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Charlie Allen Renovations, Inc. | 91 River Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
617.661.7411 | info@charlie-allen.com | www.charlie-allen.com



Time to RenovateIn the recent past it seemed that everyone was building additions, remodeling kitchens and baths, introducing living space to basements and attics, and otherwise improving our homes. Today, renovation fever has eased, largely due to a general reduction of funding available to many of us.

But a home maintenance to-do list is never finished, and in most cases, delaying a project only adds to the ultimate bottom line.  Our lives don’t stop either: we add to our families, watch grown children move on, we grow older and anticipate the physical challenges that come with aging.  Sometimes we simply learn that the existing layout of our home just doesn’t accommodate the ways we live our lives.

With decades of experience with older homes, we thought it might be helpful to provide you with some general maintenance timeline suggestions, as well as a handy ROI chart to remind you that, in many cases, renovation is a good investment.


Roof ReplacementRoof:  How old is your roof?  15-20 years is the average lifespan for a healthy roof.  If yours is older, it may be a good time to consider replacing it.  Other indications range from the obvious—precipitation leaking inside—to more subtle hints like shingles that are beginning to curl at their edges.

Exterior Paint: Exterior painting is one of the most important home maintenance projects that can be done. Sometimes the paint and caulking is all that is stopping damage from the elements. It’s often neglected due to expense and homeowners are faced with the large investment of whole house re-painting. But if you have your house looked at every year and have the worn areas touched up and re-caulked and repaired a new whole house paint job should last 10-12 years.

Electrical: Maintaining your electrical system may save you more than just cash — it can save your life.  Many older homes feature a real bird’s nest of wiring running throughout; check yours carefully and make sure that the insulation hasn’t worn off—this poses a real danger.  Knob and tube wiring can be a concern as well. Something else to consider are your outlets.  Are they designed for two-prong plugs?  You may want to replace these now: three-prong receptacles are grounded and much safer.

Windows: Faulty windows have an immediate impact on your bottom line as they very quickly result in higher energy costs.  You’ll know that your window needs to be replaced or refurbished when you feel cold winter air seeping inside.  Windows that become coated with condensation, ice, or frost are also ready to be replaced or repaired. At Charlie Allen Renovations we believe that the best window is an original wood window that has been re-glazed, and repaired to proper working order. Paired with a storm window it is the best window package available.


With the economy in its current state, ROI (return-on-investment) figures are a good way to justify remodeling projects.  All improvements are not equal—the following list details the top 5 home improvements most likely to recoup their costs upon the later sale of the house.  Data comes from Remodeling magazine’s 2009-2010 survey, and figures are for the New England region only:



1. Adding an Attic Bedroom


2. Adding a Deck


3. Basement Remodel


4. Kitchen Remodel


5. Bathroom Remodel


Of course, many of us are not thinking about resale value when considering renovations.  If you’re simply interested in living more comfortably, there is no better investment than your home and we like to think the best time is always now.



Charlie Allen - News In March, viewers of NECN’s New England Dream House were treated to a tour of one of our favorite projects: a modest Mansard in Cambridgeport that we renovated over a period of ten years.  If you missed it, the segment is still viewable here.


ASK MARK: Hardwood floors are a signature feature of period homes. This quarter, CAR project development manager Mark Philben talks about wood.

Mark PhilbenQ: Mark, are there easy ways to identify what type of wood flooring I have in my house?
A: Short of having a qualified professional floor finisher or general contractor look at the material, the best way might be any number of websites. A great resource is the Wood Flooring Association. Another option might be to visit a showroom in your area.

Q: Why were certain woods favored in the past?
A: Mainly local availability and durability. Heart pine and oak were used extensively in New England because they were plentiful and both are extremely durable. In an effort to save money in many New England homes, eastern white pine was used in second floor rooms and back staircases. These rooms were not “public” rooms and therefore a softer, less durable (and less expensive) wood was used.

Q: Are the original woods still my best option or are there modern alternatives that would work better for me?
A: This depends on the design goals of the project.  A restoration or period remodel will dictate the appropriate materials.  Heart pine or quarter sawn white oak would most likely be used.  A more modern project could use pre-finished wood flooring or an exotic material such as Brazilian Cherry. Reclaimed lumber and bamboo are good options to accomplish a green project.  There are a lot of good products out there and they totally depend on the owner’s design goals.

StairsQ: Are there warning signs that flooring needs to be replaced?
A: The first sign on a typical tongue and groove floor are cracks/splinters showing up and nail heads starting to show through the flooring. Both are signs that the floor has been sanded to its extent and further sanding will simply expose more nails and induce more splinters.

Q: What are the best finishes for a hardwood floor?
A: The industry is heading towards water-based finishes. They have come a long way in recent years and have an extremely hard shell. One common complaint with water-based is that they do not color the wood with the amber hue that an oil-based finish would give. There are tints that can be added to give the water-based finishes some color. Oil-based finishes can still be found but are becoming more expensive an option. The industry is also moving towards prefinished wood flooring. These finishes are also extremely durable because they have been applied in a factory setting.


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Charlie Allen - Period HomeHere in the Boston area, the brownstone defines the city streetscape, particularly in neighborhoods like the Back Bay, South End, and Beacon Hill, where its design provides for a very efficient use of space.

Brownstones are distinguished primarily by a brown sandstone exterior, which in many cases is the sole feature distinguishing them from the very similar rowhouse style.   Both types of homes are common in urban settings, are generally three to four stories tall, and are built one after the other, often for the length of a city block. 

Because brown sandstone is a relatively ‘soft’ material, many brownstones feature elegant carved detailing. Bay windows are another common feature, punctuating many brownstone homes at the ‘parlor level,’ or the main floor off the front door, which is generally up one flight of exterior stairs from the street.  The term ‘garden level’ usually refers to the level at or just below street level, sometimes accessed via an exterior door beneath the stairs and opening to a small courtyard area at the building’s rear.

Already popular in London, the brownstone style became prominent in Boston in the mid-19th century, lending the city its European flavor.


MEET THE TEAM: Julie Palmer

Julie PalmerJulie is the Director of Operations at Charlie Allen Renovations, and is usually the first person that a CAR client speaks to when they contact us. Since joining the firm in 1999, Julie has continuously sought new approaches toward making the CAR client experience a streamlined, happy and rewarding one, from initial consultation through the renovation and onward to the end of the project and beyond. Julie manages all client communications, oversees project budgets and subcontractors, and in general, anticipates, heads-off, and solves any bumps-in-the-road, changes-in-plans, or acts-of-God.

Born and raised near Albany, Julie is a graduate of Tulane University. She and her family live in Cambridgeport.


Charlie Allen Renovations | 91 River Street, Cambridge, MA 02139