Flower Hill Museum (Austin, TX)

Overview

Built from handmade bricks, the Smoot mansion bears the distinction of being the place where William Sidney Porter (O. Henry) eloped with his bride in 1889. Known as Flower Hill Museum on the Austin historic home tour, the home has been in the Smoot family since 1877, the year it was built, and has been lovingly maintained by the original owner‟s 89-year-old great-granddaughter, Jane Smoot. When Ms. Smoot set out to add air conditioning to her historic 7,328-square-foot home, she found it challenging to find a system that would not compromise the architecture of the home. (She was told by several contractors that installation would virtually destroy the home‟s features or that it simply could not be done). A traditional, large-duct HVAC installation was out of the question. She then considered a ductless mini-split air conditioner but didn‟t realize it would have required a large wall-mounted apparatus in each room.

Strategy

Scott McClain, with Insco Distributing of Austin, Texas, recommended The Unico System as an ideal solution. Mike Wood, owner of Austin-based Comfort Systems, was an experienced Unico contractor and was willing to tackle the job. Unico System heat pumps were chosen to provide both heating and cooling. To keep the mechanicals as unobtrusive as possible, the indoor units were installed in the old dirt crawlspace under the house and in the attic. On the first floor, Unico‟s small, disk-like vents were installed in the floors, positioned evenly near the perimeter walls, allowing the large, antique furniture to remain in their original locations. In the kitchen, to avoid disturbing the original floors, the contractor snaked the small ducting up through a pantry closet and positioned the vents horizontally out through the sidewall.

The second floor is serviced by a unit located in the attic, which proved tricky because the area ranges from just 3 inches at the lowest point to 3 feet at its peak. In contrast to the first floor, vents were place in the ceilings of the second floor rooms and grand stairway. This strategy allowed the contractor more flexibility in positioning the vents without costly modifications or constructing floor-to-ceiling box-outs between floors. The quietness of the system, achieved by the small ducts constructed of insulated, sound-deadening air tubing, makes it near impossible to hear. The tiny vents are so unobtrusive and appealing; Ms. Smoot affectionately refers to them as little “teacups.”

Results

By selecting The Unico System, Comfort Systems was able to provide Ms. Smoot and visitors to the Flower Hill Museum a more comfortable indoor experience. Ms. Smoot was so pleased with how The Unico System maintained the historic character and charm of her home, she only wished her ancestors could have shared the enjoyment of this very unique style of comfort. Ms. Smoot remarked that “having grown up in this home, I have never felt so comfortable, so „human‟ as I do with this wonderful new cooling system.” Flower Hill‟s visitors can finally explore the grandeur and history of this amazing home in relaxed comfort, while leaving the sweltering, Austin summer heat outside.