CPA 2021 Geothermal Project

Walk by the Jason Russell House and you’ll find that drilling for our geothermal heating and cooling system has begun! The rig shown will be drilling a series of wells about 400 feet deep. This is a depth that is a constant temperature of about 55 degrees for cooling and dehumidification during the summer, and for extracting heat in the winter. No fossil fuels will be used to provide either heating or cooling going forward – only the electricity generated by a renewable source. We selected geothermal for both the minimal impact but also the use of green technology that could be run with minimal electricity costs, as it is impossible to insulate the building while retaining the historic integrity.

Previous CPA grants have focused on specific sections of the Jason Russell House, and areas that were a major threat to deterioration. Now we seek to continue to preserve the house and its contents by installing climate control system. The purpose of the project is to have better climate control in the historic building with minimal impact. This is to improve our collections care and for human comfort of visitors. There was no heating or cooling in the house prior to this project, which led to damaging spikes and dips in temperature and relative humidity, a situation which threatens the objects on display in the house. Luckily for visitors, collection care recommendations for optimal  heating and cooling are very similar to those desired for human comfort – a stable year round range in the high 60s.

This important project is being fully funded by the Town of Arlington through a Community Preservation Act Grant, and it will be completed over winter and spring of 2021-2022. The final product and goal is a system that is reliable and provides year round stable temperature and RH at minimal cost (both in dollars and environmental impact). This reduction in operational costs is especially important to a small non-profit with limited funds.

We chose the company EnergySmart Alternatives out of Medford specifically due to their experience with similar projects and familiarity with our specific needs. They recently carried out a conversion at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in nearby Concord. The staff at Orchard House was incredibly helpful, providing invaluable insight and information including a site tour. There are quite a few similarities between the two historic homes, except that one of the portions of Orchard House was built circa 1650.

It may seem unusual in a period home such as the Jason Russell House, but we like to think this is just part of a continuum –of using combination of building techniques and geographic conditions to heat and cool the home.  Jason Russell learned from his forbearers how to adapt to the cold weather in New England. It was likely built facing south to optimize sunlight to heat up the house. It was also constructed with a large central chimney, distinctive to colonial New England homes, with four fireplaces – one in each room. Even a fire built in one fireplace would emanate throughout the home and keep the thermal mass trapped in the bricks long after the fire was put out. We have no evidence that Jason Russell had interior shutters to close their windows during hot summer months. Without the ability to stoke up a fire or open windows of the house (to preserve our collection) this project will allow us to get better results using current technology available to us.