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A 21st Century challenge

One of the most interesting aspects of inn keeping is the fact we get to live in a historic home dating back to 1854. It also presents us with one of our greatest challenges. While the stories of a home that pre-dates the Civil War are fascinating, the problems that lie within its walls are a whole different ball game. It is a double-edged sword in that homes back then were built to last, but they aren’t always efficient in a 21st century world.

Perhaps the biggest issue with an old home is sealing it. It isn’t uncommon for us to have a heating or cooling bill well over $1,000 in peak months. One of the first things we tackled to help combat this leakage was to replace all the old windows. We have replaced about 42 of the 55 windows in this house, with the remaining windows scheduled to be completed this coming summer. Even the most cost-effective windows are still a big chunk of change, so it has taken almost eight years to complete this project.

The second most important project we have tackled just recently with regard to sealing the house was to have blown in insulation put into our exterior walls. The process of getting this done involved a ton of paperwork that was required by Ameren in order to qualify for the rebate program they had for energy efficiency improvements. Additionally, we had to do two blow door tests, one baseline one indicating where our leakage was coming from and a second one post insulation insuring our results were good enough to get our rebate. We also had to do some additional sealing to help the insulation along, including purchasing inflatable plugs for the fireplaces to be put in place when they are not in use, taking every single plug and light switch off the exterior walls of the house and gluing in foam gaskets which proved to be a daunting task when we discovered there were more than 40 plugs/switches and caulking basement windows and any other leaky spot we could find. We still need to add a few extra rolls of insulation in the attic to seal it up even further but had to wait until we had a new AC unit installed, which should be more efficient in cooling the house.

The final leg of the heating and cooling battle will be to get a new, more efficient boiler to replace the ancient 1929 monstrosity we currently have which still works but is probably on its last legs. That, of course, represents a huge investment, so we have to hold off for now and pray the old boiler keeps pumping out heat for a couple more years.

Another frustrating aspect of an old home is the plumbing. Some of the plumbing in this house actually dates back to the 1920s when all four upstairs bathrooms were installed. The antique ceramic tubs we have are fantastic, but tremendously heavy, which means in the days before modern cement board and construction materials, they needed serious reinforcement to support them. As we found out the hard way when we had to remodel one of the bathrooms, a 6-inch concrete floor was poured underneath each bathroom, and the plumbing embedded into it. Most of the plumbing has been updated, but there are still a few more cast iron pipes that have to be replaced as we remodel bathrooms. Two bathrooms down, four more to go. Needless to say, in the meantime, as long as people don’t put things they aren’t supposed to down the toilets, everything will be just fine.

Additional idiosyncrasies are electrical and technological in nature. Since the original wiring in the house had all the power going through the light switches in the rooms, we had to have new wiring installed to accommodate the satellite TVs we put in each guest suite; otherwise when people turned off the power to the lights, the satellite TV would also turn off. And when we installed Wi-Fi, we didn’t realize the signal would have trouble passing through the lathe, plaster, brick and pipes in the walls. The router, which was centrally located, serviced the second floor just fine, but my office, which is located on the first floor in the back of the house behind the kitchen, didn’t get the signal at all. I had to get an expander/amplifier installed midway between my computer and the router so I could have Internet access in my office.

As I say, bringing this old house into the 21st century has certainly proven to be a challenge but a worthwhile one. Not many people can say their home was around when Lincoln was president. It is a distinct pleasure and unique responsibility to maintain a piece of history for future generations to see and learn from. We feel very fortunate to be the ones who get to do it.

Monika Sudakov is the chef and innkeeper at the Chestnut Street Inn in Sheffield. She can be reached at monikaandjeff@chestnut-inn.com.

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