Plans for an Information Philosophy Institute

Design and Building (October 24, 2018)

Please see a summary of events in early 2018 that led to these plans.

We collect all our thoughts in a single document so a general contractor can understand the full scope of possible work.

But we divide the work into sub-projects so a single contractor could take full responsibility for a project element (e.g., the new door and stair, foundation waterproofing, solar panels, or tunnel to garage).

We are working with a general contractor who will take on most of the work, with an HVAC specialist who installed mini-split air conditioning for the lab and studio on the first floor, and who installed a new highly-efficient forced hot water heating system for the building.

At this point, important project elements are

Demolition of Boilers-Pipes-Radiators, Ceilings, Walls, Obsolete Wiring,
We decided to do the demolition ourselves to get a good look at any problems and we found significant damage hiding behind the walls and ceilings.

The basement had a horsehair plaster and lathe ceiling attached to floor joists, then a drop ceiling suspended a few inches below. The plaster had been pierced to install fluorescent lighting up between the joists. Plaster was crumbling and falling down in many places, making the basement dusty and dirty.

To get a clear look at floor joists and first-floor planking, we decided to remove the drop ceiling and demolish the plaster and drop ceilings. The drop ceiling averaged about 4" below the joists, reducing ceiling height below seven feet.

Steam pipes were too low for the headroom required by Massachusetts and Cambridge building codes. We decided to switch from steam heat to forced hot water. We removed and recycled two inefficient steam boilers, seventeen very heavy upstair radiators, and many feet of heavy black pipe. These have been be replaced with panel radiators and light-weight PEX piping, which are hidden inside the walls in some places.

Electrical wires, thirty Merlin PBX wires, doorbell wiring, security camera wiring, and many other wires criss-crossed the cellar, lying on the ceiling tiles and randomly breaking through the plaster, which was constantly disintegrating into dust.

The oldest electrical wires were deteriorating cloth-insulated inside ancient BX metal armor.

Low-voltage electronics cables from our webcasting studio to the switcher and green room were very difficult to manage.

We removed all of the BX and several obsolete wires, many of which were wrapped over and under pipes and haphazardly stapled to beams and joists with non-insulated staples. All horizontal BX was replaced with Romex. We reorganized locations for wires, attaching them neatly with insulated staples. Wires now run mostly down the long corridor between the main beams, then out between the joists. The iTV-Studio wiring and some Romex run down behind a drop-down door that gives us access to wiring for maintenance.

PEX piping runs between the main load beams and up between the floor joists for the new forced hot water heating system.

With all joists exposed, we did a survey of ceiling heights. In the front corners the height to the joists is 7'4" and averaged 7'3" across the space toward the outer walls. The main beams in the center are typically 7'1". We initially thought we might have to dig out the concrete floors, but that very expensive possibility is now not necessary.

We plan to install 1/2" ceilings, removable plywood panels, and perhaps thin vinyl sheet flooring or ceramic planking, so will have the Massachusetts state building code basement ceiling height everywhere. See code below.

There was no blocking between the joists, so at many places floorboards were spongy and noisy, pulled loose from the sub-floor.

We removed the sheetrock outer walls, studs, etc. Some studs and many 2" x 4" bottom plates were badly rotted.

We demolished the existing interior walls that must be moved to new places for the new boiler room, a larger bathroom, and for the new workshop wall.

We removed the old vinyl floor tiles in preparation for new flooring. The concrete floor is uneven by as much as an inch, so we probably must flatten it (though not level it) for new flooring.

We demolished the walls and ceiling of the first floor bathroom, partly to run new drain pipes that do not compromise our new sistered joists, and because we want to install a walk-in shower.

Sistering Joists, Replacing Parts of Main Beams, and new Lally Columns

We found water and termite damage to the back ends of main beams and several joists below the upper-floor bathrooms. Plumbers had cut deeply into the joists to position the bathtub drains and upper floors were sagging well below their original level.

We consulted a structural engineer whose report said that weak joists should be sistered with new 2" x 8" LVL planks. For the termite-damaged main beams, he recommended removing them and installing three new 2" x 10" LVL boards to replace the bad beams.

We got an extravagant estimate ($69,000) for sistering ten joists, replacing 20 feet of each main beam, and adding two new columns with new reinforced concrete footings. We got a lower estimate for just sistering the joists ($10,000), but still very expensive.

So we went ahead and sistered the dozen worst joists ourselves with new 2" x 8" LVL planks. We also strengthened the "cripple box" around the plumbing stack.

We used six 20-ton hydraulic jacks to shore up the joists, taking weight off the beams, so we could remove the damaged sections in small pieces. Long sections of the main beam, eaten by termites, were easily pulled down with a crowbar and disintegrated into toothpicks. It is amazing the house did not collapse.

We replaced the damaged 20 feet of each 6" x 10" beam with three 2" x 10" LVL planks, each pair screwed together with Headlok 2 3/4" screws and glued with Liquid Nails Extreme. The three planks are bolted together with 1/2" bolts every 1.5 feet.

The three LVL planks together are about five times stronger than the original 6" x 10" beam they replace, ensuring that the building is stronger now than when built.

Under the main beams we replaced three Lally columns that were deteriorating. We relocated three columns to be hidden in bathroom wall partitions, setting them on new concrete footings with reinforcing rebars.

We then called the structural engineer in to see the work. He generally approved, but wanted the three moved Lally columns to have larger footings and thought the new nine-foot span created by moving one Lally column into the bathroom wall might need another 2" x 10" LVL plank.

We then hired a second professional engineer to draw up the plans describing these changes for submission with our request for a building permit.

New Heating System

A new forced hot water heating system was installed in about half the space of the old boiler room.

Gas entrance pipes were relocated up between the now-open joists, and will be boxed along the exterior wall.

Fire retardant walls and ceiling for the boiler room? Maybe not, because new boilers have sealed combustion chambers with no open flames.

System has independent zone control for the three upper floors and for future basement and garage heating.

Twenty-one new European style, white wall-mounted radiators are being installed on the upper three floors.

Wirsbo/Uponor hePEX (PEX-A) piping mostly follows the existing holes for the old steam radiators. Pipes will travel from the new boiler room along the corridor between the main beams, then out between floor joists to the rooms.

Most piping is hidden above the ceiling between joists and down inside wall partitions.

The old GE hot water heater is replaced with a "Featherweight" indirect tank with heat exchanger in the boiler.

Manifolds needed

Details on our heating plans.

Mini-split air conditioning for the first floor lab, webcasting studio, and guest room.
Since we removed all the ceilings in the cellar, we can also send refrigerant lines from the outside compressor/condenser to the wall-mounted units inside by traveling between the main cellar beams and between the joists to the outside walls.

Fujitsu components

We installed a new 30A circuit and circuit breaker for the outdoor unit.

Foundation Waterproofing and Possibly Sump Pumps to Prevent Flooding

With all the exterior walls now visible, we ran water through a garden hose around the house perimeter and saw water coming through the rubble foundation in some places. We may need to dig outside and waterproof the foundation walls from the outside. As additional protection, we may add one or perhaps two sump pumps at the front to eliminate future floods? Although we will test the outside waterproofing first.

We plan to excavate garage walls down below the foundation slab and apply a waterproofing rubber membrane.

We will also add new downspouts on porches at front and rear to keep water away from the house foundation.

We repointed the lower half of exterior walls (rubble foundation) with new lime mortar.

Major Basement Changes

Download PNG

Renovate First Floor Bathroom for the iTV-Studio and Guest Room

We demolished the walls and ceiling of the first floor bathroom and will build a new stud wall at 60" separation to accept a new walk-in shower.

We added sister joists below the bathroom floor to strengthen those badly cut away for cast iron drain pipe access below first floor bath. We will thread new PVC piping through holes, not notches, in the new sistered joists, or perhaps in the first floor bathroom wall?

Proposed fixtures for first floor bathroom.

We hope to cut the 0.2" wall material to allow us to keep the window.

New Outer Walls, Ceilings, and Partitions for Two Offices for Visitors in Basement

Front Stair Design

Visualization of new side entrance, 32" x 78" much like our current front door.

The door should open out.

Because its 3.5-foot by 3.5-foot landing is a few feet below the vestibule of the first floor, it has only eight stairs instead of 13 in the upper floor staircases.

Because the rubble foundation extends 7" inside the cement block wall, the stairs are only 30" wide where upper floors are 36".

The basement ceiling height is 7'3" at the new stair, compared to upper floors with nine feet, yet the headroom at the bottom step is within the code at 6' 8".

We inspected the space under the first flight of stairs above. It is completely open. The upper stairs are attached only to the walls.

We need something to block winter cold from rushing in to the basement. Perhaps no inner door, but a lightweight folding door that could be out of the way except for the coldest weeks?

With cold blocked at the top of the stair, we could have a banister and newell post, bringing the staircase space into the room.


Renovate Basement Bathroom
  • Enlarge bathroom from 7' x 3.5' to 7' x 6'.
  • We excavated the bathroom floor to provide a P-trap for a new shower drain and new piping for all fixtures, for a slop sink in the workshop, and for the kitchenette sink.
  • Proposed fixtures.

    Passageway to/from the Garage
    We need a second safe egress from the main garage where we work on our family cars.

    When we lose power, it is not possible to lift the heavy overhead door, and in event of fire we would like a second exit.

    We propose to replace a 36" x 36" window in the garage with a full-height door. The garage window is 6.5 feet away from and directly opposite a 36" x 24" basement window. We would replace the basement window with a 32"-wide, six-foot-tall door. Both doors need to be steel frames because they are below grade.

    Looking through the basement window, you can see the garage window and part of the stair to the garage roof.

    We would replace the current stair with a deck going up six steps, from which four more steps would reach the garage roof. We propose the roof be considered as open space.

    Wall Insulation
    Mass Save will provide a contractor to fill the exterior walls with packed cellulose insulation, probably in early December.

    Solar panels on roof of 77 Huron and possibly 75 Huron
    We may need to strengthen the structure of the 77 Huron roof to support an array of solar panels.

    The current rubber roof is past its expected life. We have maintained it by resealing the seams and adding a one-foot strip of new rubber on top of the original seams.

    We need to open the roof (next Spring) to properly insulate it. At that time we can connect anchors for the solar panel racks. We will seal those anchors with new PVC welded to new white PVC roofing.

    Open space on roof of 73 Huron
    We have been encouraged to declare the roof of the six garages at 73 Huron to be considered "open space" by the city, perhaps even a "green roof?"

    Building Permit Application
    A homeowner building permit was filed online 8/24/2018, with the following stipulations;

    Fire Protection: You must comply with NFPA 241 - Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations.

    Guarantee Fund: Notice is hereby given that owners obtaining their own permit or dealing with unregistered contractors for applicable home improvement work do not have access to the arbitration program or guarantee fund under MGL c.142A.

    Noise Ordinance: The undersigned as the Architect / Construction Supervisor / Owner for this proposed construction do hereby certify awareness and knowledge of Chapter 8.16 of the Cambridge Municipal Code regarding noise control. Necessary actions must be taken concerning the design, specification of an location of noise producing equipment; e.g., air condensers, heating equipment exhausts, etc., to insure that this project will not result in noise levels that exceed that allowed by the Municipal Code.

    Demolition: For substantial demolition of any structural elements of more than 25% of existing building, detailed information of demolition must be included on construction drawings (proof of extermination required if excavating or demolition). Demolition of more than 25% of the existing area or volume of the structure requires a Demolition Permit.

    Construction Debris: As a result of the provisions of MGL c 40 §54, I acknowledged that as a condition of the Building Permit, all debris resulting from the construction activity governed by this Building Permit shall be disposed of in a properly licensed waste disposal facility, as defined by MGL c 111 §150A.

    Structural Peer Review: Required for high rise construction or buildings of unusual complexity as determined by the BBRS

    Lead Safe Renovation Contractor License: This license is required and issued by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards (454 CMR 22.03(3)). This license is required for ALL renovation work on residential buildings constructed before 1978. The DLS licensed lead supervisor is required to be on-site at all times during the lead-disturbance phase of the project

    Asbestos and Other Hazardous Materials: The undersigned as the Architect / Construction Supervisor / Owner for this proposed project do hereby certify that awareness and knowledge of contaminants in the building or on the site will require necessary action for remediation of hazardous materials by a contractor licensed for hazardous waste remediation. All debris resulting from remediation will be disposed of in a properly licensed hazardous waste disposal facility.

    The undersigned hereby certifies that he/she has read and examined this application and that the proposed work subject to the provisions of the Massachusetts State Building Code and other applicable laws and ordinances is accurately represented in the statements made in this application and that the work shall be carried out in accordance with the foregoing statements and in compliance with the provisions of law and ordinance in force on the date of this application to the best of his/her ability.

    The undersigned, by printing his/her name below, hereby certifies under the pains and penalties of perjury that the information herein, and all forms and supporting documentation submitted in support of the application(s), are true and accurate.

    Cambridge Zoning Standards and 77 Huron Avenue
    Our property is non-conforming with multiple zoning standards from this
    5.31 Residential Districts

    District 1. Max. Ratio of Floor Area to Lot Area (FAR) 2. Min. Lot Size Min. Lot Area for each D.U. in Sq. Ft. Min. Lot Width in Feet Minimum Yard in Feet
    Front Side Rear
    Max. Height in Feet Min. Ratio of Private Op. Sp. to Lot Area
    Res. B 0.5 5,000 2,500 50
    15 7'6" (sum of 20) 25
    35 40%
    77 Huron 1.16 3745 3745/3 = 1248 40
    6 9 15
    35 53%
    Excerpt from Cambridge Property Database for 77 Huron Avenue

    Property Value

    Year of Assessment2018
    Tax DistrictR6
    Residential ExemptionYes
    Building Value$799,800
    Land Value$845,300
    Assessed Value$1,645,100
    Sale Price$42,500
    Book/Page12493/ 731
    Sale DateAugust 3, 1973
    Previous Assessed Value$1,604,400

    Owner Information

    Owner(s)DOYLE, ROBERT D. &
    77 HURON AVE
    CAMBRIDGE, MA 02138-6798

    Building Information

    Residential Building Number 1, Section 1

    Occupancy THREE-FM-RES
    Number of Stories3
    Exterior Wall Type Wood Shingle
    Roof Type Flat
    Roof Material Rubber Membrane
    Living Area (sq. ft.)4,362
    Number of Units 3
    Total Rooms 18
    Bedrooms 9
    Kitchens 3
    Full Baths 3
    Half Baths 1
    Fireplaces 0
    Heat TypeSteam
    Heat Fuel Gas
    Central A/C No
    Condition & Grade
    Year Built1916
    Interior Condition Average
    Overall ConditionAverage
    Overall GradeGood
    Open Parking2
    Covered Parking0
    Code Description Gross Area Living Area
    FOP Porch, Open 651 0
    FUS Upper Story, Finished 2,908 2,908
    BAS First Floor 1,454 1,454
    FBM Basement, Finished 700 0
    UBM Basement 754 0
    Total: 6,467 4,362
    Ceiling Height - Code of Massachusetts Regulations

    780 CMR 5305 CEILING HEIGHT 5305.1 Minimum Height. Habitable rooms, hallways, corridors, bathrooms, toilet rooms, laundry rooms and basements shall have a ceiling height of not less than seven feet (2134 mm). The required height shall be measured from the finish floor to the lowest projection from the ceiling.


    1. Beams and girders spaced not less than four feet (1219 mm) on center may project not more than six inches (152 mm) below the required ceiling height.

    2. Ceilings in basements without habitable spaces may project to within six feet, eight inches (2032 mm) of the finished floor; and beams, girders, ducts or other obstructions may project to within six feet, four inches (1931 mm) of the finished floor.

    3. Not more than 50% of the required floor area of a room or space is permitted to have a sloped ceiling less than seven feet (2134 mm) in height with no portion of the required floor area less than five feet (1524 mm) in height.

    4. Bathrooms shall have a minimum ceiling height of six feet eight inches (2036 mm) over the fixture and at the front clearance area for fixtures. A shower or tub equipped with a showerhead shall have a minimum ceiling height of six feet eight inches (2036 mm) above a minimum area 30 inches (762 mm) by 30 inches (762 mm) at the showerhead.

    5. Ceiling heights in habitable basements, including drop ceilings, shall be a minimum of six feet eight inches (2032 mm).

    This Old House

    Stair Construction