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

by Prince Of Petworth April 3, 2013 at 1:30 pm 13 Comments

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.


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