The Historic Home of 'Little Women'

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The Historic Home of 'Little Women' by EnergySmart Alternatives, LLC

The Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House Museum in Concord, Massachusetts installed a state-of-the-art ground source heat pump (a.k.a. geothermal) heating and air conditioning (HVAC) system.  The installation process at this 300 year old home will be discussed and the first-year operating costs savings will be shown.

Orchard House 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 there 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. Before exterior work began, archaeologists from 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. 

Eight geothermal boreholes were drilled at the back of the property. Pipes entered the basement at the rear of the building. These pipes were connected to four geothermal units located throughout the building. New sheet metal was installed to distribute hot air and air conditioning throughout.  The geothermal system is able to remove humidity effectively without overcooling.  The removal of combustion improved humidity levels in the winter. 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.  Annual heating and air conditioning costs have been decreased by approximately $8,000. The gas bill has been eliminated.