Splitting Oil-Powered Hot Water Radiator?

5 Replies

I just had an accepted offer on a 3-story 2-family house in Connecticut (2br first floor, 3-4br flex on the second/third floors) and in checking out the basement, all utilities were split besides heat, which is powered by oil and has hot water radiators on each floor. Is there any way to meter this seperately? I feel like that'd be a huge PITA given that oil isn't on-demand but delivered to fill the tank, so I'm guessing figuring out the average monthly cost and building that into the rent is best, but this is my first rental property and I'm terrified a tenant will take advantage of that and run the heat high all winter. Potentially considering converting to seperately-metered natural gas if it's at all possible, but struggling to find more info online about that, and not sure it'd be worth the initial install cost over the next couple years (for me, anyways). Would love to hear how others have dealt with this before! It's a solid B+ property in a C neighborhood, DS unit roughly 850/mo, US one 1200/mo.

@David A. Depending on how the plumbing is run, it may be possible to add another boiler and tank. Are there hot water heaters for each apartment or does that hot water come from the boilers as well?

I have a four family with a single gas boiler heating the units. The rents are higher than units that do not include heat. I don't think my tenants are taking advantage of the heat, but maybe they are. I installed programmable thermostats and set them to 72 degrees. The tenants can change it if they want to. You can set it to different temperatures throughout the day and it changes automatically. If you thought tenants were taking advantage of the heat, you could put lock boxes over the thermostats so that they couldn't mess with the heat. 

Originally posted by @Mat O'Grady:

@David A. Depending on how the plumbing is run, it may be possible to add another boiler and tank. Are there hot water heaters for each apartment or does that hot water come from the boilers as well?

I have a four family with a single gas boiler heating the units. The rents are higher than units that do not include heat. I don't think my tenants are taking advantage of the heat, but maybe they are. I installed programmable thermostats and set them to 72 degrees. The tenants can change it if they want to. You can set it to different temperatures throughout the day and it changes automatically. If you thought tenants were taking advantage of the heat, you could put lock boxes over the thermostats so that they couldn't mess with the heat. 

 Thanks for the response! I really need to get back in (inspecting next week) to verify, but IIRC, each unit has a natural gas-powered hot water heater which is separated from the heating system. On the first floor, there are pipes going up the sides of each of the windows where a radiator is located to shoot water up to the second & third floors. 

I like your idea of a lockbox over a thermostat - I've never seen that in a home (/apartment). I used to live in NYC where all the radiators were just twisted on or off at the base (with some control over how much heat is supposedly released), no thermostats. In this house, IIRC, each of the units has their own thermostat.

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@David A., converting to gas probably isn't tough, but splitting between the units likely will be difficult. Usually the pipe runs straight up to both units. Only way to know for sure will be to get a pro in there to take a look.

Yes, if heat is included the tenants are going to take advantage. You can count on that. A few things to consider:

  1. What are the fuel costs? Get the actual cost from the current owner and work that into your analysis. 
  2. What about hot water? Is that separate?
  3. You might want to consider installing mini-splits. That would put the heat on the tenant, plus offer A/C in the Summer, which could be a real competitive advantage.
  4. The most important question to answer is does this deal still make sense with the heating costs taken into account? If not, pull out or renegotiate.
Originally posted by @Jaysen Medhurst:

@David A., converting to gas probably isn't tough, but splitting between the units likely will be difficult. Usually the pipe runs straight up to both units. Only way to know for sure will be to get a pro in there to take a look.

Yes, if heat is included the tenants are going to take advantage. You can count on that. A few things to consider:

  1. What are the fuel costs? Get the actual cost from the current owner and work that into your analysis. 
  2. What about hot water? Is that separate?
  3. You might want to consider installing mini-splits. That would put the heat on the tenant, plus offer A/C in the Summer, which could be a real competitive advantage.
  4. The most important question to answer is does this deal still make sense with the heating costs taken into account? If not, pull out or renegotiate.

Appreciate your thoughts! The house is a foreclosure and I won't be able to get any heating info from the bank or past owners, very likely. That being said, it's in great condition and I'm getting it for a steal, so the numbers make sense for me either way. Given the likely cap on reasonable rents, I don't think installing mini-splits and offering AC with the units would be a ROI for this one :(

I'm including a picture below of what the pipes look like, but there are two separate pipes going upstairs (this picture is from the first floor) on either side of the radiator. I don't know much about forced water when it comes to HVAC, but I'm hoping that means that separating this might not be a huge nightmare. Even considering throwing in a second oil tank, but I still feel like converting to natural gas would be much cheaper than that. The hot water for plumbing is (I *believe*) separate from the forced hot water for the radiator.

@David A., the domestic HW is definitely separate from the radiators, they're never mixed, though one furnace may be handling all of it.

Those pipes are an encouraging sign. The two pipes are likely supply and return to one radiator, just like the once coming out of the unit in front of the window. More investigation is necessary. 

It's definitely worth calling the gas company about converting. They often offer rebates when you do. In theory, you can get two high-efficiency combi boilers, which would handle both heating and HW. There are limitations, but worth exploring.

I wouldn't go with the 2nd oil tank idea. You'd still need to add a second furnace, plus the extra tank. Gas is just a whole lot easier all around.

BTW: where is this property located?