Answers from Glen: kitchens, bathrooms, ACs and the smell of smoke

Here's the next article in the Ask Glen! column, where readers can submit questions to local Petworth contractor Glen Sperling of Harmony Remodeling and get answers.

Today we look at kitchens, bathrooms, air conditioners and how to get the the smell of cigarette smoke out of your house.

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Gentle reminder: Glen is offering advice and recommends that you always hire a qualified professional. This column isn't an opportunity to hire Glen nor sponsored. 

To permit or not permit, that is the question

(photo: Alan Bruce)

Kate in Petworth writes:

Hi Glen! We are embarking a kitchen renovation project and looking for advice on when building / other special permits are required, what the consequences of not obtaining permits could be, and what the inspection requirements would be during a project. Any advice on lead time for acquiring proper permitting would also be very helpful. Thanks! 

Glen Says...

This, is a tough question! If you are not removing the bearing wall between the kitchen/dining room, then technically all you need is are an online plumbing and electrical permit.  However, even as a GC I cannot pull those, it must be done by a master plumber and a master electrician.  And that adds cost to the project.  

In addition, if you have the work inspected, on an old row house there is always the potential of the inspector asking for a lot of other things to be fixed (brought up to code). It is pretty common for these reasons that we tend not to pull permits for kitchen renovations ;-)  Having said that, on many kitchen we DO!  It all depends on the house, the kitchen and the other components of the project.  You never want to run afoul of DCRA, they are watching out for your best interests!


Can you save old bathroom tile and a tub?

(photo: Chad Fennell)

Anonymous in 16th Street Heights writes:

Hi Glen! We have original 1920s bathrooms with concrete floors and plaster walls under the ceramic tile. We love the original tile and would love to replace some chipped / broken and missing pieces. Any suggestions on where to find old tile? It seems to be a lot thicker than tile you can get today.

We also have a lovely original 1920s cast iron bath tub. It's really deep and great for soaking! It has a few scratches. Is there anything we can do to fix those?  Thanks!

Glen Says... 

Honestly, I think you are SOL on this. The chances of finding matching tiles are very slim (not impossible, but difficult at best). The reason for this is when demoing an old bathroom, saving tiles is virtually impossible, they just don’t pop off ;-)

Regarding the tub... this is a much simpler question / fix! Miracle Method in Kensington does a nice job of re-glazing and that should last about 10 years if you are careful. I have had them re-glaze a number of tubs. 


To mini-split or high-velocity ductless? That's the question...

 (Photo: Stephen M. Scott

Nina in Petworth writes:

I would be interested to hear Glenn's opinion on the pros and cons of selecting mini-splits versus high-velocity air conditioning ductless systems to add AC to a row house which otherwise uses the traditional radiator system for heating purposes? Also, would the pros and cons change if one would consider adding an annex or attic built-out to a row house which would need both AC and heating? Thank you for your advice!

Glen Says...

I am BIG fan of mini-splits (and a mini ducted system for the 2nd floor)! They are way more energy-efficient than high velocity, quieter and even less invasive. They have been used outside the US for a very long time and are widely accepted. We have installed over 20 mini-split systems in the last 3-4 years and have had zero problems. My clients seem very happy with them.

I recommend Ron Gallant at Argent HVAC.  He is the most knowledgeable HVAC guy I have ever met and is very easy to work with!

See also: "Renovation Tips: Chill out before you bling out" (August 14, 2015)


Leaky joists and cigarette smoke

(photo: James Eves)

(A different) Glen in Petworth writes:

We live in a row house and can smell cigarette smoke coming through our laminate floor next to a party wall. We don't smoke, so we are assuming that it is coming from the joist pockets, which we can see are unsealed (through an exploratory hole in the drywall). Is it okay to seal the joist pockets? We read that sometimes they are left open to allow airflow and prevent mold from forming. Are there other places that neighboring smoke can be emanating from?

(Contractor) Glen Says...

My experience is that the only way to stop this is to seal ALL of the joists/bricks on every level of the house. The only way I have accomplished this is when we pretty much gut a house and then spray foam insulation to seal every crack.

You can accomplish this in the attic and the basement (if it’s unfinished) but is virtually impossible if the basement is finished or between the 1st and 2nd floor. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but I have experienced smoke from cigarettes, pot and unpleasant pet smells and short of sealing everything, no luck stopping it.

As far as the house being able to breath, that is outside air coming in and it should be just fine given that is an old house. I wouldn’t worry about mold at all!

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