The Cross House
Today, we think of radiators as charmingly old-fashioned.
However, when the Cross House was built in 1894, radiators were state-of-the-art technology. There can be no doubt that people, when first stepping into the Cross House in 1894, exclaimed — breathlessly — “Can I see the radiators?” They would have oohed and aahed while standing before these miracles of modernity, and gently, reverently caressed the hot-to-the-touch metal.
Since the dawn of time, people had warmed their interiors by fire. But radiators were something altogether new. They could heat a whole house as if by miracle, and with the added (and huge) benefit of not covering every surface and sofa and curtain in soot, and without any seeming maintenance effort (like cleaning out fireplaces every morning, and then laboriously putting wood/coal in every fireplace).
Today, we have advanced to forced-air systems.
But is this an advance?
Forced-air heat dries EVERYTHING out. Wood shrinks and cracks (such as furniture and trim and doors and cabinets), and my ever-aging eyes also dry out. By the end of a winter season, my poor eyes HURT! It took me years to make the connection between forced-air heat and my poor ol’ dry eyes.
And, economically, it is more expensive to heat a house with forced-air than with radiators.
There are other issues, too. I have never enjoyed sitting in front of a forced-air supply duct. But, I love sitting next to a radiator. So do my cats.
Even though the Cross House has radiators, it also has a 3-zone HVAC system, providing both heat and cool air. The previous owner, Bob Rodak, installed the cooling system, which I converted to also provide heat (this change was not expensive, and it seemed a good idea to have a back-up heat source). Curiously, there were no return ducts to speak of, so I installed these, too. Their value is detailed below.
THE BIG UNDERTAKING
It certainly can be argued that, because I jumped into the monumental restoration of the Cross House, I am not entirely sane. As added evidence of insanity, I have spent vast sums this year to have the radiator system fully activated in the Cross House…even though the house already has a forced-air heating system in place.
Before I can finish the interior of the house, I must first do all the things which will later be hidden inside the walls and floors and ceilings, like electrical, plumbing, and radiator pipes. So, the latter must be done now, as it is otherwise impossible to progress on all the other necessary tasks such as repairing plaster, refinishing floors, installing cabinets, painting, etc.
Luckily, financially speaking, I had a good February and a very good early March, and thus called in Modern Air to get the radiator system fully functioning.
Almost all the 1894 radiators were still in the house. But some were cracked. Some were in odd places, like one in my future bedroom. The monster sat right in the middle of a long wall, precluding any possibility of a bed or dresser being against the wall. How dumb is that? I had the monster moved to another wall, in the corner, where there is not the likelihood of it ever interfering with furniture placement. In the kitchen, another monster sat right under the massive south-facing window. The perfect place for a heating monster, right? But it was also the perfect place for the sink cabinet. I had the radiator moved off to the side.
There were also rooms which did not have, nor ever have, a radiator. Like in the main upstairs bath, the pantry (with three exterior walls), the servant’s hall (with four exterior walls), and other spaces. As I am a comfort fiend, I wanted radiators in these spaces.
There were also burst radiator pipes, pipes which had been mysterious cut off in some distant past (why?), and some fittings which were corroded and could, could, burst at any moment. Or a century from now.
I braced myself, and told Modern Air: Fix everything.
OH, ABOUT DUCTS
The beauty of having a forced-air system in place is that when the radiators are on, I will turn the forced-air system on FAN, and all that expensively created hot air will be sucked into the massive return ducts I installed, and redistributed throughout the house. This will not only make the house way more comfortable, but will also significantly reduce heating costs.
It is amazing to me that the house never had a return duct system. This meant that the radiators created warmth, and because hot air rises, all that expensively-created warmth went UP. So, the basement would always have been chilly, the first floor kinda chilly, the second floor warm, and the top level hot. As 85% of heat also rises straight up and OUT of a house, this meant that the Cross House would have been helping to warm Emporia these past 120-years.
Not only will the new return ducts make a huge comfort/economic impact, but I have other plans to assure that my expensively created warm air will stay in the Cross House. When I am done, I believe that my big old house will be reasonably economical to heat and cool.
Today, the Great Radiator Project is 90% completed. The beast still sits in the grand foyer. And a few other odds and ends are not done.
The work began when I was flush, and ended when I was, ah, not. So, I am making steady payments to Modern Air, which precludes other work being done at the house until the terrifying invoice is paid in full. (When I received the invoice, an odd thought popped into my head: Gee, when I was twenty, I could have purchased a house for this amount!)
I hope the Cross House radiators appreciate my obsessive love for them.