1920s Mansion Gets Heating Makeover

January 22, 2003
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GROSSE POINTE PARK, Mich. — When Art Grace got the call to do an estimate on the replacement/upgrade of a 1923 steam heat system in a famous Detroit-area mansion, he jumped at the chance. The home, the former residence of actress Julie Harris, is situated on a beautiful waterfront site overlooking Lake St. Clair in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe Park.

Grace is the owner of Krutsch Heating Inc., a mechanical and electrical contractor in Taylor, Mich. The new owner of the home, Paul Stanford, met Grace through a real estate associate who worked with an HVAC company that Grace recently purchased. Stanford is a celebrity in the Detroit area; as president of Les Stanford Chevrolet, he has the moniker of “America’s Corvette King.”

Stanford said he loves the view of the water, where giant freighters glide through the lake. He said he wasn’t crazy about the layout of the home, but said it “had a lot of possibilities.” His plan was to move in before the end of the 2003 winter season. A new heating system was his first priority. He hoped to follow it up soon with a mini-duct air conditioning system.

Grace described the existing system as a “1923 steam boiler system under vacuum.” The system was upgraded in 1927 after the home was doubled in size by the original owner, William Pickett Harris Jr., the father of Julie Harris. The family lived in the home until 1951. Julie Harris has enjoyed a successful career on stage, television, and in movies and now makes her home on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

The estate, formerly known as the Harris home, overlooks Lake St. Clair in the suburb of Grosse Pointe Park, Mich.

Planning The Upgrade

“I had never seen an initial system installed with a series of condensate stations with a vacuum pump,” said Grace. “I have seen it in commercial applications, but never in a residence.

“I decided to bring in some experts in this field, like Ed Haass, to determine if the vacuum system had actually been operational.”

Haass is president of Ed Haass Sales, Brighton, Mich. The company is a representative for Barnes and Jones steam traps, which is handy, since the home has an abundance of steam traps — 68.

“Ed looks at how the system was intended to run and makes judgment calls on how to get it back into working order,” said Grace.

Grace also teamed up with Mike Maurer, president of Hydronic Supply, Ferndale, Mich., and Joseph Favret of Comfort Design Service, Dearborn, Mich., to plan and design a new heating and cooling system for the home.

Maurer supplies boiler and condensate equipment and was asked by Grace to help out with the pipe sizing. “We specialize in helping contractors with these boiler jobs,” Maurer said. “There are a lot of homes in this area that still utilize steam heat.”

Favret, a retired York sales rep, works on a lot of design projects with Grace. “The biggest challenge is preserving the house’s integrity,” he said. “Some areas, like the dining room, will be difficult to get into.

“We have the original blueprints, but some modifications to the system are not shown.”

“The first thing we did was a load calculation for each room,” Grace stated. “Using the set of blueprints for the house, we were able to size the boiler according to the capacity as it was originally designed with the addition.”

The Proposal

The crew made a proposal to Stanford that covered replacement of the boiler and the condensate station, including the vacuum system. “We explained how the system was supposed to work more effectively with the new equipment,” said Grace.

“We talked to three other contractors beside Krutsch,” said Stanford. “We chose Art because he broke all of the costs down — everything. There was very little left to guesswork. And we needed heat right away.”

Grace chose a Weil-McLain LGB8 steam boiler with 910-MBtuh input, complete with McDonnell-Miller and Honeywell safety controls.

“These are all state-of-the-art commercial/industrial controls, which you would see on a boiler installed in a commercial building,” Grace said.

Grace had originally planned to vent the boiler through a nearby chimney stack. Then the homeowner threw him a curve.

After the project was under way, Stanford told the contractors he had decided to eliminate the chimney. He asked if Grace could vent the system in some other manner. “I said, ‘Sure, we can do anything,’” Grace recalled.

The Krutsch crew had to core through four to five inches of concrete to get to the outside of the house. “It was one of our more unique installations,” he joked.

The existing cast-iron baseboards are soon to be replaced with a duct system with forced air and a steam coil — all custom-made components. “We have to cut through four to five inches of cement floor to run the ductwork and registers,” said Grace.

“One whole wing of the home will remain with the entire boiler heat system. In the area of the home where the family will be entertaining a lot, we will provide wet heat with forced air.

“The load capacities dictated that we had to install a separate system for one portion of the house. The homeowner asked us to remove the radiators and replace them with forced air in one section of the home.”

The challenge of heating a section of the home where there is a significant amount of glass and high two-story ceilings necessitated the decision to go with a forced-air system. In between two visits by The News, an entire second-story room was demolished, opening up the living room to incorporate a two-story ceiling.

Two air-handling units will soon be installed in the basement of the home, strategically placed to maximize the airflow capacity. There is an abundance of room among the many nooks and crannies in the basement.

As part of the renovation, Grace said that Stanford is considering adding a snowmelt system to the driveway. If that happens, Grace will utilize an existing steam line to the old garage as a supply line for the snowmelt system.

Grace called this upgrade of the heating system phase one.

Wait, There’s More

“In phase two, we will begin to install air conditioning systems throughout the house,” Grace said. “I’ll be working with the general contractor on that because of all of the renovations going on in the house.”

Part of the renovation includes a complete removal of all galvanized piping in the home and replacing it with copper pipe. Grace pointed out a new pumping station installed to hook up city water. “The homeowner wanted a larger water supply,” he said.

Grace pointed out an “antique” water pressure shock-suppression unit designed to eliminate the banging. Apparently, it didn’t always do the job.

“I had to put a pressure reducer in the line because the pipes were literally shaking from the 70 psi going to the solenoid valve, forcing it to shut down,” he said.

The air conditioning system will be a high-velocity mini-duct system, with small, flexible ductwork hidden in walls, closets, staircases, and the like. Air handlers were initially planned for the large attic, but that was before Grace determined that the walls posed a problem.

“The walls are double thick, with an inch of plaster between the interior and exterior bricks and an inch of plaster on the interior walls,” he said. “There is very little, if any, insulation.

“Part of this planning for the A/C system is up for discussion with the general contractor — the creative ability of being able to sneak lines up and down inside chases. The general contractor is actually going to create some spaces. We’ve toyed with several ideas, but we aren’t sure what the homeowner is going to buy into.”

Favret projects that it will take a three-man crew four to six weeks to complete the A/C system installation, which will include six outdoor condensing units.

Some rooms of the house pose more problems than others. “The log cabin room offers a unique challenge,” Favret said. “I will try and find an air handler to pick up the steam coil in order to get dehumidification into that room. But since steam is basically dry, I may have to add humidification to [another part] of the system.”

Phase Two will eventually lead to the final phase of the project.

“After that is what I call the fine-tuning phase,” Grace said. “The owner wants to install some Danfoss temperature regulation valves in various rooms so that each room can have its own temperature setting. This three-tier process will probably take a year to complete.”

The entire project is providing an interesting challenge for all of the contractors involved. Grace said the crew has one overall goal in mind.

“We want to retain the integrity and the beauty of the house.”

The A/C installation in the home will be detailed in a future issue of The News.

Publication date: 01/27/2003

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