The Orrin Hoadley House, Branford, Connecticut, built in 1736. Photo: unicosystem.com
Whether you live in a centuries-old charmer or a modern marvel, you share something in common with the owners of homes nothing like your own. In any residence, regardless of its age or style, it's often a struggle to balance practical concerns with aesthetic ones. Compromise isn't always possible. Take heating and cooling, for instance. In the search for effective and efficient HVAC, homeowners often learn that installing a conventional climate-control system will detract from an older home's historical integrity, or in a new custom or contemporary home it can interfere with unique architectural designs.
The most ubiquitous type of HVAC system in America, forced-air heating and cooling, relies on a network of bulky air ducts, so it's no easy feat to fit a forced-air system into an existing home. To do so, contractors must often open up walls, ceilings, and floors. Soffits, chases, and other special accommodations are also commonly necessary to route ductwork from room to room. In other words, retrofitting forced air requires a major remodeling effort that will no doubt deliver comfort, but may also steal square footage or sacrifice architectural integrity. Of course, it's easier to install a forced-air system in new construction. But even then, the plans would need to be adjusted to account for the path and sheer size of the anticipated ductwork. In any case, choosing forced air often means allowing the needs of the system to dictate everything else, including the final layout, appearance, and feel of the home.
Although conventional forced air dominates the contemporary HVAC landscape, it's by no means the only game in town. By excelling precisely where forced air falls short, many competing systems have emerged as compelling alternatives. One technology in particular manages to do what forced air never could-that is, heat and cool effectively, efficiently, and all but invisibly. This technology, known as high-velocity mini-duct HVAC, underlies the increasingly popular Unico System. As testament to its versatility, the Unico System sits at the heart of both the Orrin Hoadley House in Branford, Connecticut (pictured above), and the Resonance House in Lexington, Kentucky (pictured below). The two couldn't be more different, yet they rely on Unico for precisely the same thing-modern comfort that does nothing to detract from the architecture or interior design of the home.
The Resonance House, Lexington, Kentucky, built in 2006. Photo: luhanstudio.com
Streamlined and compact, the Unico System installs virtually anywhere, unobtrusively, no matter what constraints may be present. In the Orrin Hoadley House, many factors would have complicated the installation of a conventional system. With portions that date back to 1736-decades before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, let alone the advent of modern HVAC-the home had no space for heating and cooling equipment.
Built in 2006, the Resonance House faced the same dilemma but for different reasons. First of all, the full-size ductwork of a conventional system would have lessened the visual impact of the soaring ceilings-specifically, the double-height central living area. Another curveball: The dramatically low-pitched roof did not offer enough clearance for a standard-size system. Ultimately, the Unico System proved uniquely suited to solve the problems faced in each circumstance.
The secret to the Unico System? For one, it exchanges full-size rigid-metal ductwork for flexible “mini” ducts that measure only two or three inches in diameter. Able to slide behind walls, beneath flooring, and around any obstructions, the ducts in the Unico System bring heating and cooling to every corner of the home, without the need for extensive remodeling. In other words, no matter the design of the home, the Unico System adapts, thanks not only to its snake-like ductwork, but also to its remarkably space-efficient air handler. Even though the unit can fit into an opening only a couple of feet tall or wide, it packs up to three times as much power as a comparable conventional air handler. All told, Unico components need less than a third of the space required by a traditional forced-air system. Its smart, streamlined design enables it to integrate seamlessly almost anywhere, ensuring a low-impact, out-of-plain-sight installation.
The Unico System takes its commitment to inconspicuous design down to even the smallest details. For instance, in the Orrin Hoadley and Resonance Houses, you see only one subtle sign of the installed system-the small outlets that feed conditioned air from the mini ducts to the living spaces. Unlike conventional HVAC vents-large and rectangular, with grilled fronts- the Unico System offers discreet circular or slotted outlets that can be installed wherever they would be least noticeable, whether that's on the ceiling, floor, or wall. The outlets come in a wide array of standard finishes, and you can always elect to have yours custom-painted or stained to match perfectly the colors and textures that define your decorating scheme. This attention to appearance ensures that, just as installation of the Unico System requires no major remodeling, it similarly requires no sacrifice of aesthetics. A successful outcome is a system you barely see.
The Unico System delivers heating and cooling via inconspicuous, circular or slotted outlets. Photo: unicosystem.com
In the Orrin Hoadley and Resonance Houses, the Unico System escapes notice in more ways than one. As much as you don't see evidence of the system, you don't hear much either. That's because Unico doesn't operate in the same way as a traditional forced-air system. The latter turns on and off in a cyclical pattern, calling attention to itself with each transition and creating air turbulence in the conditioned space, resulting in uncomfortably uneven temperatures. Rather than blasting warm or cool air into the living space, the Unico System leverages the principle of aspiration, introducing conditioned air to the home in such a way that it draws the ambient air into its stream, ensuring a uniform, draft-free environment. Plus, Unico manages to do so at a whisper-quiet decibel level, thanks mainly to the sound-deadening insulation that encases system components, including the ducts.
This duct insulation actually performs two roles. In addition to muffling the sound of air movement, it also enables the system to deliver best-in-class energy efficiency. To understand why, consider that standard uninsulated ductwork suffers thermal loss, often enough to compromise overall system efficiency by 25 percent or more. As well, inefficient air leaks commonly develop in ductwork, particularly at the seams where two sections join. Thanks to sheaths of dual-layer, closed-cell insulation, the ducts in the Unico System sidestep the problem completely, wasting virtually no energy in air delivery, ensuring that you get the climate control you pay for when the utility bill comes. Given that cooling and heating comprises more than half the energy costs in the average home, the efficiency built into the Unico System can help you achieve savings that add up to a significant sum over the long term.
Like so many in the Northeast, the Orrin Hoadley House faces energy costs that are already high and still rising. With this in mind, its owners selected the Unico System not only because it could be installed with minimal disturbance to this historically significant residence, but also because it would help rein in running costs. Meanwhile, at the Resonance House, Unico was able to work in conjunction with the structure's eco-friendly materials and technologies to keep utility costs low-stunningly low, in fact. Most months, the bill comes to $125-about 65 percent less than the homeowners paid in their previous home of half the size. In recognition of its efficiency, the Resonance House became the first in its state to receive the coveted LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Taken together, though separated by hundreds of miles and hundreds of years, the Orrin Hoadley and Resonance Houses prove that you don't have to choose between comfort and design. The Unico System delivers both.
With copper cladding and a low-pitched roof, the Resonance House captures attention from the curb. Photo: luhanstudio.com
This article has been brought to you by Unico. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.