VRF Retains Charm of 230-Year-Old Building

Installing an HVAC system is about more than just providing conditioned air; it’s about providing an experience. Temperature, sound and visual appeal all contribute to that experience. These factors were very much on Dean Carlson’s mind as he renovated his property, Wyebrook Farm, Honey Brook, Pennsylvania. When Carlson went to convert the farm’s 230-year-old stone barn into a restaurant and market, adding in HVAC without losing the space’s character became a key concern. Future diners and customers would look up at the ceiling and admire the old, beautiful structure; they would not see ugly ductwork and would not have to yell over noisy air-conditioning units. How did Carlson pull that off? Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) zoning technology from Mitsubishi Electric US, Inc. Cooling & Heating Division (Mitsubishi Electric).

Challenge: Selecting a modern HVAC system to meet the aesthetic and sustainable needs of a centuries-old facility.

In 2010, Carlson purchased Wyebrook Farm. Previously a bond trader on Wall Street, Carlson was compelled by the idea of contributing to sustainability. He knew Philadelphia as an area with “good farmland and easy access to large populations.” His goal: “Starting a business offering food that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.”

When it came time to transform the farm’s two-level stone barn into a combination restaurant-market, HVAC was an issue. “This is a beautiful building; my goal was just don’t mess it up, make it functional. You have to heat and cool and do things to meet code, but I wanted to keep the aesthetic of the barn,” said Carlson. This was a daunting project – the barn was drafty, had no previous HVAC system and offered little room for ductwork – but razing and rebuilding was not an option. “This is something I really care about. Restoring old buildings is more sustainable than tearing them down and building new ones,” said Carlson.

Carlson called in Rich Nolan, designer, Clark, Inc., Paradise, Pennsylvania, to create an HVAC solution. The two had worked together previously when restoring other buildings on the property. Carlson said, “I was happy with the previous installations on the farm. The systems worked in pretty extreme cold weather.”

Those systems were VRF from Mitsubishi Electric, which is exactly what Nolan recommended for the barn. Nolan said, “They didn’t want ductwork hanging across the restaurant. And you don’t want to be at dinner eating a grass-fed piece of beef and have the compressor kick on next to you. The environment at the farm is quiet, nice and bucolic.”

Nolan also preferred VRF because it aided in sustainability. “They were looking to be green – looking for the most efficiency they could get. This was key in my design because the barn gets varying loads. At times it’s full of people, at times not. The Mitsubishi [Electric] systems are perfect for that,” said Nolan.

With the system selected, installation took place. “It went very well,” said Nolan. Carlson added, “There were no problems. It went totally fine. And this was a pretty complicated project.”

The results since have been equally pleasing. Carlson said the selected units “preserve the barn’s aesthetic as well as possible. I’ve been very happy. We really haven’t had any complaints. This is not an easy building to heat but the [Mitsubishi Electric] system does a pretty good job.” The sound component is answered nicely, as well: “The units are very quiet. I don’t hear them at all.”

Solution: A discreet VRF system from Mitsubishi Electric maintained the facility’s character while offering visitors true comfort.

Nolan said, “The Mitsubishi [Electric] systems worked out well, giving us the zoning we needed.” He was also honored to have his design recognized by Associated Builders and Contractors, who awarded the project two prizes, including Sustainable Green. “The equipment was instrumental in getting points to earn this award.”

In sum, a happy story of a successful installation. Or, as Nolan said: “The HVAC is running well, business is doing great and Dean’s happy with it. He’s been ecstatic about it. He loves it.”