Journey to Our Dream Home | Deciding what to save and what to discard in an old firehouse

October 14, 2013

(Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST) The Krakovsky family members, from left, Eliana, 14, Jackie, Alex and Samantha, 10, are renovating a firehouse into their dream home.

The Krakovsky family, who were profiled in The Washington Post on Saturday, will write an occasional column chronicling their efforts to convert an old firehouse in Kentlands into their dream home.

“You want to buy a what?”

That’s what I asked my husband and daughter.

“Are you serious?”

That is how I met our firehouse.

At first, I thought this was an absolutely unobtainable goal — there was no way that we would actually get that firehouse. We looked and looked at other houses since the likelihood of actually getting the firehouse was slim. But none of the other houses compared to the firehouse, and we soon fell in love with the old structure.

So on May 3, after almost two years of going through many hurdles, we became owners of the Kentlands Firehouse (affectionately referred to as the house). Now the fun began.

Although there are many challenges, four biggies come to mind:

How do you best get rid of the asbestos and other hazards? How on earth do you stuff ductwork for four levels (unfinished spaces included) where no ductwork exists? How do you save some of the beautiful interior arches that scream save me, save me? How do you spare a pine floor that most people say needs to go?

We dealt with each challenge one at a time.

We originally thought that getting rid of the asbestos was not such a big job. We knew that we had asbestos in the wrapping to the old boiler. We thought maybe that was it. We found out there was asbestos in an old linoleum floor.

Okay, not such a big deal — we had it professionally removed. The surprise was when our inspector told us that the ceiling drywall joint compound had asbestos. Several thousand dollars later, that was removed.

We thought, okay, now we are finished. Then, when removing plywood to expose what we thought was going to reveal pine flooring we discovered another layer of linoleum! Guess what? It contained asbestos…. More $$ later, we were finished with the asbestos remediation.

We moved on to another challenge — putting in the ductwork. We had to solve the problem of putting in ductwork without taking up too much of what already was a very narrow space in the basement hallway. Our contractor and HVAC company came up with the idea of digging a trench under the main floor slab so that we would leave the hallway open. The result was a trough that our contractor lovingly refers to as “the coffin.”

This was a very tidy solution to a very difficult problem.

 


(Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Next came the issue of whether it was feasible to save any of the interior arches. Unfortunately, the large arch leading to a staircase going to the second floor could not feasibly be saved because we had to replace the steps to meet current building code. Moreover, with the new staircase it would have looked bizarre from a design standpoint.

Another smaller arch leading to the basement has too low of a head clearance with our newly raised floor. In order to preserve this arch in some way, we plan to build a new door to the basement on another wall, and then brick in the arched entrance and use it as a niche.


(Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Lastly, we discovered beautiful pine flooring that was covered by dust and paint. We were encouraged to get rid of the flooring because it was in such poor shape and would never look like new.

After much searching, we found a craftsman who came up with the idea to take up wood from areas that would require other flooring (such as bathrooms) and use the wood to patch in areas where walls had been before or where floors were before. It does not matter to us that the floors may be dented and imperfect — the house wants them to stay, and so they shall, if at all possible.

Although we have many more challenges ahead, the end result will be a beautiful firehouse. In the meantime, we thank our gracious neighbors for their patience in dealing with all the trucks and construction gear.

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Kathy Orton · October 11, 2013