Historic Home Gets High-End HVAC

November 18, 2004
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Two horizontal Lennox G60V furnaces were installed in the attic along with two complete duct systems.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. - The residential community of Lake Forest, located about 30 miles north of Chicago on the western shore of Lake Michigan, is known for its natural beauty, sensitivity to open space, and preservation of historic structures and landscapes. It is also one of the wealthiest communities in the United States and is characterized by large estates situated amid wooded bluffs and ravines.

Most of the homeowners in this prestigious community demand quality in the services they receive and the products they purchase. When one homeowner decided to renovate his historic, 2,700-square-foot home, he looked for a contractor with a stellar reputation. That search quickly led him to Al Kaplan, owner of Al Kaplan Heating and Air, Elk Grove Village, Ill.

Kaplan prides himself on paying very close attention to detail, and he likes working with customers who have extremely high expectations. That's because Kaplan is certain he can give customers exactly what they want, and he won't consider a job finished until all expectations have been met or exceeded.

The Kaplan heating crew includes (from left) Al Kaplan, Mike Kaplan, Jerry Norman, Jason Kaplan, Jose Gaytan, and Mike Amato.

Preserving And Enhancing

The house requiring renovation in this case has two claims to fame. First, it was one of the original structures in Lake Forest. Second, it was part of the underground railroad. Countless slaves moved through the house on their way to freedom before a doctor purchased the Victorian home and moved it closer to his favorite restaurant, the Red Lantern.

Over the years, the two-story house became run down. The current owner purchased it to restore the house to its former glory. The directive was to maintain as much of the original detail as possible and restore original elements that had been obliterated over time.

The house is a registered historic landmark, which meant the city's Building and Zoning Department would be intimately involved throughout the renovation.

Kaplan knew he would have his hands full after hearing that the homeowner's main requirement was that absolutely no mechanical equipment could be visible, including ductwork or soffits. The contractor would first need to rip out the existing hot water heating system with its vertical column radiators.

"We ended up installing two horizontal Lennox G60V furnaces in the attic, as well as two complete duct systems," said Kaplan. "One duct system feeds the second floor, which is right below the attic, and the second duct system feeds the first floor. For cooling, we installed two 15-SEER Lennox Signature Series air conditioners."

Getting the ductwork to the first floor was a challenge for Kaplan, because a fireplace and stairway are located in the center of the house. In addition, the homeowner had installed intricate crown molding and coffered ceilings; the registers had to fit into the coffers where they couldn't be seen.

Kaplan said there were some definite engineering challenges. He didn't want to compromise airflow by twisting the ductwork through different joists and cutting through walls to make the system work. After much thought, he was finally able to determine the best path for the ductwork.

"One of the reasons the design ended up working well was because of the furnaces we specified," he said. "Because the furnaces are variable speed, we were able to adjust the airflow a little bit better. The blower system technology in the furnace is great, and that allows the house to be heated and cooled very efficiently."

It took a year to paint the outside of this historic home. A university professor was brought in to determine the proper paint colors for a home built in the mid-1800s.

Cigars In The Speakeasy

The original basement was not usable space due to its shallow, six-foot ceiling. The homeowner had plans, though, which included making the basement three feet deeper so he could turn the space into something of a speakeasy - basically a place where he could smoke cigars and hang out with friends. The speakeasy is accessible only through a bookcase, which hides the stairway leading to the basement.

At the time of the excavation, it was noted that the floor joist system for the first floor was dangerous and might not support the additional weight of the marble, bathtubs, etc., that were being installed.

To solve the problem, the homeowner purchased a 150-year-old barn in northern New York, dismantled it, and shipped the wood to his home so it could be used as the ceiling for the basement. This would shore up the house while providing an attractive ceiling reminiscent of an English pub with rough-cut timbers.

The heating and cooling systems installed for the first and second floors wouldn't work in the basement; there was no room for ductwork. "We ended up creating two zones in the basement floor," Kaplan said: "an interior zone and a perimeter zone. For the interior zone we used the HeatLink system, which is a hot water, in-floor radiant heat system. For the perimeter zone we put in a closed loop of PVC ductwork."

Because the basement is below grade, cooling was provided for dehumidification only, using a miniature industrial system Kaplan built for the job. It consists of a small condensing unit with a larger DX coil and a hot water coil in the air handler. The front-discharge condenser is hidden under the porch and is not visible through the extensive landscaping. A Lennox Healthy Climate® UV light system was installed in the basement to take care of cigar smoke.

The homeowner also decided he wanted a three-car garage at the back of the property, which would include a basement for his workout equipment. He wanted to be able to walk from the house to the garage without being exposed to the elements. A tunnel connecting the main house to the garage was initially considered but later rejected due to the home's proximity to the lake and the relative instability of the soil.

Kaplan is currently finishing up the alternative solution, which involves installing a HeatLink® system in the stairs leading from the speakeasy, the sidewalk going to the garage, and a stairway going down into the basement of the garage. A boiler will be installed in the garage, along with an in-floor radiant heat system and hot water fan coils.

In order to incorporate the walkway between the house and the garage, the homeowner had to lower the elevation of the property.

Kaplan noted that the HVAC portion of the job cost approximately $75,000, not including the garage work that still needs to be finished. To Kaplan, though, the main reason he wanted to be involved in this project doesn't come down to money.

"Being involved means that our workmanship is now part of history. It's preserved."

Publication date: 11/22/2004

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