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'Ask This Old House' Helps Out A Bay View Household

Milwaukee is known as the "City of Neighborhoods," and each neighborhood is filled with a lot of old houses.  With so many homeowners, there are most likely more than a few who would recognize a distinctive truck and trailer that travels the country to help fix some vexing home problems.

Ask This Old House is a spin-off of the popular PBS series This Old House, which takes their experts on the road to personally assist in projects homeowners need help with.  Not too long ago, the truck and trailer made an appearance in Bay View at the home of Mark Nagle to solve a hot water issue - or rather, a lack of hot water issue.

"We live in an old 1900s house and I submitted a request and last spring (a producer) randomly called...and I was blown away. The process went pretty quickly and then here comes June and there's Richard and the crew and low and behold," jokes Nagel.

Credit Mike Last / Ask This Old House
Ask This Old House
Richard Trethewey explains the mechanics of an instantaneous water heater to Mark Nagel in his basement.

The man Nagel is referring to is Richard Trethewey - the plumbing and heating expert for Ask This Old House.

"It's funny, when you pull into a neighborhood, everybody wants to stop and talk to you. Everybody says, 'Hey, while you're here, come on over across the street!' And we actually had that in Mark's beautiful neighborhood," Trethewey recalls.

Nagel's request to the show involved replacing his water heater, which had been performing poorly with improper ventilation. Most homes in the United States have a glass lined steel tank water heater that can hold an average of 40 gallons and last anywhere from 7 to 9 years. Instead of replacing the water heater with another tank like most home owners do (especially if they are pressed for time), Trethewey installed a RUR Super High Efficiency Plus instantaneous hot water heater in the home's basement.

"The issue with these instantaneous water heaters is it needs a bigger gas pipe and it has to go against the outside wall. So oftentimes you're relocating (the water heater) and that's what we did on this segment," explains Trethewey.

Credit Mike Last / Ask This Old House
Ask This Old House
Richard Trethewey installs the tankless water heater.

Any segment for Ask This Old House needs to be able to be completed within a day, he says. So with the advance help of Milwaukee's Budiac Plumbing & Heating, Inc., they were able to complete the Nagel project in just 6 hours.

"It is more work, but it's worth every bit of it," says Trethewey. "Because you get unlimited hot water for a longer period of time - you could run it all day if you wanted to and it would last longer than a glass-lined steel tank, and you save energy."

He notes that most people simply get used to whatever home operating costs they have and don't necessarily think about the home's long term efficiency. However, Trethewey adds that there is also a balance to keep when you have older houses being equipped with new home technology.

"I'm so partial to the older buildings. They were built better and they have a bit more pleasing eye to me," he says. "Look, our show is called This Old House and Ask This Old House - we like old."

Even more important than repairing old houses for Trethewey and Ask This Old House, is finding and training skilled workers who are capable of completing these jobs.

"The one thing you can't automate is the skilled trades - the use of your hands to build, fix, repair, and remodel. So it's a ripe with potential industry that people don't realize," he says. "It's a big deal trying to get people into the trades and we're hoping to do something to change that a little bit."

Plus, Trethewey says there's nothing like the satisfaction of a job well done. "I can drive down any street and say 'Oh yeah, I did that heating system,'...and it just feels so good - you left your imprint."

An imprint was certainly left on Nagle and his family - outside of now having great hot water supply. "It is amazing, they are the nicest people. They came into the house, made themselves at home, talked to my family, they gave my kids high-fives. It's an unbelievable process to watch this crew in action," he says. "It was a surreal, awesome experience we'll never forget."

You can see the results of the Bay View Ask This Old House episode as it airs Saturday afternoon at 4:30 pm on Milwaukee PBS channel 36.1 - or online right now.

Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.