Solutions for Inadequate Heating

20 Replies

Happy New Year BP Community!

As some of you may know, the North East has been experiencing record breaking cold. This has been especially true in Saratoga Springs, NY. One effect this has on my property is that I cannot get the downstairs unit in my triplex above 58 F when the outside temperature is below -5 F (heating system on full blast). The heating system is not sized big enough and the unit is not efficient. I only found this out last week when the outside temperature plummeted (no issues with pipes freezing, etc. just that the apartment is unbearably cold).

Tenants are moving in February 1 and the tenants know that the unit utilizes a gas boiler and hydronic baseboard heaters (a less expensive alternative to electric heat). I am very excited to have these tenants as they are young professionals but I do not want to start this agreement off on the wrong foot. How should I present this problem to the tenants? What solution would you recommend? 


Mike P

After February first there shouldn't be too much cold, but that still doesn't solve the problem. There are really only 3 options. You fix the boiler with something more efficient and sized properly, or you add insulation and air seal the home. Option 1 probably costs $6-10k. Option 2 costs $1,500-$5k. And option three is you are upfront with them and price the unit accordingly, accounting for anticipated electric costs for running supplemental space heaters on the tenant's dime. I say this because, in Michigan at least, I have to provide a unit that can maintain a temp of 60* or whatever it is.

Have a GOOD boiler guy come out , there is possibly a valve somewhere not letting enough flow thru . Or you gould have a bad zone valve . 

I'd personally recommend getting some quotes on getting the boiler swapped out. Do your homework and head to some of the local suppliers and get pricing on the boilers. There are a bunch of good suppliers in schenectady. Then start searching for a plumber to get a labor quote. The one issue you might run into is that its the busiest time of the year.

Also you mention the unit isn't efficient? Old windows? Leaky drafts from doors? Worst case you could plastic the windows to get you through season and then start making a plan for replacing windows/boilers/etc in the spring. Best of luck and keep warm!

@Matthew Paul suggestion is probably best. I assumed you were assured the boiler wasn't of adequate size. Def call a service tech to check it out first. 

Hi @Michael Craig Piesnikowski,

I agree with @Shaun C. - we're amidst a cold spell the likes of which the Northeast hasn't seen in two decades. If the unit is well-sealed(you can check for drafts by walking around with a candle and seeing if/when the flame blows(super-cheap way,) or get an energy inspection(more $$)) and insulated(double-pane windows at least, proper wall insulation- and maybe ceiling too? I'm not well enough versed in building practices to know whether or not this is standard or smart) then I don't think you'll have this problem again this year, and maybe not even for a few years.

So if there are no problems in the two aforementioned areas, the cheapest solution would be electric baseboard heat. Maybe stick a small(700 watt) unit in each bedroom, making sure that the electrical system can handle it. Each one of those would cost about fifty cents to run for an evening- so if the residents have to run them for 2 or 3 days each year, it shouldn't present any problems. 

@Shaun C. , @Matthew Paul , @Joshua Tobin , and @Michael Gansberg  thank you all for the feedback. I will have the conversation with the tenants about supplemental heating until the permanent fix (really like the idea of using an electric baseboard for when temperatures plummet and would like to avoid replacing the boiler- the boiler installed in 2013). In the mean time I will plastic the windows, insulate the piping to and from the boiler and seal off any other drafty areas. 

Thanks again for the feedback.

If the unit is not carpeted, spring for a Rug Buddy heater.  They cost about $300.  They are electric heaters that go under room sized rugs, and act as a poor man's radiant floor heater.  Roll it up come springtime, and stash in a closet.

The cold snap will be gone in a week or two.  

What you are describing sounds odd for a boiler . if the other areas are getting enough heat , it sounds like a flow problem .  Boiler temps can be adjusted with the high low limit switch .  

How long have you owned the property? Did you have any of these heating issues last year when it was say 15 or 20 degrees out? 

Before I'd replace the boiler, I'd look into one of those split vac (ductless) systems. I've almost pulled the trigger on them a couple of times but haven't yet.

If its just the heat thats the problem thats even better. I think they're much cheaper if heat only (as opposed to heat and ac). Better than space heaters for sure. 

Sins talk pipe insulation on all the heating pipes in the basement and seal every little crack you can find. You can also turn up the water temp on your boiler.

@Michael Craig Piesnikowski

Start with basics first before throwing money at a problem that may be a simple fix. 

First, check your boiler's operating temperature. To get the maximum BTU output from your baseboard heaters, your boiler should be producing 180 - 200 degree water temperature. If not, turn up the high limit control. Go no higher than 200 to prevent creating steam.

Second, make sure that all of the baseboard heat has sufficient airflow through the fins. This means you need to make sure that the dampers at the top opening of the enclosures are open, if you have them. Your also need to make sure that the bottom openings are clear. I have very often seen new carpeting installed that blocks half of the bottom opening. Reduced airflow through the baseboard means reduced heat into the room. Also make sure the fins are clear. Dirt and debris can accumulate inside the baseboard over the years.

Third, check the total linear footage of baseboard in the space. The average BTU output of standard baseboard is 500 BTU's per foot of fin. Multiply your total footage by 500 to get the total BTU output to the space at 180 degree water temperature. Next calculate the square footage of your space. A very rough rule of thumb is that you should have 30 - 50 BTU's per square foot depending on how well constructed and insulated the space is. 

If the boiler was new in 2013 I don't know why you think it's not efficient?? It sounds like a zone valve. Do you have thermostats in each unit? Put your hand on top of the baseboard and see if it's hot when boiler is running. The pipes going to all 3 units should be to hot to hold your hand on, 180 deg. If one is cold/warm than water flow is the problem. Probably a zone valve. There is usually a manual lever on the zone valve that you can actuate with you finger to open the valve. Do the pipes get hot then? If so, zone valve. You do not have to change out the valve that's soldered in the pipes, you can just replace the electrical part. Disconnect 2-3 wires with a screwdriver and 2 screws that hold the electrical part to the mechanical part. 5 minutes.

A new boiler will be, at most, 17% more thermally efficient than what you have now. The payback on that install will be measured in decades...

What is the boiler running on?  If it's gas, you can always install one of those Williams space heaters (I prefer the non direct-vented kind as they can run without electricity).  They go up to about 65000 BTUs in size and you can get them for a grand or so at the box stores.  There aren't too many moving parts and are pretty bullet proof.  I use them as the primary heating source for my units under 800 sq. ft.

Watch out for freezing pipes on Saturday night.  When it got to -13 two years ago, I had two newly-purchased buildings that had pipes freeze and one of them burst.  Was not fun. The forecast is similar to those conditions.

If you need a recommendation on a good boiler guy, PM me.

We have a very OLD boiler/hydronic system that is still very efficient relatively speaking. However, your issue sounds more like an air lock in the system. Check the ARV's for corrosion etc., as it's imperative that the air/gases generated are passively removed. I have had to replace a few of these over the years because of the hard water deposits generated by high heat.

@Michael Craig Piesnikowski First step would be to have a HVAC professional out there to diagnose what the issue might be. It may be a simple fix and you are worrying about nothing.

Get all of the info you need to make the most informed decision and take it from there. You will get this sorted out before the 1st.

@Michael Craig Piesnikowski that is too cold at 58F and will make the new tenant very unhappy. I would invest in a supplemental heater, such as an infrared heater. They are fairly efficient for electric and can heat good size areas. Have it available on site if there is an issue. At the same time work to resolve the heating system problem. Whether that is repair, upgrade or replace, you need to have the area properly heated with your standard system. It was -20F last week here and my furnace kept up fine without running continuously. 

Of course heat rises, so the downstairs will always be harder to control than an upstairs. The system can be adjusted to account for this.

As far as heat loss, windows are a major source of heat loss. If they have not been updated to double pain windows, that could help substantially. You can get an energy audit to see what needs to be addressed.

@Michael Craig Piesnikowski

To add onto some good ideas listed above, the older homes are more inefficient which only means there are more opportunities to increase the efficiency. I'd suggest getting an energy audit. Especially if the boiler is only a few years old. 

National Grid has this link featuring a no cost energy audit - can't hurt. 

In addition, here are some more resources about increasing energy efficiency in older homes.

Otherwise, good luck this weekend. It'll be cold.

@Michael Craig Piesnikowski

Just to add something else you could check out. The boiler system creates air and the air can get stuck in the pipes preventing an adequate amount of water flow. 

I have to pump the air out of my system each year or else one of my units will not get the amount of water needed to heat the apartment. 

If you feel comfortable trying it, search for a video that matches your boiler. Here is an example of one.

@Tom W. awesome breakdown. Boiler output temperature is >180 and baseboards have sufficient air flow. I found the base board linear footage is about 30-50% shy of where it needs to be (I have a 1,000ft^2 unit). Looking into other heating options such as replacing current baseboards with Ecostyle baseboards (~1,200 BTU's per foot), installing two radiators in the apartment or installing electric baseboard. Note that the boiler is rated for 75,000 BTU's/hr, there is still plenty capacity left in it.

Create Lasting Wealth Through Real Estate

Join the millions of people achieving financial freedom through the power of real estate investing

Start here