Editor’s Note: Last summer, The News reported on nursing home deaths that were attributed to a lack of air conditioning at the facility. Many nursing homes are not air conditioned and they pose a special challenge because of the need for cost efficiency as well as a central air system that can be readily installed in the existing structure. This story describes a successful nursing home a/c retrofit.

The Woodlawn Nursing Home, in Woodlawn, NH, was constructed in 1889 as the summer home of Arthur Bradley. It was designed by prominent architect Stanford White and retains the original woodwork and architectural details. The house was converted to a nursing home in 1971.

Those involved in the Woodlawn project included (from left) Bob Gordon, The Portland Group; Randy Willey, Lake Sunapee Heating Services; Matt Vaccaro, Thermal Mechanical Sales; and Bob Mazur, The Portland Group.

Randy Willey, owner of Lake Sunapee Heating Services, Newport, NH, has been supplying heating and plumbing services to Woodlawn Nursing Home for about 15 years. Mark Williams, administrator at Woodlawn, contacted Willey in December 2000 for advice on how to improve his facility’s heating system and to add air conditioning as well.

Many older nursing homes have difficulty justifying a central air system — physically and economically — due to the problem of bulky ductwork, lack of available equipment space, and the cost of retrofitting. Willey called Bob Mazur, sales representative for The Portland Group, a wholesale distributor, who suggested the SpacePak (Westfield, MA) high-velocity comfort system for the project. Mazur recommended four 5-ton ESP-4860D units for the retrofit portion of the job.

Woodlawn was also in the process of building an addition to its facilities, which also uses the SpacePak comfort system. Charles Egbert, an architect from Queechee, VT, designed the addition. This new building includes 5-, 3-1/2-, and 3-ton units.

Built in 1889, the Woodlawn Nursing Home, Newport, NH, was retrofitted with the SpacePak high-velocity comfort system.


Willey explained, “Mark Williams was originally considering baseboard hot water heating. Woodlawn had an old steam heating system as well as a lot of electric heat that was expensive to operate.

“Mark had several goals for the upgrade. First, he wanted to improve the environment so there would be an even temperature throughout the facility, making residents as comfortable as possible. Secondly, he wanted to add cooling throughout. He also wanted to reduce energy costs to the extent possible.”

Willey continued, “The challenge with many of these older buildings is finding space for ductwork. Sheet metal ductwork used with traditional air conditioning systems is bulky and occupies a lot of space. Plus, it can spoil the interior details. This property has some really beautiful woodwork and other details that we just didn’t want to lose. SpacePak made it possible to achieve Mr. Williams’ goals for the upgrade without sacrificing the architectural beauty of the property.”

This system’s ductwork uses high-velocity, 9-in.-id plenum duct and narrow, 2-in.-id supply tubing. The small room outlets can be concealed in corners and are designed to mix conditioned air gently with room air to avoid drafts.

Egbert noted, “It would have been very difficult to install another type of ductwork in the tight spaces we had to work with.”

The compact air handler fits into tight quarters in the basement and the third-floor eaves (above).


“SpacePak is a much easier system to install” compared to conventional systems, said Mazur. “Because of its small, flexible components, you can do the job much faster and with less disruption. In a facility such as a nursing home, completing the project with a minimum of noise, dust, and disruption to the residents is an important factor.”

“Mark was a bit skeptical about using SpacePak for heating at first,” remarked Willey. “But when I showed him how the system worked, he was impressed. It has a lot of advantages over other systems. It’s draftless; it has better humidity control; and the overall cost was lower due to the labor savings.”

The compact air handlers and small, flexible supply tubing with Kwik Connects facilitated the installation process.

Williams sees a number of benefits to his SpacePak system. “For one, our residents utilize wheelchairs and other assistive devices. It was beneficial not to use baseboard heaters that might interfere with the residents’ mobility. SpacePak also does not hinder the decor of a room. The system is quiet and the air is equally dispersed. Thus far, the staff and the residents are pleased.”


Joe Simino, maintenance director at Woodlawn, appreciates the system’s low maintenance. “It’s easy to clean. You just change the filters and that’s it.

“The original heating system was a mish-mash. The first floor had some electric heat and some steam. The second-floor bedrooms utilized electric heat and steam as well. And the third-floor business offices had steam radiators. The SpacePak system enabled Woodlawn to consolidate into one system, eliminating all others.”

The nursing home is now equipped with energy-efficient heating and cooling, to keep residents comfortable year-round without spoiling their historic surroundings.

Publication date: 05/13/2002