When it comes to restoring historic landmarks in posh Palm Beach, historic commissioners don’t mess around. Their goal is to get it right and preserve the communities legendary heritage. The process is often time consuming, but they want to make sure they get it right. In June, 2012, the Palm Beach Landmark Preservation Commission, voted overwhelmingly 7 to 0 to accept detailed plans to perform a major restoration of an original John L. Volk-designed home located on El Bravo Way in the Estate Section of Palm Beach, Florida.
Purchased at auction for a $6.9 million, owners Jeffrey and Frances Fisher planned to restore all of the main rooms of the 1929 history Palm Beach manor to its original grander. This included updating the home in accordance to strict preservationist guidelines.
Upon receiving the green light from the commission, Architect Clemens Schaub worked with Worth Builders of Palm Beach to select skilled sub-contractors who were capable of working on such a historic landmark. Berkun Air Conditioning of West Palm Beach was one of the contractors that was chosen based on their successful track records of working on historic Palm Beach properties.
In the mid 1980’s, the owners at that time added air conditioning and attempted to modernize the home, at the expense of ruining the original details of the home. The current owners are renovating this historic manor to restore the original architects works, while at the same time, completely updating the environmental systems to
make the home more comfortable and efficient.
“Most people don’t realize how technically challenging it is to add a modern air conditioning system in a historic landmark. You just can’t just tear open walls because its more convenient to add air ducts, air handlers and / or air registers,” noted Jeff Berkun, owner of Berkun Air. “These walls have history. They’re often objects of art
themselves. Everything has to be done with an eye of preserving home’s history and characters. Our job is to make our work nearly invisible, while mineralizing changes to the work created by the original architect.”
For this historic landmark, a newer air conditioning technology was selected to limit the amount of duct work that would be needed for a home of this size, while providing the owners with the ability to control the temperatures of each room individually. The system selected is known as a VRF Air Condition Systems (variable refrigerant flow).
Instead of running refrigerant lines from an exterior compressor, to a centrally located air handler located within the home, and then running air ducts to each room, a VRF system runs a single refrigerant line to number of smaller air handlers located in each room. Each room then has its own thermostat that controls that room and each is controlled independently from the other rooms (see diagram below). If a given room needs cool air, the thermostat tells the compressor to pump just the right amount of chilled refrigerant to a given air
handler that made the request, while the others pass it on. As other rooms request additional chilled refrigerant, the exterior compressor simply increases the flow in the supply line and each air handler draws only what is need for that room, and no more.
A VRF system is far more flexible, cost less to run, you individual rooms compared to cooling the entire home or zone, and it minimizing bulky duct-work. It does require however, an installer that is technically more savvy. For these reasons, the VRF system is becoming more and more popular in larger homes and businesses.
Information on the original architect can be found at the following links:
People of Palm Beach County – John L. Volk
For more information the John L. Folk Foundation, click here
To read an interesting article published in the Palm Beach Daily News entitled: Unforgettable Palm Beach: Modernist buildings among town’s most endangered cultural resources