General Landlording & Rental Properties

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Elliot Cole
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Las Vegas, NV
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Best way to reduce duplex boiler heating expense?

Elliot Cole
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Las Vegas, NV
Posted Sep 19 2019, 06:35

I own a duplex where I pay heat for the property. As an added quirk, the downstairs unit contains the thermostat for both units. The boiler is the only thing in the property using gas and last year my bill was over $2600. I've priced out upgrading to a high efficiency model and the quotes vary from $5,000-$11,000. An alternative proposed by a recent HVAC company was $1100 to flush the system, bleed the radiators, and leave the existing boiler in place, but install an ecobee wifi thermostat where I can set the max allowable temperature remotely. Which options make the most sense and what sort of pricing is reasonable?

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Charles Carillo
  • Rental Property Investor
  • North Palm Beach, FL
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Charles Carillo
  • Rental Property Investor
  • North Palm Beach, FL
Replied Sep 19 2019, 07:05

@Elliot Cole

If you are going to replace the boiler, I would add another one for the other unit. The gas company will add another meter and your tenants can pay for heat themselves. Yes, this is expensive, but it will add to the value of your property. The next issue is telling your tenants. Maybe don't raise their rent for 1-2 years if they stay once the heat is separated and paid by themselves. Do you know any plumbers? I would speak to them first and see what they would say for running lines etc. before making an decisions. 

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Elliot Cole
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Las Vegas, NV
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Elliot Cole
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Las Vegas, NV
Replied Sep 19 2019, 08:22

@Charles Carillo

I like the suggestion, but your point about the expense is my biggest concern. Adding a second boiler and splitting the gas would be great, but it’s upwards of $20K+. I’m not sure the payback period justifies it. 

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Russ B.
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  • Cleveland, OH
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Russ B.
  • Investor
  • Cleveland, OH
Replied Sep 19 2019, 08:38

Splitting a steam system into two boilers sounds expensive.. Lots of giant metal pipes to move around. It may also be possible to convert to two hot water systems (depends on the age and design of your system), but either option is gonna be harder with people living there. 

How do your windows and doors look? If they're old wooden ones, replacing them could offer way more bang for your buck than a new boiler. Insulation is another easy thing to do.

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Peter Tverdov
  • Real Estate Broker
  • New Brunswick, NJ
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Peter Tverdov
  • Real Estate Broker
  • New Brunswick, NJ
Replied Sep 19 2019, 10:38

My first thought would be to check the windows and doors. You can have the best system but if air is escaping through old windows and doors...all for naught!

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Tom S.
  • Real Estate Investor
  • Burlington, VT
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Tom S.
  • Real Estate Investor
  • Burlington, VT
Replied Sep 19 2019, 10:53

@Elliot Cole  Or just raise the rent slightly and note that heat is included?  For $2600 for the year, that's only $100 per month for each unit to cover almost all of it.  

I have a 5 unit and advertise it that way, that heat is included with rent.  I've had no problems finding tenants to pay slightly higher rent and my expense is covered.

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Chris R.
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Southern NH
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Chris R.
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Southern NH
Replied Sep 20 2019, 04:04

Hey Elliot...we have the exact same setup in our triplex and have taken the same route with getting quotes on new heat options that were plain astronomical in price. We did 2 things to solve the issue.  First I installed a Nest thermostat that I control and it tops out at 68°. Second, we did what Tom did and added $125/mo for heat. I sell it as stabilized heat cost where their monthly bill never spikes during the colder months. It’s worked out well so far and tenants seem happy with the arrangement. The key is to sell it up front at the showing and people’s expectations are well managed before they sign the lease. 

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Owen Dashner
  • Investor
  • Omaha, NE
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Owen Dashner
  • Investor
  • Omaha, NE
Replied Sep 20 2019, 04:39

Why not just ditch the boiler and upgrade your panel and have an electric furnace installed?  Boom, no more paying for utilities.  I just did this at a 4 plex I own.  Even adding ductwork and framing/drywall/paint is going to be less than what you would pay to add another boiler.

Either that, or start charging utility billbacks to the tenants to offset the costs.

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Elliot Cole
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Las Vegas, NV
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Elliot Cole
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Las Vegas, NV
Replied Sep 20 2019, 06:38
Originally posted by @Chris R.:

Hey Elliot...we have the exact same setup in our triplex and have taken the same route with getting quotes on new heat options that were plain astronomical in price. We did 2 things to solve the issue.  First I installed a Nest thermostat that I control and it tops out at 68°. Second, we did what Tom did and added $125/mo for heat. I sell it as stabilized heat cost where their monthly bill never spikes during the colder months. It’s worked out well so far and tenants seem happy with the arrangement. The key is to sell it up front at the showing and people’s expectations are well managed before they sign the lease. 

Thanks, Chris. This feels like to most cost effective approach. Do each of your tenants have their own thermostat or is there one thermostat for the whole property?

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Elliot Cole
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Las Vegas, NV
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Elliot Cole
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Las Vegas, NV
Replied Sep 20 2019, 06:41
Originally posted by @Owen Dashner:

Why not just ditch the boiler and upgrade your panel and have an electric furnace installed?  Boom, no more paying for utilities.  I just did this at a 4 plex I own.  Even adding ductwork and framing/drywall/paint is going to be less than what you would pay to add another boiler.

Either that, or start charging utility billbacks to the tenants to offset the costs.

That would be ideal, especially given I could add AC and market the property at a higher rate, but that's something I'd hold off on until I renovate one or both of the units. 

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Chris R.
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Southern NH
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Chris R.
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Southern NH
Replied Sep 20 2019, 06:42

We have one thermostat...not ideal but the Nest seems to do the trick for all units. The key is the top temperature limit...otherwise you’ll show up in the winter and tenants are in t-shirts and shorts. True $tory!

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Elliot Cole
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Las Vegas, NV
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Elliot Cole
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Las Vegas, NV
Replied Sep 20 2019, 12:38

@Chris R.

Same here, and the thermostat is with a tenant who isn’t too energy efficient. Thanks for the tip!

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Chris R.
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Southern NH
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Chris R.
  • Rental Property Investor
  • Southern NH
Replied Oct 7 2019, 13:39

@Elliot Cole, yeah it’s really the only way to go. Give me a shout if you want to chat more. It’s been a circus up till now!