Modernizing century-old heating systems

Modernizing century-old heating systems

Our project on Bellevue Street, Newton was originally built in 1876 and substantially modified in 1895 to become the gilded age mansion it is today. For all intents and purposes the home was built with all the modern conveniences of that era. All the skylights and windows were fully operational to take advantage of its perch atop a hill. Heating a home of this size with high ceilings is certainly a challenge. But the behavior of heated air has never changed, thus the spaces were made comfortable for all seasons. The home is now being brought into this, its second full century, using modern heating and cooling systems seamlessly integrated into the structure of the home as to not impact its aesthetic value.

The home was originally heated with a gravity fed, steam system.  The convector boxes which were mounted under the floors of the Main Level Rooms provided heat to the formal spaces.  In an effort to preserve the pristine oak floors, original to the house, we have installed an under-mount radiant heating system to take the place of the less efficient convector units, maintaining the historic, brass grilles of the convector units as supply vents for the chilled air.  The bedrooms and bathrooms on the second and third floors that previously used the gravity fed steam system on a loop to radiators has been replaced with dual boiler units and a system of heated water that now circulates to the secondary bedrooms, which maintain their original radiators adorned with new soapstone tops.  All the newly renovated bathrooms on the upper floors as well as the Master Suite have been retrofitted with radiant floor heating to maximize thermal comfort.  The bigger challenge we were faced with was to provide chilled air to the nearly fourteen thousand square feet of finished space.

Ducted cooled air will be supplied to each room through discretely located ducts. The eave space of the third floor houses nine air handler units; these provide ducted air to spaces on the second floor of the house, while all the air handlers for the Main Level are located discretely throughout the Lower Level.  The previously unfinished basement has been converted into additional family living space; we removed the existing concrete slab of the basement and installed under-slab radiant heating, allowing for a reduction in the vertical chases through the historic home.

The large outdoor condenser unit for the homes air conditioning is cleverly tucked under a stone terrace and is hidden from view with period inspired ironwork that allows for optimum air flow.  Be sure your neighborhood power supply is appropriate for the system being specified.

Call or email us today for more information.


There is a significant inventory of Tudor style homes in the outlying western suburbs of Boston, many of which were constructed in the early 1920’s.  Needless to say, some of these homes are quite outdated.  In addition to the finishes in these homes being out of style, their layouts are not ideally suited to the way we live today.  Tudor style homes tend to be a bit dark and very compartmentalized; small kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms tend to be the norm, which is the antithesis of what today’s homeowner is looking for.

Forest St. Tudor --  Before

Forest St. Tudor — Before

The challenge with our current project is one that we have faced before. Like our project on Kenrick Street the property owner wanted the exterior revisions to the home to feel organic and the new and the old to meld seamlessly. On our Kenrick project, like the one on Forest, we harvested brick from the portions of the house we demolished and utilized it on the public elevations; the line of new and old is blurred. Additionally, using copper gutters and ridge caps further helps the home feel more original.

Forest St. Tudor --Mid construction

Forest St. Tudor –Mid construction

Making the exterior revisions look natural is only half the battle, manipulating the interior spaces to preserve their antiquity while allowing them to function for the way we live today can also be a challenge.  Many Tudor homes in the Newton area were poorly revised in the 80’s and 90’s, and the modifications that were made to them denuded them of their original details and in-turn have made them feel even more dated than the ones that have been left untouched. Fortunately this home was left significantly in-tact, so it provides us the opportunity to preserve (and highlight) the original details like the wrought iron and oak staircase as well as the cast stone mantles.

Our goal for the interior program on this project aligns with our philosophy on many of our renovation projects – for the flow of the house and its amenities to feel current but respect its history and antiquity in the process.  Our revisions to this house include doubling the size of the kitchen, adding a cathedral ceilinged family room, enlarging the master suite to include his and hers walk-in closets and a large bathroom as well as three additional bedrooms all with en-suite bathrooms. In addition, we are adding a three car garage with a dumbwaiter up to the kitchen.  Once completed, the street elevation of this home will look like a refreshed version of this 1920’s gem, but the interior will function like a house built today.