Mansion Gets Geothermal Makeover
Since its construction in 1908, Twin Maples has been a silent witness to history. Some of that history has been up close and very personal like its 2008 top-to-bottom makeover.
In addition to a 6,500-square-foot mansion, the Twin Maples property in Summit, N.J., includes a carriage house that sheltered carriages and horses in two large bays. More than 104 years later, the neoclassic structure designed by architect Alfred F. Norris is home to The Fortnightly Club of Summit, as well as a number of other organizations in the Summit area.
The Fortnightly Club of Summit purchased Twin Maples in 1949 from club member Lydia Collins, whose family owned the home since 1918. Dedicated to volunteerism, fundraising, community service and outreach, the organization of women used the home as their headquarters, but had a difficult time keeping up with repairs and the costly maintenance of the building and its grounds.
As Twin Maples approached its 100th birthday, club member Heidi Evenson recalls the decision, “We either needed to sell the building because it really hadn’t been properly maintained, or we needed to renovate it to a certain level and then allow the mansion to become a show house.”
The Fortnightly Club chose the latter course of action, and the rest, as they say, is history. According to Evenson, the club invested between $200,000 and $300,000 in major repairs that included new wiring, the replacement of windows and doors, repairs to the roof, the installation of French drains, the remediation of dry rot in columns on the front facade, restorative painting on the exterior, water damage fixes in the ballroom ceiling, plumbing and electrical repairs, and fire code work.
“Our goal was to renovate the house so that other charitable organizations could use it at an affordable rate, a rate which basically covered the cost of utilities,” Evenson says. “And, as we thought about our extraordinary heating bills which were far too high to ask other organizations to cover, we began to think it would be great if we could use this show house to demonstrate to the community how to be green. And better yet, how to be green and at the same time, preserve an historic treasure like Twin Maples, which is listed on both the National and New Jersey Registries of Historic Places.”
Club members began to consider the energy efficient options that were available to them to replace the home’s inefficient steam heat system. They narrowed their choices to a gas forced-air system or a more sustainable, and also more expensive, geothermal system to supply both heating and cooling to the house.
A geothermal system takes advantage of free solar energy stored just below the surface of the earth. Using a series of pipes (an earth loop) buried in the ground and a geothermal or ground-source heat pump, the geothermal heating and cooling system extracts heat from the earth and carries it to a home in the winter. In the summer, the process reverses and the system extracts heat from the home and rejects it to the earth. In either case, the geothermal system delivers consistent temperatures and efficiencies that exceed those of conventional home comfort systems, offering savings as high as 70 percent for heating, cooling and hot water.
In addition to consistent temperatures, a geothermal system ensures good indoor air quality (IAQ). That’s because the system does not require combustion and therefore produces none of the products associated with combustion, including carbon monoxide, which can negatively impact the air you breathe. Nor does it require a system to vent carbon monoxide and other dangerous exhaust gases. And, the average system lifespan exceeds 24 years—compared to 15 years for a more traditional heating and cooling system—contributing to the sustainability goals of The Fortnightly Club.
The group decided to raise the additional funds to install a geothermal heating and cooling system. They turned to Antonio Poccia, operations manager and owner of Perfection Contracting, Newton, N.J., to perform the work. Not only did Poccia select the equipment and install the system, he did so at a considerable discount, much to the delight and appreciation of The Fortnightly Club.
In 2004, Poccia purchased the heating and contracting business that his father started years earlier, making him well-acquainted with geothermal technology. “The principles of geothermal technology have remained constant,” he says. “But the equipment continues to evolve and get better, most recently with the addition of multi-stage equipment.”
Installing a geothermal system at Twin Maples presented challenges unique to the age of the property. “We wanted the system to be invisible, both inside and outside, so it wouldn’t impact the aesthetics of the historic home,” Poccia explains.
Outside, the company installed a vertical earth loop, drilling four bores at the corners of a 20-foot by 20-foot square. “We chose a vertical rather than a horizontal loop to limit the impact on the yard. And because a geothermal system does not use any outside equipment, there is no visible sign of the system on the exterior of the mansion.”
Inside, Poccia discovered the original owners had installed a steam heat system that included radiators suspended below the floor and a series of iron grates in the floors, which distributed heated air throughout the house. With an eye to preserving the historic integrity of the home’s interior, Poccia designed an unusual duct system that uses the existing grates to heat and cool the structure. He then created a return duct system using additional grates he found in the basement of the mansion.
Poccia installed three WaterFurnace geothermal heat pumps—two Envision units and a Premier II unit in the home’s basement. The 3-ton and 4-ton Envision units feature multi-stage operation for improved comfort and energy savings. All Envision units utilize ozone-safe R-410A refrigerant to meet the most stringent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements now and for years to come. Coated air coils add durability and longer life. A sophisticated microprocessor control sequences all components during operation for optimum performance and provides easy-to-use troubleshooting features with fault lights and on-board diagnostics. In addition, heavy-gauge metal cabinets are coated with durable poly paint for long-lasting protection.
Poccia removed the 6-ton Premier II unit from another house, cleaned and serviced it, and installed the unit in the basement of Twin Maples, confident it would provide years of service. Together, the three units deliver 13 tons of conditioned air to the building and are tied to one flow center and a common earth loop, requiring the fewest watts of pumping power per ton of geothermal equipment.
Although members of The Fortnightly Club appreciate consistent temperatures in Twin Maples throughout the winter and far more manageable utility bills, they are especially pleased with the air conditioning. Prior to the renovation, the home was not air conditioned. “For all practical purposes, this meant we could not use the building during the hot summer months, which is prime wedding time,” says Evenson. “Now, the house is available, affordable and comfortable year ‘round.”
“And,” Poccia adds, “the system is easy to maintain. Because of all the traffic in and out of the building, we recommend that the system’s three filters be changed quarterly. We also recommend biannual service checks, but in this case, the mansion’s caretaker is able to keep an eye on the system and operate the WaterFurnace IntelliZone touch screen control system.
“When all was said and done, the Twin Maples project demonstrated and continues to demonstrate that geothermal is a viable replacement system for an existing heating and cooling system in retrofit applications, no matter the age of the house.”
But the renovation did not end with the installation of the geothermal system. In fact, after The Fortnightly Club had completed most of the major structural repairs and replacements, they raised $1.4 million in donations of goods and services to complete work in and around the house.
When the renovation was complete, The Fortnightly Club opened the Twin Maples Centennial Show House to the public, offering tours for one month. Proceeds from ticket sales benefitted the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Hospital and the Twin Maples Historic Preservation Fund.
Today, Twin Maples regularly welcomes a variety of community organizations and provides a setting for fundraisers, meetings and events. Some of the home’s new features include a new kitchen and pantry, barrier-free bathroom, screening room, wine cellar and a geothermal display in the basement that helps interested parties understand how the system works.
“The Fortnightly Club definitely made the difficult, but right decision to tackle the renovation,” says Evenson. “But the real success of the project rests with the architects, designers, builders, contractors and manufacturers who volunteered their expertise, time, services and products to the project – people like Antonio Poccia and companies like WaterFurnace. Their efforts will help ensure a second century of service at Twin Maples.”
WaterFurnace International is a manufacturer of residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional geothermal and water source heat pumps. Products from WaterFurnace include energy-efficient and environmentally friendly geothermal comfort systems, indoor air quality products and pool heaters. WaterFurnace was founded in 1983 and the company is headquartered in Fort Wayne, Ind.