Persistence and quality pay off for contractor

August 15, 2000
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In early 1993, John and Lucy Mastrotiero were renovating their Peach Grove Inn Bed and Breakfast in Warwick, N.Y., a small town in southeastern New York state.

They contacted Rich Knubel of Unique Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. — just over the New Jersey border in Franklin Lakes — for an estimate to air condition the inn’s second-floor bedrooms.

However, the Mastrotieros were on a roll. They continued renovating and Knubel’s estimate became just another page in their “estimate file.”

One year later, John and Lucy finished updating the main-floor parlor, kitchen, office, and dining room, so again they contacted Knubel. Again, another page was added to their estimate file.

In the spring of 1995, the couple called on Knubel for the third time in three years. By that time, they had added a basement apartment to their growing list of cooling requirements.

Finally a priority

With the heat and humidity of summer approaching, air conditioning finally rose to the top of the Mastrotiero’s to-do list.

A short time later, Knubel received the go-ahead to install air conditioning on each of the inn’s three levels.

He met with John and Lucy to analyze the proposed installation, always considering the aesthetics of their charming inn. The original quote was for a Unico “Mini-Duct” system, using inconspicuous, 2-in. outlets.

Lucy’s main concerns were noise and unattractive vents. John was worried about penetrating solid fieldstone walls and running ductwork for the basement apartment and the kitchen and dining room above.

Enter Al Costello — the other half of Unique — to address their concerns. Costello oversees installation, so he is an expert at finding niches for systems where nobody else could.

Because Unico’s main supply duct can be configured in round, oval, or rectangular ductwork, it’s possible to hide ducts within studded walls, above ceilings, and inside other tight spaces.

The flexibility of the system allowed the necessary ductwork to be installed without disturbing the inn’s beauty. Outlets were installed in out-of-the-way floor, ceiling, and wall locations that wouldn’t have been accessible by a traditional system.

Also, Unico systems use air aspiration rather than the “toss-and-throw” method of more conventional systems. This provided cool, draft-free air.

Installation specifics

The installation consisted of one 5-ton system for the basement apartment and main level. Leading down to the apartment, a single 14- by 30-in. return was located in the stairwell.

For the bedrooms on the second floor, Knubel chose a 3-ton system. However, a stairwell return similar to that used in the basement was impractical because it would have distracted from the winding marble stairway and inlaid plaster ceiling.

Consequently, with Lucy’s approval, Knubel and Costello opted for individual, 10- by 10-in. returns in each bedroom.

The versatility of the a/c system was the key to properly cooling Peach Grove Inn.

Since John and Lucy bought the inn in 1989, they have accumulated a loyal clientele who stay there throughout the year, including the hot summer months.

Despite the heat and humidity outdoors, their guests constantly comment on the cool and quiet comfort of their accommodations.

Knubel and Costello know this because over the years, they’ve done work for many Peach Grove Inn guests, who were referred to them by John and Lucy.

Another addition

Last July, the Mastrotieros added a three-season porch and tea room onto the back of the inn. This time, they called Unique for a heating solution.

Baseboard heat was not an option due to the likelihood of frozen pipes during the winter. They also ruled out ductwork below the porch because the ducts would have been exposed on the ceiling of the sitting area one floor below.

The remaining option was to run ducts above the finished ceiling; however, at the highest point, there was only 9 in. of space between the ceiling and roof. Furthermore, the only point of access from the boiler room was an 8-in. open stud area.

After careful consideration, Knubel engineered a plan to hang a 40,000-Btu Unico air handler with a hydronic hot water coil in the boiler room. From there, he ran a 6-in. oval duct up to the space above the ceiling, and sent 2-in. branches to eight outlets.

Working with Singer Brothers Construction, Costello began installation. After opening what used to be the exterior wall, he discovered that the 1850 construction consisted of hewn, 6- by 6-in. wall studs, plates, and main headers.

Consequently, the only chaseway was not wide enough for the 6-in. duct. Also, he had to chisel through one of the 12-in. plates to access the boiler room.

Singer Brothers went to work on the hewn timbers while Costello did the same. Finally, they achieved the necessary clearance and installed the ducts and outlets.

John and Lucy were pleasantly surprised at the warmth and force of the heat. Now they’re planning to add air conditioning.

The moral of the story: Persistence and a good product paid off for Knubel and Unique.

Reprinted with permission from the Unico News, April 1999.

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