Ask the Remodeler: Rebel radiators and making a basement safe

Ask the Expert Home Improvement
. Adobe Stock

Q. Our circa 1928 house has an old gas furnace (which the most recent inspector says works fine) and hot water radiators. The winter heating bills are through the roof, largely because the two smaller bedrooms upstairs are like sweat lodges and the kids open their windows at night. Our bedroom has two smaller radiators, and we’ve never had a problem with being too hot. The other bedrooms, however, each have one giant radiator, and there is no way to turn the knob without breaking it off (a plumber onsite told us). I’m not even sure what those knobs even do. We are looking for a reasonably cost-effective solution. Thoughts?

J.H., Needham

A. The knob you are describing is a valve that would allow you to modulate or shut off the flow to your radiator. The most cost-effective solution would be to change the valves at the radiators that are overheating. With new valves you can manually decrease the flow of hot water to each radiator. Upon a full examination of your heating system, you may find there may be other options, but these would most likely be more expensive. Also, we sometimes find that thermostats are located in the wrong spot in a house. If the thermostat is located in an area too isolated from the main part of the house, it can be calling for heat far too often, causing other areas to overheat. If this is the case, your thermostat should be moved to another location.

Q. We were surprised to realize during an inspection of our house — which was built in 1994 and we bought in 2018 — that there wasn’t a second point of egress in the finished basement. It seems that the three-season porch was framed over the former bulkhead exit. We have two small children that play in the basement, and this is always in the back of my mind as a safety concern. There are two “basement-sized’’ windows (one of which is under the aforementioned porch). How much of a concern is it that there is no other egress? Is it possible to create a safety exit via the window, and if so, how big of a project is it?


A. We have seen that before, decks and porches framed right over a bulkhead. Given what you are up against, enlarging one of the windows is probably the most cost-effective solution. In fact, this is something that we always do when creating bedroom space in a basement remodel, as safety codes require an egress window in any basement bedroom. What we do is dig a pretty deep opening in front of whatever window you choose and create a 36-by-36-inch window well. You can use any number of paver products or ground contact pressure-treated wood for retaining walls. The expensive part is that you need to have a concrete-cutting company make the window opening lower before you install a larger window. We recommend a tilt-in, double-hung window to maximize the opening and ease of use. Fill the bottom of the window well with stone. It sounds intimidating, but it is a fairly straightforward project and would give you the peace of mind you need.

Mark Philben is the project development manager at Charlie Allen Renovations in Cambridge. Send your questions to [email protected]. Questions are subject to editing. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes.