Harry Roman explains the historic home's geothermal system. Credits: Guy Kass
The exterior of the Edison home. Credits: Guy Kass
The historic home is open to the public for tours. Credits: Guy Kass
The Edisons were the home's second owners, purchasing it from architect Henry Hudson Holly. Credits: Guy Kass
The machine shop in Edison's research and development building. Credits: Guy Kass
Edison's desk, in the research and development building Credits: Guy Kass
The graves of Thomas and Mina Edison in the home's backyard. Credits: Guy Kass
Inside Edison's research and development building Credits: Guy Kass
The third-floor music room. Credits: Guy Kass
The 22,000-square-foot home is open to the public. Credits: Guy Kass
Edison's chemistry lab Credits: Guy Kass
Digging Deep: Modern System Keeps Historic Edison Home Heated, Cooled Geothermically
Monday, July 30, 2012 • 6:45am
WEST ORANGE, NJ – Thomas Edison had no idea that some 70 years after his death, his home would be heated and cooled geothermically, but as the legendary inventor was also a devoted environmentalist, there’s little doubt he’d have been pleased. Probably even impressed.
The geothermal system was installed at Edison’s West Orange mansion around 2004, and few visitors who wander through the spacious, elegant home realize that beneath their feet is a series of pipes and compressors that are directly responsible for the comfortable temperature that surrounds them.
The system, according to tour guide and Edison Museum volunteer Harry Roman, works like a refrigerator, which brings its contents to a lower temperature and pushes the heat out. Similarly, the compressors in the basement of Edison’s home are right now pushing the heat out, 170 feet away from the house and into the earth. It moves through 12 wells that go down 350 feet. In the winter, the process is reversed and the house is kept warm.
“The system definitely performs at its best during the summer,” Roman explained. “The hottest temperatures I’ve seen around here were about 100 degrees outside, and it never went over 74 degrees in the house.”
Roman gave tours of the geothermal system over the weekend, explaining to visitors that the system is not only earth-friendly, but important for preserving the historic contents of the home.
“The Edisons would have loved this system,” Roman said. “Mina (Edison’s second wife) was an ardent environmentalist, and he loved the earth. This would have pleased them.”
Roman should know – Thomas Edison changed his life. As a fourth grade student he was assigned to do a report on a company assigned by his teacher. She gave him the Thomas Edison Company and what he learned literally shaped his future. He became an engineer, an author, an inventor, and a tireless Edison devotee. Now retired after a long career with PSE&G, Roman is enthusiastic about showing visitors the geothermal system, and of course, talking about Edison.
“I’m closing my loop with Edison,” he said. “He’s the reason I chose the path I did, and now I’m here.”
Edison’s home and laboratory are open to the public. Guided tours take visitors through his chemistry lab – a long room frozen in time, where bottles and machines and test tubes overflow from old wooden shelves and work surfaces – and the 20,000-square-foot home, a gift from the inventor to Mina after their marriage. The rooms are much as the Edisons left them, from the furniture to the tiger-skin rugs to the books on the shelves.
“I’ve seen a lot of historic mansions, but this is the only one I can imagine actually living in,” said Ranger Victoria Martinez. “It’s beautiful but homey.”
The home has modern touches, including, of course, electricity. When the house, built by architect Henry Hudson Holly, was new, it was lit and heated by gas, but Edison wired it for electric a couple of years after he moved in, running the wires from his lab to the home. He had to wire his neighbors’ houses too, so they’d believe it was safe, Martinez said.
The three floors of Edison’s research and development building also are open to the public and include his machine shop, photography studio and music room.
The grounds are equally spacious, with trees and flowers surrounding the house. Benches are dotted here and there, and a short distance from the house, between two Japanese mourning lamps, are the graves of Thomas and Mina Edison.
For more information on the Thomas Edison National Historic Park, visit the website or call 973-736-0550 extension 11.