When it comes to new construction, I know a thing or two. However I also know that renovating a Brownstone is a completely different skill set with many different challenges that you do not see on a typical renovation. These buildings here in the greater Manhattan area are filled with old plaster walls, decrepit wiring, old pipes, stone foundations and can be riddled with problems. Today I am here on site with Brownstone and High-Rise Renovation Experts James Cullen and Aaron Borenstein from Home Evolutions Corp. discussing Brownstone renovations. I am writing this piece to educate you, the homeowner, on how to not only tackle a NYC or Brooklyn Brownstone renovation, but also how to do it efficiently, effectively, and happily. I hope you enjoy the read!

First things first:

First off, prior to starting any Brownstone project, architectural plans are created, stamped and approved by the NYC Dept. of Buildings. Always read all of the reviews on any architect you may consider using for your project before selecting your professional. Two good reviews and ten bad ones is not a good start. Make sure they have knowledge of the subject property, building type and a strong credible online and personal reputation. Please keep in mind that it is ALWAYS best to hire an architect referred by your contractor or vise versa. It is also very important to select a contractor and architect that have worked on many projects together. During this design process, the client should be told to be prepared for any unforeseen issues or changes that might occur during the duration of the project so it is very important to probe the homes walls, ceilings and floors to eliminate as many surprises as possible. Now, Once design is complete and proper permits are acquired and placed on windows, the job can start. The process of planing to being issued a permit takes approximately 6 months.


After demolition you may find that there are hidden pipes such as gas pipes, steam pipes and risers, waste pipes, vents, drains, and water pipes. All of these pipes may need to be relocated in order to gain more ceiling height and or achieve the new floor plan. So please be cautious, but also fair with your contractor. If he gives you advice or updates, it’s more often than not that they want what is best for you and your project.  This is why it is very important to probe your walls, ceiling and floors while in the design phase.  This is very important for your wallet and peace of mind.


Another aspect that you may need to know about is the steam boiler (if you have one and are looking to keep it). It is a two pipe system and must have a pitch on it from the steam boiler all the way through the apartment building, feeding the upstairs units as well, with branches and risers. This can sometimes interfere with doors, ceiling heights and your new floor plan since the contractor sometimes has to reroute most of the steam pipe through the walls all the way to the back of the apartment. There is a return pipe that has to be relocated inside the walls and back to the steam boiler. That return pipe is needed in order to make the entire system work. Key information here.

There are also many soffits that need to be built around certain steam pipes, since some of them cannot be moved. On occasion this is not part of the original plan, but this is what can happen when you really can’t see inside of the walls before you start a project such as a Brooklyn or Manhattan brownstone renovation. If you are not updating the entire plumbing system a complete inspection needs to be made of the existing system. If there are any leaking pipes, these need to be addressed right away. “I’ve personally seen existing gas pipes that were leaking and needed replacement immediately. I’ve also seen a major leak from a rotting tub from a 3rd floor apartment that was not being renovated. The leaks need to be addressed right away, period. You don’t need water leaking onto your new sheetrock, which will then create mold hidden inside of the walls and as we all know mold can make you very sick and in some cases is even fatal.” Says James Cullen of Home Evolutions Corp.

The project I am on site is being built by experienced builders and renovators Home Evolutions Corp. They are in the midst of renovating a very special, very expensive luxurious Brownstone in Park Slope Brooklyn. This beauty had an old fireplace that needed to be removed in order to install a new kitchen in its place. To remove this structure, the architect and GC first had to engage a structural engineer and a masonry crew. It needed to be removed and shored in a safe way in order to keep the brick from the above three floors from collapsing. Also found during the demolition were a couple of load bearing archways. One of them had a piece of old blue stone acting as a structural support across the top of the opening. This needed to be replaced as its structural integrity was old and compromised, as it was carrying a load from above. A piece of angle iron was installed to solve that issue ($600.00 repair).

The back of the extension of the building was added over 75 years ago and water would sit outside on the back patio due to poor drainage and old brick joints. Because of the poor drainage and brittle mortar joints this standing water would enter into the home. The whole concrete slab was ripped up and then dry wells were installed in the ground in order to add drainage. Before the elegant Cambridge Pavers were installed, Home Evolutions Corp. applied a waterproofing membrane along the bottom of the brick wall and foundation. The brick walls were also repointed inside and out around the whole extension. Once all water entry issues were remedied concrete was poured and pitched correctly away from the house. The pavers were then installed and the water problems are now history.

While framing took place there were soffits that were needed around steam pipes and other pipes. Since the utility room is now finished and considered a living space we needed to run a 16×8 fresh air intake from the boiler room to the outside. A very large soffit was built around that, and they had to make some adjustments with the kitchen cabinets that were installed under that soffit.

Exterior doors by Pella and Nana Wall were installed as well (quality products are super important as well so do your research). One of the exterior doors were right next to the fresh air intake. This was a challenge since they had to remove some of the exterior brick wall and install structural steel above the door in order to carry the load of brick from the 3 stories above the door. A certain amount of natural light was required by the NYC Department of buildings and the Nana Door was the perfect solution.


The Department of Building required a total “R value” of 10 (more info on R-Value: https://energy.gov/energysaver/insulation) for the ground level finished floors since they were being placed directly on top of the concrete slab. Home Evolutions Corp. had to level all the floors first with a Mapei self-leveler. Then they installed a 1- 1/2” thick layer of extruded R-10 high density insulation. Next they needed a subfloor, so they laid down 1/2” plywood. Finally, they had the 5/8” floating pre-engineered wood floor as the finished floor product. Because of this requirement it reduced the ceiling height by 3-1/2 inches. However the department of buildings created a home that is now more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

The ceiling was tricky because all of the original existing beams were very old and imperfect. They had to run a number of gas and water lines along the bottom of the beams throughout, and then frame down a drop ceiling. This took 2 layers of 5/8” sheetrock with green glue for sound reduction and the building code fire rating. The overall ceiling height on the ground floor ended up being 7′-10’ due to code compliance for the floor and ceiling code requirements.

This project that I had the honor of visiting was done by, in my opinion the most honest, most trustworthy, most vocal and highest quality contractors of not only Brooklyn and Manhattan Brownstones, but also luxurious high-rise renovations and new homes in New York City, Long Island and the Hamptons. Their name is Home Evolutions Corp. and I can assure you that they will handle your job professionally and expeditiously as if it were their own property. “We give our clients the most up to date tools, online client platform, design professionals and craftsmen needed to make their renovation a success” Says expert general contractor Aaron Borenstein.

For more information on your renovation or dream home please do not hesitate to contact Home Evolutions Corp. They have an enormous amount of experience and they are professional, fair, honest and meticulous contractors who will map out your entire project up front from beginning to end, utilizing the latest software, products and building techniques to ensure that your project will turn out exactly the way and the price that you wanted it to be! Please call today to get your project jump started!



Home Evolutions Corp does it right the first time! Everytime!

Enjoy your new living space,

Josh Leidolf
Business Review Journalist
The South Florida Chronicle, VideoGod and The New York Encore