herringbone firebox design

This Old House Episode 5 Recap

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This week on our favorite show, the crew took an important step closer to building the fireplace and including one of our mantels. Yes, we’ve been blogging about This Old House for an entire month and are still waiting in suspense for our big moment. It is almost here.

So what happened this week?

Steel Reinforcements

First, we learned about steel. Host Kevin O’Connor went to visit steel fabricator Jay Coughlin and tour his company. This is where the steel for the Arlington project house is coming from. Coughlin explained how he works with architects to make sure the steel reinforcements are sized just right. They laser cut the pieces and drill holes in the appropriate places according to the plans of architects and engineers. Coughlin’s clients include local colleges, the Boston Red Sox, and many contractors.

Then, back on-site in Arlington, we see that the floor is framed, the subfloor is down, and a crane has arrived to set the steel into place. While many structures use wood as reinforcements, the engineer is worried about lateral movement, so he chose the stronger material.

Up on the Third Floor

Next we visit the third floor, which was mostly demolished during the lead paint abatement process. They’re pretty much down to the framing, which makes it easier for HVAC wiz Richard Trethewey to set up the heating and cooling system. He describes several possible approaches for adding A/C to the second and third floors. Ultimately, he decides on a high duct, small velocity system with an air handler on the second floor and a single condenser outside.

Front Porch

One of the first things homeowners Nick and Emily Deldon wanted was a different front porch. The old stairs were too steep, and nine were too many. The windows on the two sides of the porch didn’t even match. Well, it turns out the old stairs were not up to code, and totally lacked a sound footing. So the TOH crew demoed the porch.


precast footing system

Placing the footings.

This week Kevin and the show’s general contractor Tommy Silva helped install a new precast footing system. “I love them because they go in nice and fast,” Tommy said. The two-column footing system sits atop a trap zone made of broken rocks. When you compact it, the rocks lock together, adding to the integrity of the footing and allowing water to drain.

According to Tommy, the ideal height of a riser is 7.5 inches. So that’s what the new steps will be. He’s raising the grade so fewer steps will be required.

Getting Ready for the Fireplace

At last, we get to the fireplace! Nick and Emily want a traditional fireplace with a real fire, not a flip-the-switch setup. So Mark McCullough, mason, was back on the show explaining how he built the beautiful herringbone-pattered firebox for the project house.

He explained you have two choices of fireboxes: A Rumford or a Ben Franklin. The Rumford is a tall, shallow design first created by Sir Benjamin Thompson, a.k.a. Count Rumford. According to Mark, the Rumford emanates more heat.

But the Benjamin Franklin style is showier, with its big, roaring fire. It’s more for the aesthetic value than for the heat, says Mark, who describes himself as a Franklin guy, not a Rumford guy.

Nick and Emily already have a top-notch heating system planned. So when it comes to the fireplace, they’re prioritizing that big-flame ambiance over efficiency.

Mark explained how he made the firebox: He spread the bricks all over the floor then arranged them in a herringbone pattern. Mark cemented the bricks with special heat-resistant mortar, then let them set for two weeks. Finally, he could cut the sheet of herringbone bricks into four pieces, which he then constructed into the firebox. The bricks are designed to withstand 2,000 degrees; the hottest spot in this particular fireplace will be 1200 degrees.  “Better safe than sorry,” Mark says. He plans to build a chimney about 14 feet high, to be sure it clears the roof and nearby trees.  So close but yet so far away. While they almost have all the pieces in place, it looks like we’ll have to wait one more week to see our beautiful Amhurst mantel installed.


herringbone firebox design

Mark explains his beautiful herringbone firebox design to Kevin.

At Old World Stoneworks, we’re extremely proud of the work we do. No wonder we’re so excited to share it with the world. While we have to wait another week to see our design installed by Kevin and his team, if you’d like to talk about how our artistry can benefit your home, there’s no reason to wait, give us a call today!

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