Fireplaces were the first source of heat for a recently renovated Victorian-style New Hampshire home. Luckily, additional options now are available for homeowners.

But historic homes are more problematic for the installation of modern conveniences — such as heating — without ruining or inhibiting historical beauty and value.

In 1897, the Victorian home was built as a residence for the Cheeney family, known for starting the American Express credit card company. The heating system originally consisted of 13 fireplaces spread throughout the 45-room mansion.

In the 1920s, the home was donated to a local hospital to be used as a Boys School, and the heating system was upgraded to steam radiators. But with the old steam radiators it was virtually impossible to control the temperature in the rooms, or to heat only portions of the home that were being used.

Three years ago, the Clay family bought the historic mansion to use as a weekend home, and since then they have been doing renovations including installation of the Unico heating system.

Modern heating

“The Unico system was almost the only choice,” said Jim Patterson, project manager. “It would have cost $20,000 to $30,000 more to install a conventional heating and cooling system.”

With the Unico system, the Clays can expect even heating throughout the house, or in select portions of the home, with a less than a 2°F variation.

The home is also draft free because the system works on the principle of aspiration, in which streams of air enter a room and gently mix with the room’s existing air currents; temperatures are even from floor to ceiling, without the hot spots and cold spots of conventional systems.

“With the combination of Unico air handlers and radiant floor heating, we have room-by-room temperature control,” Patterson said. “An entire wing of the home can be shut off if it’s not being used.”

Historic protection

With high, vaulted ceilings, spacious rooms, and high historic value, heating efficiently without disturbing the natural beauty of the home was a necessity that this system was able to provide. Its small, compact ductwork enabled the crew to install the heating system without taking away from the appearance of the home.

“The Clay family wanted something that would be pretty much invisible and that would keep with the aesthetic appearance,” said Patterson.

To blend with the natural beauty of the home, the installation team used oak grilles that blended in well with the floors.

With the high ceilings, the second floor did not have access for panels. The problem was solved by installing two air handlers in the attic, and snaking hydronic piping and tubing manifolds through the wall by the chimney to heat the second floor.

To heat the main floor, three air handlers were installed in the basement.

The heating system also significantly reduces heat loss, due to the small, compact ductwork, which saves energy and money.

“The system gives the client the comfort level they want while keeping with the aesthetic look, and also allowing for an air filtration system,” Patterson said.