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heat options for condo/apartments

svisek Member Posts: 3
I am on the board of a condo community in the Philadelphia suburbs and

we are looking for info re: heat options.  We have 5 buildings with

12-35 condos per building for a total of 101 units.  (About half the

condos are in 2 buildings with central hallways, the other half are in

the 3 buildings comprised of a series of quads of 4 condos per entrance.)  The

buildings were built c. 1960 as apartments and the community converted

to be condos in the mid '80s.  Condos are 1 and 2 bedroom condos 650-750

sf or so.  Each building has a gas fired boiler that sends hot water

through pipes to radiators in each condo (each condo has one zone

valve).  Each building also has a gas powered water heater.  Our boilers

and distribution system is old and inefficient and we are wondering

what we could do.  We are having outages often and owners/residents are

understandably upset.  Going to new boilers in each building would be

very expensive($30-$40k per building) and then we'd still have the old

distribution system.  We lose a lot of heat in the pipes(some run in the

floors/ceiling in the hallways and so the hallways are hot and the

condos struggle to get enough heat).

We are wondering about many options, such as replacing the through the

wall a/c units(2 per condo) with units that provide a/c and heat, or

perhaps electric radiators, or perhaps an individual hot water heater

per condo that also sends hot water heaters to the radiators in that

condo, or cove mounted IR panels like Comfort Cove, etc.  Whatever we do

will need 2/3 of the owners to agree as it would require changes to the

governing documents of the association.  Electric is metered

individually per condo, but heat/hot water/cold water are provided by

the association and paid for in the condo fees.  Owners pay an average

of over $280/month in condo fees; total gas cost annually for heat/hot

water runs between $70-$75k, or around $60/condo per month.  We estimate

at least $60k/yr of the gas expense is for heating the individual

condos, the rest for hot water.

I would appreciate any advice.   Thank you.


  • Tim_75
    Tim_75 Member Posts: 44
    Best advice

    I can offer you, given the size and complexity of your question, is to seek out and find a local "expert" (an experienced enregy/controls/HVAC engineer) to provide a real analysis of the options and the energy consumption.

    I would estimate that the electrical work required to wire up 101 plus electrical heating/cooling units will cost far more than upgrading to modulating/condensing boilers and retrofitting VFDs to each system circulation pump (this would be my recommendation, without knowing any details. Newer boilers will use 20% less gas, and pumps changed to variable flow will use from 30 to 50% less energy than CV pumps).

    The boilers may be old and/or inefficient and the distribution system may also be inefficient. With modern controls and advances in energy efficiency, upgrading the hot water system and pumps will show the greatest cost and energy savings.

    If the goal is simply to shift the cost from the association to the occupants, the PTAC option is porbably the best way to go. These are the units typically used in hotel rooms. They are not very efficient and not really very effective. IF I were an owner and you tried to force this on me, litigation would be on the horizon.

    Heat loss in the building corridors and hallways is still in the building, but with proper insulation, that problem is easily solved. There may be other issues that only a sight survey could reveal.

    Ultimately, someone with the experience to see the problems and offer various solutions to meet your needs should survey the property and make recommendations. A consultant should be able to provide this service for a reasonable fee.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    Philadelphia condo problems

    when you say you have frequent outages, is that because of some mechanical failure, or electrical interruption? has the maintainance been preventative, or merely "wait until it breaks, then fix it"?

    i agree with tim that a site visit from a reputable consultant/installer would be necessary. why not use the "find a pro" button here. type in the name of your location, instead of relying on the zipcode feature. use as wide an area, in terms of distance as possible.

    when you have the names, then do a search for posting by name. you can tell quite a bit about the knowlege, and personality from the words written by someone.

     you may even find someone in the next state-say maryland., who would travel.--nbc
  • svisek
    svisek Member Posts: 3
    heat options for condo/apartments

    Thanks.  We will look into finding an expert to guide us.

    By the way, I don't think going to the through-the-wall a/c w/heat units would be an electrical issue.  They are a direct slide in replacement of the existing a/c units(currently 2 per condo, one in the living room and one in the bedroom), cost under $400ea. delivered, and use the same plug and as the a/c units.  They require a 15 amp breaker and all the breakers in the condos are between 15 and 40 amps, so I believe they can handle that.  We don't have any issue with all the present a/c units running in the summer.  Guess I don't see what he electrical issue would be, but I'm no expert.  I am concerned about cost to run these units.

    We have several desires:

    1) reliability - currently there are frequent breakdowns that leave entire buildings without heat

    2) efficiency = bang for the buck; old system is inefficient, though we did add computer controls which helped some; community heat means residents(especially renters) don't really care about conserving

    3) no control - people feel powerless, vs. if each condo had its own individual system and the resident paid for their use, they would not only conserve but also would be able to quickly fix their own problems and problems in one condo would not affect others
  • svisek
    svisek Member Posts: 3
    heat options for condo/apartments

    Issues are mostly mechanical, though some electric issues with the boilers and their systems.

    We have a maintenance man who does minor things as the HVAC companies are very expensive and they seem to view us as their ATM.  We have a maintenance contract with a big local HVAC firm that does not seem to prevent any problems but is just another expense.

    The previous company got canned because storage tanks they installed weren't up to the requirements of the PA gov't.  Also they charged us for computer controls that they never put in.

    Current company is better but they still don't seem to have a handle on the systems....none of the 5 buildings is the same.

    I question spending a lot of money on the current system or far more on new boilers only to have the same basic problem.....people not controlling and paying for their own system and then feeling powerless and getting angry and screaming at management and the board.  200 of the through the wall a/c w/heat units would run $70k-$75k, far less than the $200k+ to replace the old boilers(and that doesn't begin to address the old distribution system).  We need an expert to guide us, but I can't see the logic of staying with community heat.

    Also I lost a tenant over the heat issue, which cost me $3000 in repairs and lost rent.  Makes me wonder if it is better to spend $800 per condo to put in two through the wall a/c w/heat units and then decommission the boilers; we'd be looking at $60/month reduction in condo fees, which I could pass on to the tenants and be free of so many headaches and not lose any more tenants.  I'd like to consider giving the owners the option of opting out of the heating system and provide their own systems(whatever they want to do inside their units) in exchange for a reduction in their fees.  I just don't see the attraction of owning a condo but being forced to be a slave to the current system.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    curing outages

    when you say that your "maintainance man" is mr. fixit with the system, and you still have "outages", would it not be better to try and get a better handle on the preventive maintainance of the system?

    of course, hiring professional service people who really know what they are doing has a cost associated with it, but then so does relying on the handyman mr."outages". you yourself have suffered unecessary cost because, i suspect, of these inadequate service personel. most likely, it is not even the fault of mr. "outages", as he is merely following the unspoken directives of the organisation: spend no money, use duct tape, etc.

    i think all your group needs to do is to start undoing  the lack of maintainance in this system, and suffer no more "outages".  the hardware on the heating side at least is pretty long-lived, with attention.

    hot-water heating is so much cheaper than electric [unless you are in quebec!]--nbc
  • Gordan
    Gordan Member Posts: 891
    Not to mention...

    A cheap-o through-the-wall reversible A/C in an old and likely poorly insulated, drafty building in the Philadelphia area... the odds that you'd be giving your tenants control over anything remotely related to their comfort just don't seem very good. You get what you pay for, if you're lucky.
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