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Heating Upgrades for the Victorian

We bought our Victorian just in time to experience the coldest winter here on record in Chicago. A pipe even burst in the basement! (Although to be fair, that happened to a lot of homes in the area. A pipe burst in our old house too, with which we had never experienced any heating problems.) After sealing our drafty windows with plastic sheeting the house stayed dramatically warmer, and we also had our old boiler serviced and bled the radiators. The house still struggled to stay in the mid to high 60s on the first floor though, while it was comfortably warm upstairs and hot all the way up on the third floor. So before another winter comes, we had some work done to the house’s heating system.

Old Boiler
Old Water Heater

The boiler still has some life left in it, but its chimney is in need of big repairs. We could have added a liner to prevent further corrosion, but the age and condition of the brick would have made it an expensive and difficult job. Another option for roughly the same cost was to replace the old boiler with a new model that was more energy-efficient and that could be vented out the side of the house, so that’s what we chose to do. We also replaced the water heater at the same time. There was a backdrafting issue identified during our house inspection, there wasn’t enough capacity for a house of this size, and the thing also had to be fixed twice in the last two months. Those three factors swayed us toward replacement. The water heater is now tied into our new boiler, so it’s piggybacking off of the radiator system for faster heating and more efficiency.

Ooh, get ready for some more Pinterest-worthy pictures!

New Boiler and Water Heater

So pretty, right? Our basement’s a gem.

And we’re down to a single gas meter! The Victorian was split into apartments in the 1930s (common in the depression era), and it was still a multi-family house until just before being sold. There remained both a residential and commercial account for gas, and getting them combined into one residential account (which has significantly lower rates) was a long process. Lots of red tape and hoops to jump through, and the expense of rerouting the pipes is the responsibility of the home owner. We started the process right away when we moved in a year ago, and it took a good ten months.

Then there’s the last of our heating system upgrades. We were cautioned against using the valves on our radiators because when they’re as old as ours, mineral build-up and corrosion can cause them to break with use. Hot water radiators are either on or off — there’s no middle adjustment — so ours were all on, all winter. That third floor was toasty. Now we’ve added thermostatic radiator valves to each of the six radiators on the third floor, and to two of them on the second floor (in rooms that were consistently warmer than the rest). They aren’t pretty, but they’ll automatically turn the radiators off when the room temperature is warm enough, so that the heat can be directed to where it’s needed instead. The valves are currently set at 68, but we’ll experiment to see what’s best when winter comes — they can all be individually adjusted.

Thermostatic Radiator Valves

Brandon and I can take consecutive showers now without running out of hot water, and between the new valves and the boiler, we should see more even and efficient heating this winter. That, and the elimination of the commercial account, will also bring lower heating bills. Working on the guts of the house doesn’t bring the prettiest pictures, but we’re glad to have had the work done.

Making it Yours 12: The Lincoln and Dhurrie Armchairs

I asked last week which would be more helpful to see in a new edition of my Making it Yours series: the Lincoln Upholstered Armchair from Pottery Barn or the Dhurrie Chair from Anthropologie. Basically it’s a blank slate vs. a statement piece. It was pretty even at first, but the dhurrie chair did win out in the end.

Lincoln and Dhurrie Chairs

A few comments suggested doing both, which sounded like a fun challenge! I typically split the series into three designs, showing a piece as the owner’s life and decorating taste changes, and I’m going to stick with that format here again. Rather than do six posts between the two chairs, I’ll create a short narrative and present two options per post. It’s a good exercise in obtaining a similar design through different pieces, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have been while working on it.

And in related news: I bought two of those dang Lincoln chairs, which I wasn’t planning on when I posted about them last week. I had been considering them for the house, as I’ve been perpetually on the lookout for a pair of matching chairs for the back parlor. At more than $2000 with tax and delivery for two of them though, I was far from rushing to make a purchase. Then two things happened. First, I noticed that American Express was running a sale on a bunch of their Membership Rewards points gift cards, which included instant e-gift certificates to Pottery Barn. Second: I saw the chair marked down about 35% off as a floor model at the Oakbrook PB when I was out that way over the weekend. I hadn’t cashed in my Amex points in a long time so I had enough to buy the floor model outright with some leftover to buy the matching chair at retail, but I still wasn’t sold. Then the sales associate mentioned that some of the other stores in the area might have theirs marked down as a floor model too. She called the Lincoln Park location, confirmed that they also had one, and that solidified the deal. After using my free gift certificates, they ended up costing only $180 each. That’s like them being on sale for 85% off! I brought one chair home with me that day, and we got the other one yesterday.

Lincoln Pottery Barn Chairs

So now I have extra incentive to see how much mileage I can get out of them in different design scenarios!

The Second Floor is Taking Shape

Hey, no more visible lathe! We have walls!

Hallway: Now with Walls!

That’s the door we’re going to reuse for the new nursery, casually hanging out all akimbo at the end of the hall there. You know, where the 125-year-old subfloor is exposed? Living with the floor ripped up like that for a few weeks hasn’t been as bad as we initially thought it would be, but one of the kids’ bedrooms is over there so we will be glad to have an actual floor down sooner than later.

Subfloor

The wood on the second floor wasn’t in great shape when we bought the house, and when we started pulling it up for this project, we saw why. It’s a very thin material — not nearly as nice as the solid wood downstairs. It’s old for sure, and it has reached the end of its useful life, so we’re going to go ahead and redo the whole hallway rather than just patch the portion that we’re working on now. It’s something that we knew would need to be addressed eventually, but doing it now will mean holding off on some of the more fun stuff we’d rather spend our money on. (Sorry, potential front porch swing. Maybe another time.)

Kitchen to Nursery Conversion

There was a strip of wood molding along the walls in the former kitchen (soon to be nursery!) at chest height, matching up with where the beadboard backsplash behind the kitchen sink ended. After the wood was removed, the wallpaper had to be partially stripped so that any patching to be done could adhere directly to the wall. It looked like the paper was just applied over bare drywall in some sections and we were worried about potential damage, but it’s peeling off fairly cleanly and easily with just water. After our contractor is done working in there, Brandon will finish stripping the remaining wallpaper.

Wallpaper Removal Head Start

I’m about seven weeks from the baby’s due date now, so I’m not sure how the timing’s going to shake out, but the baby will sleep in our bedroom at first anyway. Really, we’re just aiming to get the loudest, most disruptive work completed in time, and thankfully that looks like it will be on schedule.

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