Separate Hot Water / Heating

15 Replies

Ok, so any suggestions on how best to solve these issues:

This property is a triplex (maybe quad with an efficiency), converted from a SFR, so it's got one hot water heater for the whole building, and one temperature control (hot water / steam radiant heating) for the whole building located in the second unit.

I'm thinking the cheapest way to provide enough hot water to the whole building is to replace the hot water heater with a 200 first hour rating hot water heater so I don't have to mess with the plumbing too much.

For the heat, I don't know if it's easy enough to separate the heat out to each unit, if not, my thought was to just leave the temp at say 62, and not give them access to the temp control, and let them get space heaters to make up the difference. The other thought is I could give them all control of the thermostat, leave it in the common area, and let them all collectively set the temp, but that seems like a recipe for war. A third thought is to just put in electric baseboard heaters in each unit, and either let it work in tandem with the existing radiant heating, or just shut that off entirely.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Electric baseboard for the heating issue.

No major installation issues and shouldn't cost more than $1800/apartment professionally done.

For the hot water heaters you are probably going to have to suck it up and install 2 more.  Shouldn't cost more than $1600 for the heaters.  I'd imagine the plumbing wouldn't run more than another $1000.

Get in contact with your local weatherization contractors as well.  There may be programs in your area that allow you to insulate houses for free or next to free.  In my neck of the woods, there is a program that allows landlords with "low income" tenants to insulate their properties and it is paid for by the organization.

@John Matthews  

I would deviate a little from @Aaron Montague  .

Electric resistance heaters or ductless mini-split would be the way to heat (the mini-split would also give your AC).

I would also price the cost of separating the water feeds to each unit - i.e. a separate run from a manifold in the basement/equipment room to each unit. as it will make it possible to sub-meter the water.  I would also plan to install a separate hot-water heater for each unit.

1(506) 471-4126

@Roy N.  

How does the ductless mini-split work for heating?  I found all sorts of things on the AC version of mini-split.  Is there a combination system available?

You and I are talking about the same thing on the Electric Baseboard, correct? Resistance heat via baseboard like the ones mentioned here: Energy.gov

@Aaron Montague  

Yes, electric resistance heaters are generally baseboard, but they are also available in wall-mount versions.   As an improvement on this technology, we have a test installation using electric resistance thermal storage units ... essentially larger baseboards filled with bricks as a thermal mass.   The baseboard consumes most of its electricity during off-peak hours and stores the heat energy in the thermal mass ... releasing it during the peak hours with occasional firing to maintain the temperature of the storage mass.

Ductless heat pumps work well for heating, even in the Canadian far north!  They can be 300+% times more efficient than electric resistance heating.  We are using a Mitsubishi model with a Heating Season Performance Factor {HSPF} of 13.5 (highest we've found on the market).  It will operate with a coefficient of performance (COP) >1:1 down to -25C (~-15F) and at -10C (~15F) it has a COPS >2:1; at freezing the COPs is around 3:1.   Electric baseboard is always 1:1.

On top of that the unit provides air conditioning in the summer with a SEER rating of 30, which is more efficient than the through-wall air conditioner it is displacing.

1(506) 471-4126

@Roy N.  

Those Mitsubishi ductless heat units look awesome.  

How many outdoor units do I need?  If I went this route I'd be adding ~10 indoor units.

@Aaron Montague  

The number of indoor to outdoor units will depend on the model series.    The MSZ-FH models we are using are single headed systems, but the MXZ-#B models are multi-headed.

If your 10 indoor units are each in different units, you might consider a single-headed model per unit.   Within a single unit, your layout will determine how many heads you should have ... or if it would be effective to use a ductless at all {too many small rooms tend to reduce the effectiveness, particularly if doors are closed frequently}

We have several 2-bdrm, 2-story units which we have remodelled to be very open downstairs (kitchen, living room, dining area) with two bedrooms upstairs.  We install a single headed system downstairs which heats the entire downstairs and, when the bedroom doors are open, will keep the upstairs warm as well.  By code, we still have electric baseboards for auxiliary heat (bathroom, each bedroom, one in the dining area between kitchen and living room).

The upfront costs were a little more (units are ~1800 - 2400 CAD, they'd be less in the U.S.A.), but we are able to rent these units with utilities included if we choose and, if we charged the going rate for utilities on a 2-bdrm ($160/mth), we'd be ahead another $60 - $70/mth.

1(506) 471-4126

@Roy N.  

Excellent information and description, thank you.  My intention is to put the entire bill on the tenant, hopefully with decent controls.  So I think I'll stick to what my electrician knows :)

Awesome, I had considered electric baseboard, but didn't think about a ductless head pumps - good call. I wonder how easy it would be to route the refrigerant from the outdoor unit to the indoor unit(s) though.

Similarly, @Aaron Montague  and @Roy N.  do you really think it'd be that cheap to separate the hot water heat for each unit? The hot water heaters is one thing, but I can't imagine it's too easy to split the plumbing...but I guess it is. 

Either way, the whole thing is moot since the house that I'm talking about has potentially expensive foundation issues so if the seller can't decrease the price I'm going to have to back out.

Thanks for the advice!

Originally posted by @John Matthews :

Awesome, I had considered electric baseboard, but didn't think about a ductless head pumps - good call. I wonder how easy it would be to route the refrigerant from the outdoor unit to the indoor unit(s) though.

Similarly, @Aaron Montague  and @Roy N. do you really think it'd be that cheap to separate the hot water heat for each unit? The hot water heaters is one thing, but I can't imagine it's too easy to split the plumbing...but I guess it is. 

Either way, the whole thing is moot since the house that I'm talking about has potentially expensive foundation issues so if the seller can't decrease the price I'm going to have to back out.

Thanks for the advice!

John:

How the plumbing is run in a converted multi-unit is something I check whenever I look at one.   It is common to find a separate hot-water feed to each unit if the water heaters are located the basement or a mechanical room.  However it is also common to find the cold water feed snaking from unit to unit rather than there being a direct run from a manifold in the basement,  

Can it be changed?  Certainly!   Can it be changed cost effectively?  Maybe, it will depend on how the cold water presently reaches each unit.   We have an old Victorian which has been converted into 5-units (we have just recently received the nod from City planning to convert and extend a garage and former common laundry room into a sixth unit).  All the hot water tanks are located in the basement and there are direct hot water runs to each unit.  The cold-water snakes back and forth between units; more than once in many instances.  As we renovate each unit, we are capping the snake and pulling a new cold water feed.   In 3-4 years we should have independent runs in-place and will be able to sub-meter water.

1(506) 471-4126

PA law requires 68 F if landlord controls the heat, so nix that one thought you had. 

@Steve Babiak  Good to know - thanks Steve. Can you point me to where you found that, btw?

Fyi... when buying the mini split... if you are in a below freezing area make sure the heater has a defroster.  I made the mistake and bought a unit that didn't have the defroster option and the unit locks up into a block of ice the few times the temp drops low.


Frank

Frank Romine, Real Estate Agent in CA (#01957844)

I'm running into this same problem. I'm in contract for a triplex with one oil tank/boiler.   The heating expense during the winter months is $400-$500.  I cash flow well despite this expense.    I'll be living in the building as well; trying to weigh out my options now. And Gas is not available

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