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Foreclosure Questions / Checklist?


I recently stumbled onto this forum a few days ago and like anything I have been devouring reading many threads.  (much to the chagrin of my wife)

Here is my situation.  Looking for advice and help.

I am not very handy (I know my limits), so I will not be doing the work myself.

Here is the situation.  My wife and I recently came across a foreclosure that we love except for the reason that its still on the market is concerns/unknown is regarding a its boiler/radiators. 

The house is 4700 Sq ft made up of 2 levels and a partially finished attic.  There are a total of 17 boilers in the house and it is 101 years old using water not steam.  The boiler unit itself is probably less than 10 years old but we do not know if it works.  Based on calls to the local utility company it appears that the last gas charges were approximately $250/month and that was in Dec 2009 at which point it has dropped down to $5.00/month.  However the house was not foreclosed until July 2011 and was winterized in Nov 2011, but may have not been done correctly. 

When the realtor got the house in March 2012 she went inside and found considerable mold in the basement walls (not near the boiler but in other old walls).  The basement floor has hardwood floors that are original but don't appear to be bowed so I don't think there was standing water down there in the winter.  There appears to be no other damage in the house. 

Per a discussion with the selling agent when they attempted to start the unit up in March they determined that 11 of the radiators were cracked but were unable to even determine if the boiler works.  My wife and I would like to keep the radiator system and maybe add a A/C system (high velocity if possible).

We have been told that we can select a HVAC guy to come out and look it over for us/give us a general budget on cost to replace.  My question is what should we be asking for specifically?  Also, if the radiators are damaged does that mean that the pipes in the walls are damaged as well and therefore we'd have to either replace those or go to a forced air system?  Thoughts/comments?


  • scott markle_2
    scott markle_2 Member Posts: 611
    Cast iron rads

    I hate what banks and the investment class have done to this country and feel very sad for those pressed into forcosure.

    More to the point- cast iron radiators (quality American made) are very expensive. A few large ones could easily be as expensive as the boiler it self. The 100 year old pipes may very well have sustained damage as well fixing these large threaded pipes that are probably concealed behind historic plaster could also easaly exceed the cost of the boiler.

    You won't know the full extent of the damage until you own the problem, if you can afford to heat and maintain a 4k sq. ft. historic house than I would not be sweating the details, consider the system a total loss and you won't be disappointed. If your hoping to get a deal on a forcosure, you are obviously aware that the kind of uncertainties that concern you are the very reason you may just get a deal.... It's a risk assessment game. I don't think we have hit the bottom of this economic mess so in my opinion the the boiler is kind of a moot point.
  • scott markle_2
    scott markle_2 Member Posts: 611

    Sorry for the previous digression,

    Its hard to give good advice with limited information, and honestly unless your Hvac outfit has the time (compensation) to pressure test and determin the extent of the damage they will also be operating with less information than is needed. This is why I recomend pricing a total replacment. Rebuilding a gravity system would be incredibly expensive, I would ask about home run pex, thermal radiator valves, condensing boilers (do you have natural gas) and outdoor reset controls. Not exactly historic but also consider runtle or quality panel radiators. Most here shun forced air, they like to call it scorched air, it also very difficult to build a well ballenced air distribution system in a existiing structure without a lot of aesthetic compromise and disruptive work. Good luck sorry for the guilt trip on the foreclosure thing.
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 2,246
    consider the system a total loss and you won't be disappointed

    Good advice. But I don't blame banks or investors. Nobody should buy anything they can't afford. I'd specify overhead distribution with individual tubes to each terminal. Those don't have to be in same location as original radiators.
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    Thanks and a little more color on why

    Thanks for the response.

    We live in Wisconsin, near Madison.  While I agree with you about the economy in general, this area has held up pretty well and actually the housing market has been improving.  What is surprising is that according to our realtors homes that are over 50 years in this market (outside downtown Madison) get a 20-30% discount on a per sq ft basis vs newer construction.  Radiant heat is another 10% discount.  In our current local economy the local MLS is set up by county and the town this is in is 5 minutes in the next county and also a different MLS so there is a different price disparity as well as most miss this town/county.  This town in particular has a very strange housing stock in that there are three distinct price ranges/quality.   A large amount of 80-110 year housing in various stages of quality.   Many were chopped into 2 family units and are slowly being converted back.  The prior owners did this in 2006 to this house as they turned it into a small B&B (4 bedrooms and owners bedroom in finished attic space.  Most homeowners will not look at these homes as there is no garage or detached to an alley.  Then there is some housing stock that is from the 70s as the town naturllly grew and there is good demand for these homes.  Then in the 90s access to this town improved as a 4 lane highway was built instead of some bad county roads in poor weather.  This lead to a bunch of cheap poor construction.  Now there is decent demand for new housing (!) in the last 12 months as many state that the cost of renovation is barely less than building new.  In fact that is what we were looking at. 

    Example: You can buy a 2 unit 90 year old home for $140k.

    New 1700 sq ft ranch for $280k

    1990's crap built for $220k. 

    A fully renovated home just down the block from the house we are interested in sold for $340k 3 months ago while this house is listed for $290k  so the price isn't crazy cheap.

    The home was purchased and turned into a B&B in a town where there is no tourism.  It failed, the owners seemed to have moved out in Dec 2009 but the house was not foreclosed until July 2011.  I don't blame the banks completely for what I think has happened as the owners business plan simply didn't make sense.

    You are correct in that my wife and I didn't think we could ever expect to own a home of this size.  Its why I am nervous.  We contacted the local utilities and were told in 2009 the average electric was $180-$240/month and nat gas was $240/month in the winter, no other info was available due to it being back in 2009.  My concern is that our only option may be to install forced air and a/c and the increased utility cost may be simply crazy. 

    My wife loves this house and therefore I believe that we will own this house.  We are not wanting to destroy the woodwork in the house but we are willing to update the registers to european style (I lived in Germany for 3 months for work) and liked the unit in the apartment as we have two small kids as my wife is concerned with burns from the old cast iron units.  Any thoughts/things I should look at?

    The house faces east with mature trees to the south so solar is out.  Speaking with a friend he though geothermal makes sense in a larger home.  Any other ideas that I should look into would be great.  Thanks for the great forum.
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    question about radiator crack/ mold on basement walls

    Our realtor just called us back with a little more detail on the state of the system. 

    The realtor stated that when she went downstairs to the basement there was mold on two interior walls, neither near the boiler. 

    When they couldn't get the system going she called a professional.  I doubt a specialist but a local plumbing guy.  They came to the conclusion that they couldn't get the boiler started due to issues with leaks in 11 of the 17 radiators.  When I went through the house I didn't see any damage.  We are seeing the building again on Saturday with our own heating/cooling guy.  Where would one normally see the cracking in the units? 

    Here is my whole concern and maybe my misunderstanding.  If the system had cracked wouldn't I see damage to the floors/walls near the radiators?  I have a general distrust of most realtors and have seen some dumb things such as cracked paint = cracked walls. 

    Thanks for putting up with my stupidity.  At this point, my wife wants this house so I have to figure out how to salvage this. 
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,569
    I think...

    I think you are best to consider the heating system a loss and start from there. You may get lucky and salvage some of it but it does not look good. Water expands with an incredible force when it freezes. If you find 11 cracks, I would plan on finding 3 times that many.

    In general, the cracks will be in places where the water in an area  has no place to expand to.  I would expect them along the long axis of the radiators and on the shorter lengths of supply and return piping.

    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • Sometimes you get lucky,

    And some lower level radiators popped before everything froze, so the system would drain out.  However, if 11 are known to be broken, you're probably out of luck.  If you are willing to move 2 hours south, we have our home on the market. It can be seen at thesaguinhouse.com. It's a big old 2 story in a small town completely restored and renovated with all new mechanical/electrical, except the period radiators.  Gas is only 1,000 per year, same with electric.  Not too bad with 3200 sq ft of living space on the 2 main floors with 800 sq ft of glass.
    The Steam Whisperer (Formerly Boilerpro)

    Chicago's Steam Heating Expert

    Noisy Radiators are a Cry for Help
  • Mark Eatherton
    Mark Eatherton Member Posts: 5,853
    edited July 2012
    Invisible damage...

    Cast iron radiators are put together in sections, like a loaf of bread. The energy exerted during freezing can approach 20,000 PSI. This is enough to push sections apart, allowing them to leak from the push nipples. Generally speaking, it is rare that the push nipples will save any damage, so upon closer inspection you will see small pooched pieces. If the make up water was turned off to the system, then the amount of water it would lose was limited to the quantity it held. That may not be enough to cause a major water damage that can be seen from the outside.

    It is virtually impossible to asses and diagnose a system of this size without having to expend time and energy (read $). I'd start with an air test first and find the low hanging fruits. If that proves fruitless, then resort to water pressure testing.

    As others have said, you might be better off to consider it a total loss and ask for concessions in the sale price to compensate for having to rebuild it. Hydronic heat is without a doubt one of THE most comfortable systems there is. The chances of being able to utilize a ground source heat pump system with an older cast iron distribution system is slim to none due to temperature limitations of the GSHP system. That and the cost of the vertical bore holes would probably take the hydronic approach out of monetary reach.

    Be prepared to pay for a test and report of the system, and yes, do not trust your realtor. They will say whatever you want to hear just to close the deal, then deny saying it when the crap hits the fan,

    As for mold in the basement, that may not even be related to the boiler/heating system failure. Especially this late in the season. But then again, you are in muggysville...

    EDIT: BTW, there are no such things as stupid questions. Just stupid mistakes made by intelligent people who were afraid to ask questions they deemed as silly... Thanks for taking the time to educate yourself, and others who are afraid to ask the questions.

    It's not so much a case of "You got what you paid for", as it is a matter of "You DIDN'T get what you DIDN'T pay for, and you're NOT going to get what you thought you were in the way of comfort". Borrowed from Heatboy.
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    Thanks everyone

    Thank you all for the help and understanding.

    When we walked through the house twice on the third floor (half finished/half attic space (called a playroom) there was a full bath.  My understanding is that when it was a B&B the owners lived in that room when they were full.  Tucked behind the bathroom wall around the stairs I noticed what appeared to be a small hot water heater, reading on here I now will assume that is the top of the gravity system. 

    Thinking about it further there were stickers on some of the radiators.  My guess is these were the ones that failed the test. 


    We are going back there this weekend.  My wife has convinced the local HVAC guy from a few towns over to come and give us an estimate for putting in ducts as that seems the most reasonable cost wise.  (1/3 to 1/2 the cost of fixing the current system + putting in a High velocity AC system).  The HVAC owner' father got the money to start the business from my wife's grandfather during the depression.  They do good work and we trust him. My Grandfather in law was the bank in the 1930s as all the other banks nearby had closed.  We currently live in that farmhouse and there is a 5 foot safe built into the walls at the end of the hallway (very cool) with all of the journals he kept on who owed him what and when each payment was made (due weekly).   

    Reading on here and googling your terminology used keeps me busy and I'm learning a ton. 

    I have a few follow up questions that I hope you can help me with.

    1.  This issue was found when this March they went to turn the unit on.  The system had been winterized the prior November.  I assume that part of winterization should have been to drain the system.  The selling agent told my agent that she discovered the issue when she went to start the unit up in March.  Wouldn't a professional had to have done that?  Adding water, etc. She states that they never tested the boiler.  Does that mean they did an air test?  

    Irregardless, I doubt it was drained properly as the property seems to have been empty from Jan 2010 through Nov 2011 when it was winterized. 


    Last question.  The interior of the building is in good shape so I won't be redo'ing the floors.  If this was your home what would you do?

    Here is the listing for the house.  Don't outbid me.  [u]http://wisconsinhomes.com/listing/1651807[/u]


    Also, recommend a book to me that I should read on this topic for the non-technical.  I'd like to support this website.  Which would be a favorite for an idiot like me. 
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 2,246
    taxes over 2% ?

    If this place were mine I'd trash the old hydronic system. Read Holohan's books on hydronic & steam heating. The former is maintenance free but the latter can't freeze. Modern hydonics can use smaller diameter flexible piping. It works better than undersized ducts.
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    Just about 2%

    Re Taxes:  Mill rate around here is just about 2%. 1.95 - 2.1%. 

    Property is assessed at $364k.  Last sale was in 2000/01 for $284 when it was then converted into a B&B.  I found documents that showed the B&B owners sold it for $640k in 2007 but my realtor thinks that is incorrect which is what led to the foreclosure.  If it was really $640k something was way wrong.  A house that shares the alleyway with attached garage (big bonus in Wis) and 4 bed/3 bath fully restored victorian just sold for $340 vs assessed value of $348k so I'd say its fair. 

    This house has big hallways when you enter and on the second floor that are large wasted space, imo.  I want to bump the bedroom walls out into this area and add closets.  2 of 4 bedrooms have no closet.  I'm thinking of closing off the 3 floor (5th bedroom/full bath (weird, no walls)/attic/kid play area to save on heating cooling. 

    I just ordered 'Hydronic Radiant Heating' as that seems the most useful for me.  If I understand you correctly, would you still use radiant with flexible piping?  What do you do with the old pipes?  Remove them or can you run the flex pipe through them?  Then what for AC? 
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger

    Thanks for the description.  It really helps. 

    GSHP - is another term for Geothermal, correct? 

    If I understand you correctly, you recommend dismantling the old system and then running a new system?  Would you even try to repair.  My thought process would be confirm the major issues via an air test.  If true then dump the system and go new.  Even though the house is a Victorian I like the new style (European) radiators.

    I've been thinking about this recently. The house I grew up in had wall/floor water heat, I then rented out east a second floor of a house with radiators that I couldn't control and sweated my **** out.  Our current farm house has ducts and thinking about it, I am very uncomfortable in it due to on/off nature described here.  Not the poor insulation like I was thinking.  I really don't want ducts for my heat.  Gotta figure out a solution.

    Can newer systems deliver cold water in the summer for cooling?  I mean we are talking Wisconsin here.  The biggest issue is humidity.
  • Options.....

    I'd shot for either hot water or steam radiant wall panels with TRV's(thermostatic radiator valves) for room by room control for your heat emitters.  

    For hot water: A simple multi loop supply and multi loop return for hot water probably using 3/8 or 1/2 inch copper or pex tubing to each unit should work. You should have full outdoor reset on the supply water temp and use a condensing boiler (reduced gas usage and boiler life and increased electrical usage and servicing cost) or a couple of conventional boilers ( much greater efficiency than single boiler and provides built in back up, but with increased fuel use (about 10 to 15%) over condensing boiler, but less electricity,longer life and reduced maintenance costs.  Hot water boilers in general tend to use a lot of proprietary parts, especially with the new efficiency standards.

    For steam, use a new copper mini tube system  or more conventional piping for two pipe steam to the radiant wall panels or period radiators that you can dig up locally, all equipped with TRVS.  One pipe steam could also be an option.  Use two boilers stage fired like above.  These boilers could be simple atmospheric (conventional) boilers, but in this configuration achieve much greater efficiency and be very very simple to maintain (almost no proprietary parts) and virtually no electrical usage.  The other option would be a more complex modulating steam boiler  that would automatically fine tune its capacity depending on how much heat the TRV's call for.  This boiler would likely use less gas, but use some electricity for the burner.

    For A/C the best choice, IMHO is a Ductless split systems  These can be had with individual room units or with mini ducted units to take care of a few rooms as a single zone.

    Eliminating the duct work from the home should reduce air leakage about 10% when not in use or 50%  when operating (these numbers are from huge study completed on ducted systems in homes and supported by other sources).
    The Steam Whisperer (Formerly Boilerpro)

    Chicago's Steam Heating Expert

    Noisy Radiators are a Cry for Help
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    Hydronic survey

    Definitely worth a good look. Get your HVAC friend to do a heat survey for heat-loss, and cooling. compare that needed heat-loss to the boiler rating, and most likely it will have been over-sized, and therefore in need of replacement anyway.

    The white radiators should make it easier to see evidence of leaking from between the sections with resulting rust stains. That would leave the leakage areas to the long horizontals in the basement.

    I agree that mini-splits would be the best solution here as even the smaller ductwork of high velocity may require some destruction of some beautiful interior details. They can also be done in stages as time and money permit.. Good luck-there is nothing like and old house, and boilerpro's house would be a good choice as well if it were not so far away for you.--NBC
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Broken Pipes/Freeze-ups:

    Its my long time experience that I don't believe one thing that comes from the mouth of a Real Estate Broker or salesperson.

    To me, there are things that don't add up and I would get them answered first.

    So, from me.

    If the house wasn't drained properly, there would be broken potable water pipes and fixtures. There is no mention of the potable water system being broken or being on or off at this time.

    It is my experience that most radiators break on an end section and a piece will blow off and perhaps go through a wall. I have never seen a seriously broken cracked/freeze-up radiator that didn't have a huge black stain either on the wall from the water squirting out or on the floor.

    If the house doesn't have the potable water system on, it needs to be tested and turned on. If it doesn't have any potable water breaks, I question if there are radiator breaks. If it is a gravity system, there are no flow checks into the system. Therefore, if you opened a drain on the boiler, the water would drain out. If there is a flow check and it is a pumped system, the water will still drain from the system, but part of the main will be broken.

    I personally would take my air compressor and test the heating system with compressed air. You can instantly tell what and where may be leaking.

    It is also my experience that many Real Estate persons, consider themselves "Experts" on all things, building. I would consider it a good possibility that some RE Hen came in and turned on the boiler. And dry fired it because "it" didn't have the sense that God gave a goose, and didn't know the boiler and system didn't have any water in it. So, when the boiler cracked, an assumption was made that the radiators were cracked. 17 sounds like a nice "air number", a number pulled out of the air because it sounds good. The "Cracking" may just be cracked paint.

    I don't know how your HVAC friend tests hydronic systems but I have used a portable air compressor that I never paid more than $250.00 for (I'm CHEAP) and I just connect it to the system. I set the regulator on the compressor to 25# and if there are any leaks, I can hear them.

    The mold on the cellar walls are probably on the East, South or West sides. The sun heats up the wall and they dew point will be met when the outside temperature goes up. Or some combination of this. In no way will that show a broken heating system.

    Don't give up, and don't let someone get you in to a catastrophising situation. It may not be as bad as you think.

    Or, it could be just as bad. But it is worth someone that knows what they are doing, to look at it.

  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    I don't believe one thing that comes from the mouth of a Real Estate Broker

    I personally knew two real estate brokers. One told me a big truth, that is not really a secret, but it seem to be unknown by a majority of people.

    The real estate broker is an agent (legal term) for the seller. The job of the broker is to get as much money for the seller as possible. Even if you have "your own" broker nominally representing you, the buyer, the commission is still determined by the selling price, so guess what?
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    old houses

    Having worked on a lot of old houses (since the mid-'70s) I have to say that personally, I prefer most houses built before about 1950 to most anything built since.  The exception would be a few very high end custom jobs and a couple of hand-built little places by finish carpenters for their own use.  The beauty that comes from old (growth) wood worked by a real craftsman is simply not affordable today by anyone other than the uber-wealthy.

    That said, you do need to know what you are getting into before you take one on, and it sounds like you're starting the research.  My advice would be to start with a good heat loss calc and then take a hard look at properly insulating both the walls and the attic.  This will significantly reduce the costs of both buying and owning the HVAC system and will provide by far the best return on your dollars.  Then look at heating and cooling options and try not to give in to the ductwork.
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    This old house

    If the house was winterized by the bank / real estate agent, it was done by the lowest bidder. He may have not known anything about boilers. That said, he probably shut off the main water, drained the potable side and poured some glycol in the drains and left, not realizing the the boiler and rads were still full.

    Don't lose faith yet. You may just have a bunch of cracked / separated radiators. They can be replaced. I have usually found the cracks to be at the radiators and at cast elbows. Have your HVAC man (hopefully a hydronics expert, not a forced air guy) pull the radiators that are known to be cracked, cap the lines (don't trust the radiator valves seal properly) and pump it up with air. You never know, it might just be the radiators. He may also have to put water into the system if he cant find the leaks with air. He may have to cut a few holes. As I said maybe it is just the radiators and / and a cracked fitting here or there. Keep your hopes up, Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. You will need to stipulate with the Realtor that your HVAC man may need to cut some holes, but hey, it's got to be done anyway so I don't think he  / she would object. This will let you know how to proceed, whether to repair, or replace. It will also give you a huge bargaining chip on the price. Be sure to take pictures of everything, from the boiler itself and all the piping you can see to the broken and cracked parts. Post them here and we shall do all we can to help you. DON'T LOSE HOPE! The house is beautiful, I see why your wife fell in love with it.

  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    On being cracked:


    Do NOT let anyone try to fill the system with water. NOT EVER, without testing it with air. I have repaired some very expensive freeze-ups where there wasn't a lot of damage YET. If you fill it with water, it will cause serious damage before you find it. Unless you are hard of hearing, you will hear air escaping from any break, even if it is inside a wall. I have a motto or saying. I would rather clean up an air leak than a water leak. I have some really large houses that I drain and turn on in the Spring. Some of them, I pre-charge the whole house, potable water and heat, before I turn on the water valve. I can check for any problems and fix them before I turn on the water.

    If the system won't hold air pressure, it has a leak. Anyone that can't test it with air is wasting your time and money.
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    Good News/Bad News

    Well first things first.

    We got our first rain here Wed night in what seemed like forever.  Winds were reported to hit 70 mph in parts.  This neighborhood was one of them and there was some minor damage to the roof from two fallen branches.  Nothing major but atleast the bank has to pay for it.  (I figure they will want to get rid of this sucker).

    Now the good news/bad news.  We had approval to come out and check the system out on Saturday morning with our HVAC guy/family friend and he was planning on testing the system via air like many have recommended.  Our agent let other agent know and she is forbidding us from doing any sort of testing.  In fact, she said she is going to show up and see the house with us so doing it without her knowing is out.   So thats the bad news.

    The good news is no one else is interested and even if they were who in their right mind would buy a house without testing it themselves.  My wife and I seperately came up with the same idea and price for a lowball offer based on the new news. 

    I'll let everyone know more when we do. 
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    great comments.

    Just reread this comment.

    You stated:

    It is my experience that most radiators break on an end section and a piece will blow off and perhaps go through a wall. I have never seen a seriously broken cracked/freeze-up radiator that didn't have a huge black stain either on the wall from the water squirting out or on the floor.

    We did see two rooms of the first floor that had black stains on the ceiling so I bet this did happen. 

    Also, from reading more on here I believe that it may be a gravity system.  When we were in the attic/partially finished space there was a bathroom up there and a small wall in the corner.  In that corner was what appeared to be a small hot water heater that looked about 15 years old that I just glanced at.  My thought at the time was that it was a second heater for the plumbing up here due to the distance of the run (like a tankless system you may find today but installed before).  I wonder if they are using this as the tank.  Gonna have to look around.

    I'll try to take some pictures on Saturday. 
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 2,246
    blessing in disguise ?

    I've done lots of pressure tests but I'm not sure how this one would do work. You'll hear hissing from cracked rads but what about pipes ? During construction when all pipes are exposed, smoke bombs can help. That's why I'd totally abandon existing system.
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,546
    Why no testing?

    Are they afraid that pressure testing will cause more damage? or hiding problems they already know?

    I would think you would need to pressure test, and fix what ever rads leak then pressure test again to see about piping leaks.
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    Saturday inspection

    I bet that Icesailor is right, and that the agent probably dry-fired the boiler, which is why she will not allow an air test. This may be good news, as the piping, and radiators may therefore be intact. You may have wanted to replace the boiler with one which was correctly sized in any case. The results of dry-firing should be easy to see by looking into the draft hood.

    You could make an offer reflecting a complete replacement of the system, with good justification, and maybe one of the pros here could guide you in the guesstimated figure for that replacement cost, and email the figure privately to you so as not to violate the ban on money talk here.--NBC
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    Good news / Bad news

    Was able to check out the system without my kids and the HVAC company boiler specialist guy.   Learned some interesting things.  Found severe blown out holes in some rads on the second floor.  Also found a broken cast iron pipe in the basement, which explains the mold.  Basically the system is a total loss.

    As much as I like the company I don't want to use them based on somehting I learned here.  I asked him if we would end up doing a heat-loss survey to determine what size rads we will need.  He told me that we would simply measure the current output and find new rads to match.  According to what I have gleaned on here that isn't the right answer and we will end up with one of the complaints that people have of boilers.  No ability to regulate and that the highs (hots) are too high. 

    At this point we wrote a lowball but reasonable offer to the bank and now we wait.  Once we know the outcome from that I'll be looking for a new contractor in the Madison, Wi area.  Any recommendations.  Email me if you wish.
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Checklist:Air Test.

    If they want to sell it so badly, they would have let you test it.

    However, from your latest post, if you see obviously broken radiators on the second floor, the only way they could break is to have been frozen. Where I work, it is listed for a design temperature of zero degrees but that is because the "normal" wind can blow the feathers off of a crow bar. It may be very, very cold for a few days, then warm up. That's when the water runs and causes damage. Up in Eskimo Country, it gets cold all at once and stays like that. If you have ever gone inside a house that has been drained for the winter and there is no heat on, it seems as cold as outer space. You have never felt cold like that.

    Regardless of what the bank or broker is telling you, the house either wasn't drained, or it was drained after the fact. If the Plumber-Wannabe drained the house before the freeze-up, and had opened up the drains on the boiler, the water would have run out of the radiators above the boiler. If nothing drained out of the boiler, and Dubber didn't know that he needed to let air in to the system, it may not have drained. Once you let air in at the boiler, the upstairs radiators will drain down. But, there is the matter of the Flow Control Valve or "Flo-Chek". Said Dubber wouldn't understand the significance of it and leave it alone. Water will be trapped on the high side or the heating main in the cellar and drain back on the return. Under these conditions, there should not be any broken radiators above the first floor if the house was drained. We who winterize houses understand this. If you don't, you may not.

    If you are seriously interested in this house, remember, you are doing the bank a favor and getting them off the hook for their large, no, HUGE screw up. Some little twerp with a MBA was trying to save the bank $200.00 and it ends up that the house is toast. The bank needs to take some of that Derivative loss money and spend it. If they have any of it left. Whatever you decide, remember, consider the heating system to be a total loss. There is nothing salvageable. Anything saved is in YOUR plus column. Whatever you get for a price for a heating system, TRIPLE that in repairs to the house from the demo of the walls to get at what is broken. Anything in repairs is a plus in your favor. 

    The RE person is disgusting. If you REALLY want to find out the worth, get a quality insurance adjuster to act in your favor and give you an idea of what you are facing in this situation for a cost to repair. Then, make an offer accordingly. And, hire a RE Broker that represents YOU because the Broker that won't let you properly examine the building is working against your best interest and is working for the SELLER. NOT YOU, THE BUYER!!!!!

    I have seen these freeze-up projects go to $100,000, easily. In MY opinion, you need to get accurate estimates on what it will cost to bring the house to the state it was in before the freeze up. Otherwise, wish this project Health, Happiness and LONG Distance.

    Unless the seller will discount it down to the value of the land and a bare structure, walk away. If they find someone else to buy it, let them be the sucker.

    But the above thoughts are MY opinions. Subject to change with more information.

    If you are still serious, find a good Homeowners Insurance Adjuster and hire them to go over the building. PAY THEM. Then it is a LEGAL opinion. Don't hire a Home Inspector. Be sure to ask them if they have any connections to the sellers. They can give you a better idea of what it will cost to re-hab the building. Far better than any contractor can. They see the whole over-all picture and cost.
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    More thoughts:

    After looking at the house, I can see why you like it. It is lovely.

    One thing you mentioned. Your HVAC person said that they wouldn't do a heat loss calculation and that bothered you. There may have been a reason for that that you didn't understand.

    When the house was built and the radiation was installed, the correct amount of radiation was installed for the heat loss so that the rooms should have balanced out. If you replace a radiator in an old system, you MUST use the same EDR size or the room will be out of balance. You can size the boiler for the heat loss of the house and use a smaller boiler if it is hot water, but you can't replace radiators with smaller ones unless you zone it.

    So, here is a thought if you just absolutely have to have that house.

    If there are any broken radiators on the second floor that will fit from the first floor, swap the good radiators so the second floor radiators all work. Take the first floor and install HVAC/Air. You may not need any new radiators. The biggest problem is that to move radiator sizes, you have to do serious fiddling with the pipes.

    If you get the second floor working with the radiators for heat, the first floor will be by air. The first floor radiators can all be removed and floor registers will provide the heat. Then, you can have AC. Now, here is the trick. Make sure that they run large returns upstairs to the second floor and be sure that they have HIGH returns that you can use in the summer for the AC. Make sure that the AC is sized BIG.

    It is my experience that when AC/Air Handlers are put on the second floor, they cool the first floor and the first floor is too cold. In the winter, you can have the first floor provide most of the heat to the second floor.

    In "antique" AC systems, they had a "High Return" that pulled the heat off the ceiling because Hot Air Rises. Like I do. Normally, scorched air works well because the supply and returns are on the floor and the hot air rises, while the cooler floor air gets recurculated. In the world of modern day AC/ all that is needed is a large return at the bottom of the stairs, over the unit below and lots of supplies. The cold air comes out of the registers and goes right back to the return. Giving you a hot head.

    The same thing happens if you put an air handler on the third floor and ceiling registers. The AC works wonderfully, but the heat sucks because it circulates the ceiling and not the floor. That's why you need high and low returns.

    MO, though.
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    Thanks Ice for the clarification

    We are still waiting on the official quote from the guy who was with us.

    I thank you very much for the clarification on matching up similar sized rads but I have a question about that.  I thought these houses were built to be able to the heat the house with the windows open?

    I didn't mention this but when we were there a couple walked up and asked if there was an open house.  There wasn't.  They were disappointed as they were the owners who had bought the place in 2001, spent a year fixing a bunch of stuff and ran it as a B&B until they sold in in 2006/07.  The people they sold it too had it for 18 months and then supposedly had financial troubles on a different house on the West Coast and lost it to foreclosure in the summer of 2011, finalized in Nov 2011 when it was winterized.  The problem is that it was empty the entire winter of 2010 which is when I bet everything froze and busted.  (The Winterization was a year too late).

    I ended up bounching between them and our HVAC guy.  Turns out that the original bathroom on the second floor (they turned into a laundry room) has a boiler which was disconnected and there was a powder room which they turned into a bathroom.  Neither bathrooms have any rads in them.  They told us that when they were renovating it in 2001 they left all the knob and tube in the walls as it was in good shape (why?) yet they put in a new panel.  However, I didn't see any knob and tube in the walls so we have to look at that as well.  Other interesting things we found out from them: The exterior walls have no insulation but do have a gap between the outer and interior walls. 

    Back to heating and cooling.  With the changes they made as part of the B&B and what appears to be some non-original rads in the building (have no idea if they were the same size as the originals) would you think a heat-loss calc would make sense?

    The current plan proposed by the guy would be to put in a new boiler, replace the pipes where necessary and buy other rads.  I know price is not discussed on here but he knows a realtor in town who renovated a bunch of older homes and will sell them for $10-15/vertical section - which seems reasonable.  Then the idea would be to take part of the attic (play room - Picture 16) next to pic 15 and put in a traditional A/C unit for just the second floor.  The logic being that you need A/C to be comfortable when you sleep and the cold air will flow downstairs as well.

    thoughts/comments on this thinking?

    Unique trivia:In the original listing (from 2008) before it went into foreclosure you can see a picture of a TV, leather couch in the basement. 


    The floors are hardwood.  Quite strange for such an old house.  Turns out that it was the summer dining area for the family when it was too hot outside. 
  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,469
    Closets and Taxes

    Here, if a room doesn't have a closet, it can't be considered a bedroom.Less bedrooms equals lower appraised value, equals lower taxes.If the city or town has a similar guideline, it could be a useful tool for you.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,478
    edited July 2012
    Knob and tube

    This kind of wiring is perfectly fine IF it is not added to or subtracted from. The spacing of the wires makes it inherently safe if it isn't messed with and it was properly installed in the first place. My garage had it when i moved into the house, I replaced it because i wanted to add additional outlets to the line.

    That said I would not insulate a wall cavity with knob and tube in it and i would not run anything else in a bay with knob and tubing in it.

    There is a house about 1/4 mile from me that has a 24" wall cavity that runs from the basement to the 3rd floor attic that holds all the knob and tubing wiring for the house. Who ever did that job did it to perfection; even after 100 years the wiring looks like it was done yesterday. It would make a great display in a museum to show how something should be done.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    Knob and Tube

    I agree with the knob and tube being perfectly fine if done properly.  My limited understanding of the code with knob and tube is that you cannot add insulation.  It needs the gap to keep cool. 

    Based on how this house seems built he probably hired someone to do a hell of a job.  What I don't get is when the owners had a bunch of the walls open they added electrical service for outlets for window A/C.  If you are going to do that just pull the old stuff as it would have been easy to do then.  If the walls weren't open then I would see no need to make a change. 

    The bigger problem is insurance.  I work for an insurance company and called a guy I know who does underwriting for us.  Told me in general Homeowners insurance is 2-3x times the cost for knob and tube and that something like 30% of insurance companies won't even quote you.  Not a deal breaker but annother negotiating point.
  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,469

    It's now a 2 bedroom, with no heat, no electric and the possibility of potable water.Oops, I forgot....roof damage.The realtor didn't want you to test, because if you disclose problems to them, they are legally responsible to disclose them to any other potential buyers.
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    good idea. Like the idea of tax appraisal.

    There are still 4 bedrooms even using that criteria. 

    The attic (which we wouldn't use) has a closet.

    The master bedroom has a closet in the attached sitting room (what do you do with that?)

    The bedroom next to the Master has a closet.

    The smallest bedroom (9x10) has a very shallow closet that I don't think you could hang clothes in but for them it would count.  This room is almost useless as a bedroom a the rad is on the wall opposite the door and the other walls are window (middle of wall) and door to hallway.

    Only one room doesn't have a closet (and its my favorite) faces out the front, bay window on Northside of house. 

    We might be biting off more than we can chew on this.  Hopefully the bank will counter with a really high number and I can convince the wife to walk.  Especially as we found last night that we are having another kid in March (oops) and will have 3 kids under the age of 4. 
  • Paul48
    Paul48 Member Posts: 4,469
    I'd talk her out of it

    The kids won't know who daddy is. That guy who's always fixing the house. Congratulations, by the way!
  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 3,291
    It might be time...

    ... to sit down and make lists of all the pros and cons with this house so decision making is easier.  I'd also look at the historical value and replacement cost of the home.  I'd put on my investor's hat and look to see if it was a sound investment offering a decent return based on rent.  I'm of the mind that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but don't really know how many of my lives I've used up....  Congratulations!

    Yours,  Larry
  • Burgermeister_Meisterburger
    Well, I'm back

    The last post in this thread was a month ago. 

    Well, that evening we visited the house again and I was convinced to make an lowball offer.  We had finally found a bank that didn't require 20% down and either 100 or 150% of the repair cost put in escrow at time of closing.  Famous gov't programs (203k) were either inadequate- short form would only allow $29.6k and the long form would have required us to fix where any lead paint was chipping (Hello, the entire outside is original).  Our offer was submitted on Thursday morning and we were told that we would get a response in minimum of 2 days but probably 3 - 4 days. 

    Well, the following monday someone else made an offer.  We then had until 5:00 tuesday to make our final and best offer.  We made a competitive offer and have waited until last Friday to hear back.  A long 4 weeks where we got an email stating they were going with the other offer. 

    It looks like we will be going back and building.  Except that I think I may convince the wife to put radiant floor heat in the first floor,(ranch house with exposed and unfinished basement). 

    Thanks everyone.  I still lurk and learned a ton.  Hope to use the information that I have picked up here in the future.
  • Mark Eatherton
    Mark Eatherton Member Posts: 5,853
    Thanks for checking back in!

    It is rare that we know what the end result was. Feel free to drop back in if the need arises. We'd be glad to help you discover radiant comfort and efficiency.

    It's not so much a case of "You got what you paid for", as it is a matter of "You DIDN'T get what you DIDN'T pay for, and you're NOT going to get what you thought you were in the way of comfort". Borrowed from Heatboy.
This discussion has been closed.