'This Old House' features Detroit historic home's HVAC upgrades
What was once old has been made new and energy efficient — at least in the case of retired Detroit firefighter Frank Polk’s home, which is being featured on the latest season of PBS’ “This Old House.”
The Emmy Award-winning home-improvement TV show follows the remodeling projects of the Detroit home over several weeks. The house is part of the show’s 37th season, which premiered March 30 and includes 10 episodes.
“‘This Old House’ was looking for a Detroit story and contacted us after they looked at the recent sales of houses that were being auctioned off by the Detroit land bank,” said Polk, who purchased the home in May 2015. “And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Land banks are typically created by governments or nonprofit corporations to hold on to and refurbish distressed or abandoned real estate for possible reuse.
The two-story house Polk bought was built in 1939 and is situated in Detroit’s historic Russell Woods neighborhood. From June to December 2016, the home underwent several renovations, such as plaster work, restoring antique stained-glass windows, replacing fascia and soffit boards, masonry, roof replacement and floor refinishing.
“The house had been vacant for a number of years and had some water damage from a leaking roof,” Polk explained. “It needed work, but we felt it worthy.”
The efficient choice
Polk’s 78-year-old home needed some 21st century updates, while still maintaining its historic charm. Perhaps the most “comforting” upgrade was to the HVAC system, which Polk described as “virtually nonexistent” before the renovations.
Johnson Controls donated a high-efficiency home comfort system from its Luxaire brand of residential and light-commercial HVAC market products. The system has a total value of $7,000 and includes Luxaire’s modulating gas furnace, two-stage Acclimate air conditioner, coil and humidifier, and air cleaner.
“The Luxaire system that was installed offers an easy-to-use, high-performance system that will ensure comfort, improved indoor air quality and offers significant energy-efficiency advantages,” said Neil McDougall, vice president of independent distribution and marketing for Johnson Controls’ unitary products division. “The Acclimate Series modulating gas furnace can reduce energy costs nearly 40 percent compared to furnaces that are 20 years old.”
To find an installer for the system, the show’s plumbing and heating expert, Richard Trethewey, contacted Jason Calverley, co-owner of Luxaire distributor Calverley Supply Co. based in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Calverly recommended Joe Burke, vice president and owner of Joe Burke Mechanical in Shelby Township, Michigan.
“We’re one of the few contractors that are used to working in the older homes in the Detroit metropolitan area,” Burke said. “When you’re working in an older home, it’s not the same as working in a home that was built in the last 40 years. There are a lot of obstacles that you have to overcome because of the way homes were built then compared to the way the homes are built now.”
While it was his first time on a home improvement TV show, Burke said the filming process presented no challenges during the green HVAC system’s installation, which cost approximately $8,500.
From energy savings to cleaner air
“This particular home had a graduated ductwork system in there, so it was one of the first ones, I would assume, in the area that had actual ductwork in it,” said Burke, adding that probably 80 percent of the houses within that area relied on boiler steam heat. “By looking at it, we were probably the third furnace that was in that house.”
With the installation of the Luxaire system, Burke was able to modify the ductwork from the new system to the existing ductwork in the home. Part of the installation process included updating the thermostat to the Luxaire Touchscreen Residential Communication Control, a programmable thermostat with Wi-Fi support that allows homeowners to customize their home temperatures while they’re away. The thermostat also offers a “quick heat and cool” feature to reach set temperatures faster.
“It can be controlled by any smart device,” Burke said. “It communicates with the air conditioner. It communicates with the furnace, the blower. … It allows you to have more control of the system.”
And with that control comes higher energy efficiency and lower costs, according to Johnson Controls’ McDougall. The home’s Luxaire LP9C Acclimate Series modulating gas furnace offers Energy Star-qualifying efficiency up to a 98 percent annual fuel utilization efficiency rating, he said.
The home’s Luxaire AL8B Acclimate Series split system air conditioner features a seasonal energy-efficiency rating of 18 and is equipped with two-stage compressor technology. The first stage is designed to cool a home more efficiently, McDougall said, while the second stage offers maximum cooling for the hottest days of the year.
The Polk family is also enjoying improved indoor air quality with the system’s air cleaner and whole-house humidifier. The Acclimate Premium Hybrid Electronic Air Cleaner 3000 captures 98 percent of particles down to the size of one micron, McDougall said.
As for the homeowner and his family, Polk said the system has been working well so far, and he has no complaints.
“The experience on the show was phenomenal,” Polk said. “The producers and crew were dedicated professionals, and we’re eternally grateful for the opportunity and the experience of it.”
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