want to plug Mark Richardson, who has done work for me and my mother. Thorough, trustworthy, and all-around awesome.

  • Would the original poster mind explaining how much it cost to pay for the parts and labor for the work described above?

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