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3 basement building - insulate piping in all of them?

HoyteKing Member Posts: 85
Our condo association has a boiler in the east tier of the building, with an adjoining basement. There is another basement in a third tier. There is no insulation on our boiler pipes right now. We are getting the insulation done for free this month.

What problem is there with free insulation? There are concerns about how the insulation will effect the system:

1. The pipes provide residual heat for the basement. We just wrapped the hot water pipes (for the tier furthest away from the boiler), and now this. Will that mean the basements will be freezing cold? If not, how will they be heated, since heat rises? If they are cold, we will have to have an alternate way to heat the basement, and that’s not free. We do laundry down there, and use the treadmill, and won’t tolerate it if it’s freezing cold.

2. Also, residual heat from the basement warms the floors of the first floor units. That affects 3 units, us included. And the person who complained most about being cold last year was [ ]. And the heat from the boiler room kept the heat usage in the unit above the boiler very low – I was quite surprised when I got the gas bills.

3. I can’t imagine that wrapping the pipes would save much money. Every building is different, and any estimates are merely a guess. If we go ahead, it will be interesting to compare the bills year to year.

4. If the heat gets whacked out because of this (meaning large temperature fluctuations between units), what do we do then? Live with it? Throw more money at it? Could be Pandora’s Box. Remember 2 years ago? For the new units, it wasn’t fun – everyone was complaining.

I read Dan Holohan's article on insulation, and gave it to everyone to read. The commentary was this:

Only one problem: When insulating basement pipes, there will be no heat sources available in the basement. None. Zero.

Law of physics: Heat rises. Before wrapping the hot water pipes, and now the steam pipes, the basement temperature in the winter was, at best, 60 degrees. Less on really cold days – maybe 50. The links and PDF’s that extol the virtues of insulation talk about a 70 degree basement heating to 90 degrees due to lack of insulation. That may be true in the boiler room, but certainly nowhere else.

Remember, we heat to the coldest unit. If that throws off the delicate balance that we finally achieved last year, some people may have to open their windows.

One more comment on the article:

"The link directly deals with the circumstances you refer to." Huh? Where does it address how to heat the basement when there is no heat source? I submit to you that the author of the article is focused on houses. That is, in most circumstances, there is only ONE basement – and no amount of insulation could completely prevent heat from entering the basement when the boiler is in the same room. In our case, we have three basements – and the boiler is only in one of them. That is, the boiler room will still be warm after pipes are insulated. I think it will be VERY difficult, if not impossible, to find documentation that addresses our specific concerns – i.e., NO HEAT SOURCE IN THE OTHER TWO BASEMENTS.

It gets more complicated, as our system is out of whack. We have a new electronic control that has facilitated tolerable heat. But there are still issues:

- main venting not in proper place (condensate ....pdf)

- the install was a disaster (Has our...pdf)

What may happen after the insulation is installed?


  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,916
    edited May 2013
    The real problem here

    is control.  It may seem to make sense to use the heat from a steam main as part of the heat for a space such as a basement.  However, this can (and usually does) cause problems with excess condensate in the mains, as well as slow heat delivery to the ends of the mains.

    If you need heat in the basement -- and i don't doubt that you do! -- it is much much better to provide it in some other way.  The best being, from my point of view, an hydronic loop or two or three (depending on how much control you want) off the boiler.  I would be very surprised indeed if your boiler did not have enough capacity to do this; after all, it is doing it now, and not very efficiently at that.  if you were to do that, you'd have better control of your steam delivery to the various units, and better efficiency on the steam side, and complete control of the amount of heat in the various basements.

    So the answer is yes, insulate, and install the hydronic if you and when you find you need it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • HoyteKing
    HoyteKing Member Posts: 85
    hydronic systems

    Thank you for the suggestion. I took a look at the basic primer on hydronic systems here at HeatingHelp. It is a lot for a novice like myself to take in. The fact that it seems such a system could be hooked in to the steam boiler makes it a possibility. I wonder about cost, though.

    I was thinking to just hook up a radiator. We could put one on the ceiling, even. In fact, our 8 stall garage used to be heated by the old steam boiler, with radiating pipes still in evidence on the ceiling of each garage stall.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,916
    That would probably work

    too.  It would not be as easy to control (much as I love steam, I have to admit that hydronic systems are easier to control) but, on the other hand, you wouldn't have the pump(s) and controls you would need for the hydronic.

    The hydronic, though, could be baseboard type units, and would almost certainly do a more even job of heating the spaces, which might be a concern.

    Cost?  New radiators aren't cheap...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
This discussion has been closed.