To bring Howlets back to its glory, we needed an all-star team. Fortunately, we have not lacked for big league talent. Two of the key players restoring Howlets have been Jim of Jim Fritz Carpentry and Steve Dupuis, an electrician with Noble Electric. Working with Jim and Steve has been a pleasure.

Restoring an old house requires not only a vision, but an ability to adapt to the realities at hand. In my head, I usually have a clear picture of the result I want to achieve. It seems so simple. But inevitably, problems arise. A century-old house presents unwanted gifts at times. Jim and Steve have had to roll with the punches that both the house and I have delivered.

Electrifying

The wiring at Howlets was a hodge podge of updates performed over many years. The most immediate need was to bring the electrical service up to date. Old wiring ran to nowhere and, in any event, was inadequate for the needs of a modern family. The old service panel was hopelessly outdated and the electric service came through the closest neighbor’s house! The phone lines run up from a different neighbor’s house, hop from tree to tree, and run through Howlets’ basement, passing in one side and then out the other in order to provide phone service for yet another neighbor. While you have to love the old time folksiness, the randomness created a logistical nightmare for the electrician Steve. Indeed, we are still working out all the interconnections with the neighbors. But Steve has brought the house’s electrical system into the 21st century. The new electrical service was brought up underground under the driveway from the street, which necessitated digging and blasting through the stone ledge for the service line. The new septic system involves an electrical pump that pumps the effluent uphill to the leach field. As Steve put it, “this job was a big challenge: the house is made of stone, built on stone and on Granite Street — that about sums it up.”

Work bench marvel

Jim Fritz of Jim Fritz Carpentry has been at the center of giving the house the necessary nips and tucks. All of the exterior storm windows and screens needed to be refitted, reglazed, weather stripped and in some cases rebuilt entirely. In order to retain the European-style casement windows, we needed a new system that eliminates the need to climb on ladders each spring and fall to exchange storms and screens. A latch system was devised so they can be removed and installed from the inside. I found out after some research that the old zinc button numbering systems are still made. Each screen and storm will be numbered and a chart made depicting all the windows in the house so that they can be changed out with relative ease — and without climbing ladders. “Keeping the old look of the house” is the mantra that we keep repeating as all of the carpentry decisions get made. Jim also removed the mock cherry upper cabinets and built open shelving in the kitchen, built a book case in the living room, moved a wall and built new closets in the master bedroom. He built a wine cellar and created a mud room in the walk-out basement. He removed a picture window above the kitchen sink and replaced it with a casement window matching the one near the kitchen table. New floor to ceiling bookcases were custom made in the studio. His biggest challenge was installing the huge studio window. He quietly and efficiently worked through the (numerous!) installation intricacies. Jim has turned out to be an ideal match with Howlets. When interviewing Jim for the job, it was immediately obvious that he “gets” old houses. He did not suggest either installing skylights that open by remote control or replacing all the wooden casement and sash windows with vinyl clad picture windows (as did other interviewees).

A recent unpleasant drama at Howlets illustrates the character of Steve and Jim. Two pit bulls appeared out of nowhere and chased Martha, the family dog, into the basement and began attacking her. Steve, who luckily was working nearby, came to the rescue by cutting off the air supply to one of the dogs that had sunk its teeth into Martha’s stomach. Martha went tearing upstairs and hid under a bed. Hearing the commotion, Jim ran up after her to determine how badly she was injured. An emergency visit  to the veterinarian and lots of stitches later, Martha is recovering well. Just another instance when Steve and Jim saved the day.

Martha

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