One thing restorers of old houses have to confront sooner or later is our desire for air conditioning, TV sets, microwave ovens and a lot of other modern conveniences that Victorians never dreamed of.
Developer Art McMurdie doesn't believe in half-measures when it comes to accommodating these cravings. Because he strips walls to the frame, he rips out the old electrical, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems and puts in new ones. It's expensive, but McMurdie's belief is that it eliminates the concerns people have about buying white elephants.
For large houses such as the Platt house, with three living levels, McMurdie suggests a zoned heating and cooling system, with a gas-fired furnace and air handler in the basement to provide air conditioning and heat to the first floor and basement, and a heat pump or second gas furnace with a coil in the attic to supply heat to the top two floors. Extending a gas line to the attic isn't much more of a problem for someone installing air conditioning in an old house, he said, because the condensate and coolant lines already have to be run.
If one system were used, he said, it would have to be substantial and would require considerable expensive, space-eating ductwork. And the bonus, he said, is that there can be two thermostats. In winter, the heat can be turned off upstairs to account for warm air rising to the upper floors, and the bedrooms can be toasty rather than stifling.
Some newcomers to old homes learn too late that their electrical systems are inadequate or have been patched together over the years and end up having to "unplug some things to use other things," McMurdie said. He replaces all the wiring, following current electrical code regulations that require outlets every 12 feet, or more frequently in special locations such as kitchens and bathrooms, with dedicated circuits for dishwashers and refrigerators.
Plumbing is another area where old houses can come up wanting. "Old galvanized supply pipes tend to leak and can get clogged with deposits," he said. New copper piping is his answer.
And if you think it would be swell to use those old grand fireplaces, be aware that they generally need to be relined. McMurdie uses a stainless-steel liner, and the cost rises as the chimney stack does.