WBS Presents on Historic Nathaniel Russell House Museum Analysis

Whole Building Systems, a highly regarded engineering and energy efficiency consulting firm that serves commercial, governmental, educational, and historic preservation sectors, today announced that it recently completed an Energy Survey and Engineering Analysis of the Nathaniel Russell House Museum, located in historic Charleston, SC.

The findings of WBS' analysis were made public at the recent Sustainability & Southern Historic Preservation Conference, and M. Dennis Knight, PE, CxA – Whole Building Systems’ CEO – made the presentation, which focused on the balance that must be struck between historic building preservation and contemporary technologies for heating and cooling.

As part of Whole Building Systems’ Energy Survey and Engineering Analysis, Mr. Knight reviewed the challenges presented by an HVAC retrofit for an historic, 9,600 square foot structure that was built in 1808, when mechanical heating and cooling systems did not even exist. Whole Building Systems’ analysis involved an ASHRAE Level I “walkthrough,” audit as well as a review of preliminary energy use. As the work progressed, an ASHRAE Level II Audit (including a Trane Trace energy model) and a Level III Investment Grade Analyses were conducted to understand the scope and lifecycle costs of capital-intensive modifications.

Whole Building Systems’ findings revealed that an inability to effectively control humidity led staff to keep the house colder than necessary. That combined with air leakage was contributing to increased energy consumption, occupant discomfort, and less than ideal interior conditions.

Whole Building Systems recommended that the Nathaniel Russell House Museum replace the existing HVAC system with a similar but more-efficient chilled-water / hot-water system; that the building should be weatherized; and that the building automation system should undergo an upgrade. These changes would result in proper humidity and temperature regulation, which is necessary to protect the museums collection and the house itself. WBS then designed the new system so that it could be installed with minimal impact to the structure.

“The challenge at the Nathaniel Russell House was balancing energy efficiency and the preservation of one of America’s most valuable historic structures. The Nathaniel Russell House Museum will stand for another 200 years, but the mechanical system will likely last only thirty,” said Whole Building Systems’ M. Dennis Knight. “Our recommendations will not only make the staff and visitors more comfortable, but they help preserve significant cultural resources for future generations.”

“This was a major undertaking by Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF), and we relied heavily on WBS’ technical expertise and depth of knowledge on energy efficiency in historic structures,” said Winslow Hastie, Chief Preservation Officer at HCF. “WBS worked hard to achieve that delicate balance of protecting cultural assets with the comfort and well being of the buildings occupants.”