EnergySmart Alternatives of Medford, Massachusetts has been hired to install a geothermal heat pump heating and cooling system for the historic home of ‘Little Women’.
The Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the home of Louisa May Alcott, author of the American classic ‘Little Women’. It is currently a living museum with approximately 80% of the furnishings on display belonging to the Alcott family during their residency between 1858 and 1877. Preservation has been ongoing since the home became a museum early in the twentieth century with authenticity being of utmost importance. Over the years, Orchard House has been modernized with electric lighting, fire alarm, and building security systems. There have also been several iterations of HVAC systems.
The old HVAC system consisted of a gas boiler and air conditioning compressors located in the basement. Multiple exhaust vents were cleverly hidden within structures built to match the rest of the building. Noise from the compressors travelled up into the museum space where tours are held daily. A balance between patron and staff comfort and artifact preservation was a constant struggle with the old system.
Overall building energy efficiency is extremely poor. Orchard House cannot be insulated or upgraded in any way that affects the construction materials. Single pane windows, 150-year old plaster walls, and wood clapboard make for loose construction. Condensation within the exterior wall cavities in the winter and humidity induced mildew in the summer is a serious concern.
Geothermal heat pumps were chosen to take control of heating and cooling costs, provide a more comfortable climate control, and to be a greener facility overall. “Historic buildings are ideally suited for geothermal heating and cooling where noise and aesthetics are a major concern,” said Jayme Ciaramitaro Co-Owner of EnergySmart. “Using the constant temperature of the earth, geothermal cooling does not need noisy outdoor air conditioning units while geothermal heating eliminates the use of fossil fuels. The new system will also be equipped with an easy to use real-time monitoring and control system that can be accessed through a smart phone. “ Before the exterior work began, archaeologists from the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston conducted archaeological excavations in the areas to be disturbed as part of the installation. There was also an investigation conducted to establish whether the structure could support the weight of the equipment in the attic.
Following the archaeological evaluation, we drilled eight geothermal boreholes at the back of the property. The geothermal pipes entered the basement at the rear of the building. These pipes were connected to four geothermal units. We installed new sheet metal to distribute hot air and air conditioning throughout.
The geothermal system is now able to remove humidity effectively without overcooling. The removal of combustion has improved humidity levels in the winter and has reduced the risk of fire. The geothermal systems are extremely quiet. They are also equipped with a real-time monitoring and control system that can be accessed through a smart phone application. The systems have been operational since July 2018 resulting in a decrease in annual heating and air conditioning costs by approximately $8,000. The gas bill has been eliminated. In fact, the gas connection has been completely removed. Melanie Head Co-Owner of EnergySmart stated, “We are so grateful to have been chosen to work on such an important historic property, right in our backyard. It’s another great example showing that geothermal is not just for new construction.” To learn more about this project please visit https://concordma.gov/documentcenter/view/19182/orchard-house—Sustainability-Case-study