Contractor transforms historic telephone company building into a private residence.

Efficient Heating & Cooling owner Jim Ellia reviews plans for the mechanical system his company installed at the former Cuyahoga Telephone Co. Building in Cleveland. Photo courtesy of CertainTeed Corp.
CLEVELAND - About 40 years ago, Cleveland's Hough neighborhood was among the poorest in the city, according to one local civic activist.

Today however, federal money and forward-looking investors have enabled entrepreneurs and residents to renovate and restore many buildings to their former beauty.

One example is the historic Cuyahoga Telephone Co. Building in the 1800 block of East 81st Street. The building was designed by Searles, Hirsh & Gavin, once one of the foremost architectural firms in the nation, responsible for many Cleveland-area structures.

The current owner, renovating the building for residential use, wants modern-day comforts inside, including a high-performance HVAC system equipped with fiberglass duct board.

Built in 1909, the Cuyahoga Telephone Co. Building is designated a Cleveland landmark. Cuyahoga was one of the first independent, non-Bell telephone companies in the nation. It eventually merged into what became the Ohio Bell Telephone Co., which later became part of Ameritech, now part of SBC Communications Inc.

Jim Ellia is shown fabricating sections of HVAC ductwork made of CertainTeed Ultra-Duct Gold duct board in the basement of the historic Cuyahoga Building. Photo courtesy of CertainTeed Corp.

Changing uses

As the building changed hands and purposes over the years, four major additions were made to the building, including adding an indoor swimming pool on the first floor. At one time, it served as home of the Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society.

Over six months, Maple Heights, Ohio-based Efficient Heating & Cooling Inc. designed and installed a mechanical system that includes high-velocity heating and air-conditioning units, radiant floor heating, boilers, hot water tanks, and ductwork made from CertainTeed Corp.'s Ultra-Duct Gold rigid board.

"Our heating and cooling service team was able to give the owner everything he needed for a quiet, comfortable, draft-free home environment," said Jim Ellia, owner of Efficient Heating & Cooling.

The HVAC contractor often recommends a 2,000-feet-per-minute, high-velocity system, but was faced with a dilemma when the custom ductwork that usually accompanies such systems became unavailable.

"We had to find an alternative and knew that sheet metal duct would not be a viable choice," Ellia explained. "We needed a thermally and acoustically superior duct system that was pre-insulated and easy to work with. And we knew that working with sheet metal in this situation could be a nightmarish prospect."

An unidentified Efficient Heating & Cooling technician fits two sections of CertainTeed’s duct board together. Small flex duct feeds air from the high-velocity system to outlets throughout the house. Photo courtesy of CertainTeed Corp.

The HVAC system

The CertainTeed Ultra-Duct Gold duct board that Ellia chose had a number of features that satisfied his needs. The airstream facing significantly reduces the amount of dust generated during fabrication compared with standard duct board. In addition, the board can handle systems operating at twice the velocity as the previous generation of CertainTeed standard duct board.

"Now we use it on every high-velocity job we do," he said.

The duct board met the approval of the Efficient Heating team as well, according to Ellia.

"It makes for an easier, cleaner install," he said.

Fabrication of the duct board was done at the historic building by technicians who had received special training from CertainTeed. The 1-inch duct board with an R-value of 4.3 and an NRC (noise-reduction coefficient) of 0.75 was fabricated in sizes that ranged from 7-by-7 inches to 9-by-9 inches. Small-diameter flex duct was also incorporated into the ductwork design.

The duct board was purchased from Robertson Heating Supply Co., a 66-year-old company with headquarters in Alliance, Ohio, and 26 locations in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

On the Cuyahoga project, Efficient Heating used approximately 800 square feet of the duct board. Designed to be strong and lightweight, the duct board is fabricated and installed faster and easier than wrapped or lined sheet metal systems, according to CertainTeed officials.

"Plus, quiet performance was very important to our new homeowner and we knew this board would deliver what he was looking for," Ellia added.

The 2-square-mile Hough neighborhood that surrounds the building is steeped in local history. It was the home of League Park, where the Cleveland Indians played at East 66th and Lexington and where the World Series was played in 1920. Babe Ruth crushed his 500th career home run out of that park. In the first part of the 20th century, it was a prosperous, middle-class neighborhood. However, by the 1960s, it had deteriorated, and in 1966 was the site of rioting.

In recent years, the Hough Area Development Corp. was formed to stimulate investment in the neighborhood. It is now experiencing a renaissance, offering prospective residents proximity to downtown Cleveland, the Midtown business corridor, the nationally ranked Cleveland Clinic hospital, and University Circle. The new homeowner of the former Cuyahoga Telephone Co. Building is adding the final changes to the exterior and interior improvements and is expected to move in permanently next year.

(This article and its images were supplied by CertainTeed Corp.)