Massachusetts Residential Property Utility Sub-metering for Natural Gas Heat

5 Replies

Hey all

I'm looking to see if any landlords in Massachusetts have gone through the process of submetering heat (natural gas). I have a property with one boiler and one gas meter with six zones each with its own thermostat. I'd like to see about installing submeters and bill back tenants for their heat. I found a company in MA that does this but I can't figure out the legalities of it or the process (I do have a call into them). According to MA General Laws, there is a section about submetering water/sewer but it does not address natural gas. In theory the meter would go between the boiler and the thermostat and would possibly measure the amount of time water is circulating? I'm thinking this could be a less expensive alternative to buying and installing six boilers. Does anybody in Massachusetts have experience with this or any insight?

@Rob Beland I always install separate Boilers, Water Heaters and Stoves but I agree 6 units would be expensive. I'd try that company with submetering.

@Rob Beland

Although I am no professional and don't know the in's and out's of MA law, I think you should be able to cut in submeters into the lines.  These would most likely be BTU meters.

I just finished building a 315 unit project in Boston and we actually put a water submeter in every unit to measure their water consumption.  These are private meters that "we" own and are not provided by the utility companies.  Basically the owner gets the bill from the utility company and pays the bill, then they use a different company to take in the data from all the submeters collected from the BMS system to write their own bills to the tenants to get reimbursed.  

We did not do this for gas for the simple reason that this was a heat pump job and every unit had their own heat pump to regulate temperature by use of condenser water.  Theoretically they could put a BTU meter at every heat pump and measure the amount of thermal energy going into the heat pump, but they figured it was more cost efficient to just build it into the rent.  (It would require a hell of a lot more low voltage wiring and BMS points)

You mention that you have 6 "zones" controlled by thermostats, which doesn't technically mean you have 6 units. If you have one thermostat in a one bedroom unit and you have 2 or 3 in another unit, this is where you are going to have to develop an algorithm to solve the cost each tenant owes.   For example:

Unit #1:  Thermostat A

Unit #2:  Thermostat B, C, D

Unit #3: Thermostat E and F

Unit #1 would owe the BTU readings on Thermostat A, while Unit #2 would owe BTU readings on thermostat B + C + D.  

Basically you are going to have to convince the tenants that you are being fair and charging them for their portion as you are basically their "utility company".  I would professionalize the bill and put the hard data on it from your utility bill.  This would be different if you had House meters (from the utility company) that you could just put in their name, but as you said this would require a boiler for each unit.  This will also get interesting if there are any common areas that are being conditioned from one of the thermostats that you are making the tenant pay for (i.e. a common hallway or staircase)

Again don't quote me, but this is my experience with large commercial projects that I have built. 

Let me know if this makes sense.

Thank you @Nick Noon  . Makes sense. I have some research to do. I think maybe I need some type of a 24 volt timer that I can wire to the individual zone valves (each unit has one zone and one t-stat. All one BR units). Each valve will be timed when it is running. I can then add it all up at the end of the month and divide the overall bill according to how long each individual t-stat was calling for heat. I just need to figure out how to collect the data wirelessly and I need a legal opinion on whether or not this would be allowed. 

@Mike Hurney unfortunately as it turns out the company has a 50 unit minimum but the guy I talked to gave me some good ideas. Six boilers would be too costly at this time. Thank you as always. 

Hey Rob,

I'm trying to do something similar right now with an apartment complex I own. Do you mind messaging me the name of the firm you found that submeters?