Villa Collina Renewed: Italianesque Beauty Meets Technology of the Future

Editor’s Note: “Villa Collina Renewed” is a 15-part blog series detailing owner Dr. Eric W. Barton’s work to restore the largest home in Tennessee to its original Italianate beauty. Each week we will discuss renovation projects across the 40,250-square-foot waterfront mansion, from geothermal upgrades and energy efficiency to state-of-the-art lighting, marble renovations and fountain upgrades. We hope you enjoy this detailed research on the jewel that is Villa Collina.

Since purchasing the Villa Collina, Eric Barton has made several improvements to the home to increase its efficiency and protection. One of those major – and fascinating – renovation efforts is the installation of 24 new performance-enhancing geothermal HVAC units.

Coinciding with a window film project to reduce sun damage to upholstery and cut down on unnecessary heating of the home, Barton asked Buddy Cruze and James Roby of John H. Coleman Heating and Air to evaluate the current heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Cruze was part of the team who installed the original HVAC system in the Villa Collina, and he became a vital asset in installing the new system. During the Conleys’ ownership, Roby served as an apprentice to one of the senior technicians at J.H. Coleman, which had Villa Collina as one of his projects. After his supervisor retired, Roby inherited the Villa Collina contract due to his knowledge of the complex layout of the house and the location of the air-handling units. Since the beginning of his renovation efforts, Barton has made an effort to hire original contractors who built the Villa Collina, relying on their expertise and knowledge of the home.

According to Roby, the original HVAC equipment in the house was about 15 years old and had started to rust. Therefore, the systems were no longer working efficiently. Over the course of the two previous ownerships, many of the systems needed expensive repairs to keep the units running efficiently. With equipment that had deteriorated, the cooling costs of Villa Collina were relatively high. Since some systems were broken, the other working units ran continuously to make up for the non-functioning units.

Based on the original estimate, Barton believed he needed to replace only half the units for a total of 12. However, upon further consideration, the knowledgeable team from J.H. Coleman recommended replacing all 24 units. The new TETCO units are high efficiency with a great energy rating. The units use water-sourced heat pumps with a closed loop, often referred to as geothermal. Glycol-based antifreeze runs through the closed loop system, which acts as the airflow in a typical air conditioning unit. The current HVAC units are high-end and expensive and use two-stage cooling, which reduces the capacity of the outside cooling tower.

According to Roby, these HVAC units typically are used for commercial or office buildings due to the room constraints for outdoor units. This allows the equipment to be contained within the infrastructure of the house and not on the exterior, reducing noise and keeping the aesthetic look of the terraces and patios in the rear of the house. Roby said it would be very difficult to place 24 condensing units on the exterior of the house and conceal them from guests.

With the new units in place, the home became much more energy efficient, but installing a new system posed several challenges, including a size difference between the new rectangular units and the existing cubic units. In some cases, particularly for those units located in the attic, the units had to be disassembled and reassembled to fit within the confines of the space. In other cases, new locations were found to store the air-handling units. With their installation, there is a 10-year guarantee on parts and labor.

According to Roby, the HVAC equipment is held within five of seven major equipment rooms. Each room within the house contains a list of equipment for that particular room, allowing new technicians unfamiliar with the house to locate the equipment in an efficient way. The current owners have an ongoing maintenance contract with J.H. Coleman to perform monthly, semiannual and annual visits to Villa Collina to check on several different components.

Each month, Roby comes to Villa Collina during scheduled service visits. He collects data from the cooling tower, cleans the strainer and walks through the equipment rooms, looking for odd vibrations or spillages. Roby also comes to the home during semiannual and annual appointments to check additional components of the HVAC system. The semiannual visits involve checking units associated with the upcoming season. During the springtime, Roby and other technicians complete an extensive examination of the cooling tower, ensuring all spray jets are working properly. During the fall, the staff from J.H. Coleman perform a boiler test to ensure the tank is working properly for wintertime. The annual appointment includes collecting a water sample for testing to check on corrosion and antifreeze levels. If a breakdown occurs, the technicians from J.H. Coleman will make additional service visits to resolve the problems.

After installation, J.H. Coleman collaborated with DFA Solutions to incorporate the HVAC system and corresponding thermostats into the Lutron control system. With the Lutron system, Barton and the Villa Collina staff have full control over the heating and cooling within the house. Installing the new geothermal HVAC and Lutron systems has reduced the utility bill by thousands of dollars.

Up next: Villa Collina is a peaceful and idyllic locale with state-of-the-art access control and security systems, making the home a subtle but high-tech fortress. Check back soon to learn more about the upgrades to the property’s security profile.