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Dead Men Tales: Heating The Breakers

HeatingHelp Administrator Posts: 586
edited January 2021 in THE MAIN WALL

Heating The Breakers

John D. Clarke knew how to heat a 70-room cottage in 1893. And he got it right the very first time. Then the Vanderbilts ordered all the mechanical drawings burned after construction so that no one would be able to copy the system. In this episode, Dan Holohan walks us through the history of the heating system at the Vanderbilts’ summer home, The Breakers.

Listen and subscribe here.


  • shambles
    shambles Member Posts: 8
    This was great!

    I'd've never thought hearing stories (and reading) about heating could be so fun (fun, just not this fun)!

    At least those rich people didn't poke the eyes out of the designer like some tyrants would have!
  • PC7060
    PC7060 Member Posts: 967
    Great story. Thanks for the transcript!
    Erin Holohan Haskell
  • Macro
    Macro Member Posts: 7
    I'm having a hard time visualizing the large convectors? How was the heat transferred from the water? Huge fins or just piping?
  • FrankDupointe
    FrankDupointe Member Posts: 1
    I am from RI. The family has been n the heating business since 1942 in RI. I know the Breakers very well. I have heating many churches and cathedrals with very similar basic designs. My grandfather always said - Don't forget to dig your hole. His reference was - the heat will comfortably find its way to the cool locations if you have a made a path/place for the cool air to drop from that space. This wise statement has NEVER failed me. - Thermodynamics is a beautiful tool if you can apply it to the building or facility.
  • Long Beach Ed
    Long Beach Ed Member Posts: 1,143
    edited December 2020
    Macro said:

    I'm having a hard time visualizing the large convectors? How was the heat transferred from the water? Huge fins or just piping?

    Macro, there are huge radiators that look like boiler sections (sometimes with cast pins or fins) mounted in the ducts. They are sectional cast iron. The cool air rises through them and picks up the heat.
  • Dan, I took a tour of the Breakers this summer. So when your podcast popped up in my email, I clicked it right away!

    I had no idea that they had indirect heating hidden in their walls!

    Where are the photos DAN!!!

    I'm glad you scratched this itch I had, while touring the Breakers.
  • Here is a link to the visual online tour of the place. Lots of photos to enjoy. https://www.masslive.com/entertainment/2017/04/take_the_beneath_the_breakers.html
  • mferrer
    mferrer Member Posts: 32
    One of my favorites! I toured the Breakers in May 2018 for the second time, but my first "Beneath the Breakers" tour. I took some photos that I would be happy to share. At that time, they were in the process of installing a Geothermal heating system which caught my interest. I was able to peek under the huge patio facing the sea and saw some of the buried HDPE loops sticking out of the ground in preparation for a main tie-in. So the old history ties into the new technology of heating. Simply fascinating!
    I hope the folks in Newport, will consider including the modern heating system in a future tour. My wife and I love visiting Newport and touring the mansions. Oh, should I call them cottages?
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,075
    edited December 2020
    Some photos from @DanHolohan's visit.

    More photos and tour info here: https://www.newportmansions.org/plan-a-visit/beneath-the-breakers-tour
  • bill_brooks
    bill_brooks Member Posts: 50
    frank lloyd wright is one of my favorite architects. having been to several of his surviving homes, i was always
    intrigued by what their heating plants might look like. during tours of the houses, i would ask the docent to
    peak in the basement. "strictly off limits" or some such reply. graycliff, outside buffalo, has a boiler house at
    the approach to the main house. nope, can't look inside. falling water, almost, but no cigar.
    i have yet to become acquainted with anyone with enough "juice" to get me past the basement door.
    the system used at the darwin martin house in buffalo, does reveal the gravity vents used to direct heated air
    into the living spaces above. but what is the prime mover below making the heat?
    apparently his heating plants are a state secret! i have quite a few books on wright's buildings. there might
    be 4 words devoted to the subject. pictures? forget it!
    OSBMXER Member Posts: 4
    Dumb question: why did they recently install a geothermal loop when the existing hot water system is a closed-loop system?
  • roncook
    roncook Member Posts: 8
    I have personally worked on the huge oil boilers they had there from 1985-1990 when I worked for Newport Oil Corp. Just to do annual maintenance during the summer. Got to roam the basement and the tunnel. We had all the Newport Preservation Society contracts for the mansions. Those rookie years were great.
  • MarjPinard
    MarjPinard Member Posts: 6
    OH I love this! It adds so much to the history ( but then.... when I was backpacking in Paris I went to the Louvre. I was not really impressed by the touristy stuff. I went into the back parts , around and around.... to see the restoration and repair work... ) And I agree, sign your work. Be proud of it.