The Jetsons go green

Feb. 1, 2012
Over the years, I have chronicled all of the unique projects I have had the opportunity to work on. From smallest to largest, I have seen and done them all. I’ve never actually had the opportunity to work on any properties that were on the designated list of Historic Places. Until recently that is.

Over the years, I have chronicled all of the unique projects I have had the opportunity to work on. From smallest to largest, I have seen and done them all. I’ve never actually had the opportunity to work on any properties that were on the designated list of Historic Places. Until recently that is.

I was approached by a friend of my brothers, who had recently acquired one the most unique properties located in the Denver Metro area. This iconic symbol of a home has been around since the early 1960s and has been seen by pretty much anyone who has driven the corridor of Interstate 70 between Denver and the western side of the Continental Divide. The home sits high above the highway, and has been called numerous names, including the Jetsons’ House, The Space Ship House, and thanks to the famous film writer and actor Woody Allen, The Sleeper House.

Its technical name is The Sculptured House. It was designed and conceived by world-famous architect Charles Deaton. And it is on the designated list of Historic Places that is maintained by The Department of the Interior. That basically means that the owners can pretty much do anything they want to on the inside of the home, but the exterior must remain unchanged esthetically speaking.

The home has had an interesting history. Per the architect developer, “On Genesee Mountain I found a high point of land where I could stand and feel the great reaches of the Earth. I wanted the shape of it to sing an unencumbered song.”

The views from the upper portion of the home are astonishing, to say the least. Unfortunately Deaton did not complete the project, and it sat empty for many years, serving as a party house for children of other homeowners in the area.

The building actually came close to being torn down due to its degraded condition. It was salvaged by a prominent developer in 1999. This developer completed the home, including an addition that the original architect had conceived, but was unable to complete due to numerous conditions. The addition was finally completed four years later. At that point in time, the developer applied for and was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places, and the home was now safe from the locals who wanted it torn down as an eye sore.

This original developer sold it to another developer, in 2006, who used the building primarily as a party haven for local non-profit organizations. He held the property until 2010, when he became delinquent on the house payments, and subsequently, the home came up in a foreclosure auction. This last owner, unfortunately, had run into hard economic times, and could not afford to pay the utility bills on the property. In an effort to conserve money, he turned the thermostats way down, and subsequently, caused numerous freeze breaks in the hydronic heating system serving the home.

The original architect is said to have been quite “different” and had a habit of not allowing anyone to work for him on this project for an extended period of time. His contention was that the trade secrets he was developing could not be stolen by anyone if they didn’t have knowledge from the beginning to the end of the project, hence a regular turnover of employees working on the project. Although I have tried to reconstruct how this building was heated, I have been able to see certain components still left in place from previous operations, and have spoken to people who have had the opportunity to work on the home from time to time during its long history. To the best of my knowledge, the original space ship consists of a base stem with two floors within that stem, topped by the clam shell/taco shell sitting atop the stem. The stem served as the circular stairway, a chase for the elevator, known as the Orgasmatron in “Sleeper,” by Woody Allen, as well as a mechanical chase for heating and domestic plumbing lines.

Other than a high-efficiency window replacement program done during the first remodel in 1999, no attention has been paid to energy conservation. In fact, the upper portions of the space ship had bare finned tube elements placed in the crawl space of the floor to heat the house. I’ve also seen traces of what appears to have been a pneumatic temperature control system in the mechanical chases of the home. No one I’ve spoken with knows for sure where the original boilers that served the home were located, but it is assumed that they were located near the ground floor, in an exterior shelter.

During the addition, started in 1999, the building and the addition were retrofitted with a panel style of hydronic based radiator, two fan coil units, and four zones of in floor hydronic radiant heat. I am told that there were two boilers used to power the system. These copper fin tube boilers were considered state of the art at the time of their installation. Unfortunately, these boilers were extremely problematic. So much so that the person charged with installing the home’s security/energy management system set up a remote telephone reset system that would allow the mechanical contractor the ability to call the home up and reset the boilers remotely to keep the system running.

Tune in next month as we continue our journey in time through this architectural wonder. Until then, belated Happy New Year hydronicing.

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