efficient heating options? philadelphia row home. i pay electric!

9 Replies

i purchased a home that is a rooming house.  three rooms.  renting for 100 per week per room.  in a perfect world, with no vacancy the home will collect 1200 gross rent.  i paid 17k for the house tenant occupied.  low income zip code.  i cover all utilities (water and electric)  i expect between utilities and taxes (50/month) and insurance (47/month) i should cash flow close to 600+ per month.  since i purchased i have upgraded the bathroom and painted and carpets.  the heating system needs to be addressed and this is where i need some help.  some stats:  the home is small, maybe 1000 square feet row home in the inner city.  there is a home on both sides of my house.  only windows are in the front of the house and the back of the house (again row home style)  2 bedroom.  the downstairs living room was converted into a third room.  common areas are kitchen and bathroom.

the house is all electric.  the house does not have gas service.  its been that way since 2009.  i think keeping a home warm has lot to do with insulation and keeping drafts sealed as well as the heating system applied.  ii added a second interior door to separate the main front door from the living area.  think a small vestibule that acts as a buffer from the outside and the inside.  i replaced the back door with a sealed steel door with weather stripping.  the tenants are also cool with covering the windows in plastic wrap i the middle of winter to eliminate any draft...none of these tactics did the previous owner do.  

if i put electric baseboard heating all over the house (think 6-8 units) i wont have complete control over the electric because baseboards have thermostats on the individual baseboard, giving the tenant the option to run on high 24/7.  that might cost less to install but will kill my monthly cash flow with the electric bill.  im considering getting an electric furnace because there once was a forced hot air heating system and the duct work is already installed and there are vents all throughout the house.  the old furnace is shot but the ductwork is in tact.  its kinda plug and play and i have had several HVAC guys quote me on this. it would cost more up front but it would be a new system with warranty and i can add one thermostat that only i can control.  i think thermostats are huge.  they can be set to one temp and on timers, correct?  i can even get a wi-fi thermostat and control the temp from my primary residence! i think if i set the thermostat at 68 (which is the minimum the city allows) and on a timer i think i can control the heating bill pretty well?

thoughts?  electric baseboard heating or electric furnace with forced hot air?!

First I think I would check with pgw to see if you could get gas hooked up. If not I would probably go for the electric furnace. If you're not controlling the thermostat you're going to go broke. 

A electric heat pump with forced air will be the most efficient in energy use, but it might cost you too much to justify installing it. Your rent is too low to invest any sizable purchase, like adding ducts, gas service and a new heater to the house. 

If you are talking about putting wraps on the windows, I am assuming your windows are single pane, and if so, I am going to jump to a conclusion that the house is old and poorly insulated. Being a row home helps, because they loose less heat, since they have less exterior walls to loose heat. 

Your best bet is to stick to it this winter, and get an accurate reading of how much it really cost you to run the heating before you commit to do any big purchases. 

If you are renting rooms a week of the time, you will always be responsable for heat, and that will be one of your major expenses. People will crank the heat to the max and open the window because it is too hot. People are just that dumb sometimes. 

If you do decide to go with gas, peco will do a rebate/discount of the installation cost based on your usage. Lets say they determine you will use 1500 of gas over 2-3 years (not sure the exact number of years they use). To bring gas into the house is about 2500, if they have service already to the street. They will pay for 1500 for future use of gas and you have to pay the difference, in this case 1000 bucks. Then you still need to pay for the ducts and heater, and I would ball park that around 4-5k for a 2 floors, 3 bedrooms row home. If you go with a heat pump, it might cost you about the same, but you will also have AC in the summer. In your case, which you pay for heat and cooling, it might be a downside. I would never provide AC on my $$.

Good luck!

@Rafael Floresta - PECO does not supply gas inside the city limits for Philadelphia, PECO only supplies gas in the suburbs. PGW is the gas company inside the Philadelphia city limits. 

The options already given are pretty much your best choices. Gas or heat pump, maybe a mini-split might make sense to consider. 

As to wifi thermostats - if you provide the wifi, I guess that might be a worthwhile option, but if you don't ...

Even with you controlling the thermostat, tenants have cleverly identified methods to "defeat" landlord controls, such as ice packs placed in proximity to the thermostat, or just opening windows in the room where the thermostat is located. 

Gas heat = About $8.50 per 1,000,000 BTUs of Heat

Electric Resistance heat = About $31.00 per 1,000,000 BTUs of heat

Heat Pumps are a great option when gas is not available, but in philly gas is available.

Heat pumps = About $9.50 per 1,000,000 BTUs, but the catch is it will only heat down to about 30 degrees outside then you need a electric furnace or gas furnace as a backup/ auxiliary heat. Heat pumps also act as central air in the summer months.

The Mitsubishi H2i ductless mini split heat pumps heat down to -15 and no backup source of heat is needed and is more efficient then even a high efficiency gas furnace, which is ridiculous.... but they are very expensive.

IMHO,

Gas heat is the cheapest when balancing up front installation cost and long term utility cost

We are talking a $22.50 difference between gas or electric per 1,000,000 BTUs burned. Over time that is a huge savings or added expense.

Free Department of Energy Comparison Chart

Punch in your local rates for the numbers to be dead on.

http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/heatcalc.xls

*I have been using the Emerson Sensi Wifi Stat because it is only $120 and you can lock it so it can only be controlled by YOUR smartphone. The tenant can push buttons all day and it will do nothing if you choose to disable the keypad.

https://sensicomfort.com/

I hope that helped :)  

Originally posted by @Jonathan Andersen :

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*I have been using the Emerson Sensi Wifi Stat because it is only $120 and you can lock it so it can only be controlled by YOUR smartphone. The tenant can push buttons all day and it will do nothing if you choose to disable the keypad.

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Great post, but one point to clarify.

All thermostats are sensing ambient temperature in some way, so all are vulnerable to tenant tactics that manipulate the ambient temperature in the vicinity of the thermostat; some of those tactics appear in my previous post on this thread.

So the word "only" in the quoted post assumes that there is no such tampering going on.

Coming from an AC guy.... I love mini splits, but when the warranty is gone, prepare for HUGE repair bills. Same is true with high (17+) SEER units. Simple heat pump with the air sensor installed INSIDE the return. You can set temperature limits on most thermostats today if thats a concern. Those mini splits heat down to low temps because they reduce the fan speeds to deliver half the amount of heat. Same high temperature, just not a lot of it.
Adam

Originally posted by @Steve Babiak :
Originally posted by @Jonathan Andersen:

...

*I have been using the Emerson Sensi Wifi Stat because it is only $120 and you can lock it so it can only be controlled by YOUR smartphone. The tenant can push buttons all day and it will do nothing if you choose to disable the keypad.

...

Great post, but one point to clarify.

All thermostats are sensing ambient temperature in some way, so all are vulnerable to tenant tactics that manipulate the ambient temperature in the vicinity of the thermostat; some of those tactics appear in my previous post on this thread.

So the word "only" in the quoted post assumes that there is no such tampering going on.

 I know exactly what you are talking about. The best way to stop / deter the most avid tamperers would be to install a Honeywell thermostat that allows you to add a remote sensor. When I used to do commercial AC we would put the sensors in the return duct instead of on a wall sometimes for a true space temp. I know the Honeywell 8000 supports it. There is a wifi version as well (8000WF).