The Garrett-Jacobs Mansion is a historic, four-story home in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore. Built in the late 1800s — and preserved by state historical easements — the building has been home base for the Engineering Society of Baltimore Inc. (Engineers Club) since 1961. Known in the industry as the “cultural capital of engineering in the Mid-Atlantic,” the Engineers Club opens its venue to various associations and the community for weddings, banquets, educational seminars, and other private events.

A few years ago, the Engineers Club realized patrons required more accessibility to the upper floors of the mansion as well as a streamlined HVAC system. The club decided to build an adjacent 5,600-square-foot tower that connects to the building, providing access to an elevator, stairs, accessible washrooms, and additional storage.

Having a long-standing relationship with the Engineers Club, Smiley El-Abd, commercial area manager with Mitsubishi Electric Trane HVAC US (METUS), worked with distributor Aireco Advanced Products Group to provide CITY MULTI® VRF to serve both the new building and parts of the restored mansion.

The project, known as the “vertical expansion,” has been years in the making. As the engineer responsible for HVAC design, Cory Colassard, vice president of Spears/Votta & Associates Inc., explained that the new VRF system is part of a plan to modernize the mansion’s heating and cooling systems.  

“This project is an opportunity to improve the building, improve operating costs, give the Engineers Club flexibility, and allow them to have individual temperature control in multiple rooms,” he said. “It’s an improvement that’s generating a master plan for moving forward instead of putting a bandage on the conditioning issues as they arise.”

In 2013, after one of the mansion’s boilers broke down among a slew of other HVAC issues, Mitsubishi Electric and Aireco came together to donate a 12-ton VRF heat pump. The donation, which conditioned both the library and a drawing room, made an  impression on both patrons and club members.

Dale Whitehead, executive director of the Engineers Club, said based on that experience they were happy to renovate with Mitsubishi Electric again.  

“That system has worked perfectly,” Whitehead said. “It’s never broken down, it’s had minimal cost for maintenance, and it’s always worked. Everyone’s thrilled with how the whole system operates. After the original donation we worked on with Smiley, which was great, it was a no-brainer that Mitsubishi Electric was who we were going to go with  for this project.”

Since the club moved into the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, more than $12 million has been invested in restoration work including HVAC updates. With several different types of conditioning systems and outdated boilers, the building was running inefficiently and couldn’t satisfy the venue’s comfort requirements. El-Abd noted that from the initial donation, the project team worked with the tower in mind to lay the groundwork for an eventual VRF overhaul.

“When we started, there was no vision for conditioning needs,” said El-Abd. “We came in with VRF and now the Engineers Club can envision how the building is going to work for the next 100 years. With historical buildings, it is so common that a person will add on one system, then another will choose a different one ... which can have some negative implications. With Mitsubishi Electric it’s so easy. You can expand the system as needed while tying everything into one integrated controls system.”

Ultimately, Mitsubishi Electric’s R2-Series system with a Lossnay® ERV was selected for the vertical expansion tower — a four-story, light steel structure. In addition to the tower, the new system conditions some rooms on the second floor of the mansion, areas that previously did not receive conditioning or modern ventilation.

“We now have a modern system in a good percentage of the building,” noted Whitehead. “It’s unobtrusive and perfect for what we need.”

Both ducted and ductless units were installed in the mansion and the tower. Additionally, the building recently upgraded its dated controls system to the AE-200A Centralized Controller, giving Whitehead and Engineers Club staff precise management of the facility for both day-to-day operations and events.

As for continued VRF expansion, El-Abd is confident the Engineers Club will reap the benefits of switching its HVAC systems.

“VRF significantly reduces the heating load calculations,” he said. “At the mansion, people can rent out various rooms, people can utilize the club bar ... with zoning, the air handlers will serve the specific zones in use.”

The vertical expansion was completed in September 2018. While many anticipated the reopening of the mansion, the building holds significant meaning to the project team. With several HVAC engineering societies meeting regularly at the Garrett-Jacobs mansion, including ASHRAE, this project has been an effort of engineers coming together for the benefit of the field.

“Mitsubishi Electric was perfect for this job,” noted Colassard. “As the engineering community, we gain so much from these societies that we try to give back when possible. With Smiley being active in charitable activities, this was the perfect opportunity for Mitsubishi Electric to give back to the community.”