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I NEED HELP! Choosing heating option for a triplex, hot water? forced air? steam?

ajax88
ajax88 Member Posts: 3
Hello wonderful people of this amazing forum. As the title says I need a bit of help. My husband and I bought a triplex built in 1917. We are rehabbing the building and need to make some decisions about heat. There are no systems at all right now, it's unoccupied, we're going down to the walls in most room and gutting all three bathrooms and kitchens.

The place had radiator heat that was operation in 2015 when the place was last rented. It a two pipe system with copper pipe run through the floors. I don't know how well it's zoned. There's also three gas lines so each unit is split.

Ideally we want each tenant paying their own heating cost. We know that means buying three of whatever system we chose.
Personally, I want to keep the radiators. Radiators work well and keep your house warm even after you turn them off. Every HVAC we've spoke to is trying to convince us to install forced air. It means running all kinds of ducts through the apartment and on the outside. They claim it a lot easier, cheaper, and reliable than radiators.

I was looking into tankless hot water heaters. The units are each 2 bedrooms one bath, about 900 sqft. I figured a smaller unit would be okay in each unit. If that's not feasible, my gas company also gives rebated for boilers. $1500 for the and 800 for each additional unit. It would still be more expensive than the tankless heaters but not by much 900-1500 more for all three boilers after rebates.

question 1, is three tanks or boilers ridiculous,
question 2, will it be cheaper and easier to switch to forced air (estimates are between 15k-20k)
Question 3 Boilers vs hot water heaters. (tankless options on both)?

Please fee free to rip apart any holes in my plans. I want to make sure we do everything as right as possible. We are planning to keep this house and rent it, it matters more that our tenants are happy with the heat (it works and doesn't cost an arm and a leg) that the heating being "pretty"



Comments

  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 3,819
    KEEP the radiators!
    They will stand up to what ever abuse the tenants will put to the system
    Slow even heat.
    A properly sized boiler for each unit.
    Electric water heaters for each unit.
    Don't do the scorched air.
    ajax88New England SteamWorksPaul S_3
  • ajax88
    ajax88 Member Posts: 3
    Is there a reason for the boiler and electric water heater? The cost of electric heat here is about 4 times what gas heat costs. I thought the boiler would also heat the water.

    I'm completely against the forced air. All the HVAC guys want the vents at the top of the wall. That makes no sense to me. Doesn't heat rise?
  • @ChrisJ : Time for your funny tankless water heater video!
    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
    newenglandsteamworks.com
    kcopp
  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 3,819
    A few reasons.
    A combi unit (and I do like them) will be way oversized for the heating.
    Having one unit for the heat and one for the hot water gives you redundancy. If one breaks you have the other one.
    If electric rates are higher and the tenant is paying for the hot water this will encourage them to conserve water use.
    ajax88
  • JohnNY
    JohnNY Member Posts: 2,739
    I just went through this with a new developer client of mine and their design-contruction management team. This is for a 3-unit Brownstone in New York City. The options were HVAC throughout, electric heat and hot water, one gas-fired boiler/water heater combination serving each apartment (3x), or one central gas-fired boiler and water heater serving the entire building. Their team dissected all scenarios and projected cost of operation (including maintenance) over 5 years and decidedly proclaimed the single common boiler and indirect water heater combination was the way to go.
    Contact John "JohnNY" Cataneo, Master Plumber
    in New York
    in New Jersey
    for Consulting Work
    or take his class.
    kcoppajax88
  • ajax88
    ajax88 Member Posts: 3
    kcopp said:

    A few reasons.
    A combi unit (and I do like them) will be way oversized for the heating.
    Having one unit for the heat and one for the hot water gives you redundancy. If one breaks you have the other one.
    If electric rates are higher and the tenant is paying for the hot water this will encourage them to conserve water use.

    JohnNY said:

    I just went through this with a new developer client of mine and their design-contruction management team. This is for a 3-unit Brownstone in New York City. The options were HVAC throughout, electric heat and hot water, one gas-fired boiler/water heater combination serving each apartment (3x), or one central gas-fired boiler and water heater serving the entire building. Their team dissected all scenarios and projected cost of operation (including maintenance) over 5 years and decidedly proclaimed the single common boiler and indirect water heater combination was the way to go.

    Hi JohnNY. Did the owner charge heat on the central unit. Did they do a RUBS system? We're in Philly, every landlord I've met has said to separate the heat or you have issues with the tenants. They'll run the heat constantly and open windows because it's "free".
    kcopp
  • JohnNY
    JohnNY Member Posts: 2,739
    This is a high end, multi-million dollar co-op and each owner would have their own thermostats and share in the fuel costs. The value of the space taken up by the 1 versus multiple boilers was also a factor.
    Contact John "JohnNY" Cataneo, Master Plumber
    in New York
    in New Jersey
    for Consulting Work
    or take his class.
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 4,190
    I would go for a modcon with indirect water heater for each unit as long as there's space in the equipment room and venting can be done to code.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 10,253
    You need to do a heat loss before you decide, 3 boilers would be the best but if the heat loss shows they are very small this may not be realistic and one boiler would be better.

    Skip the ductwork and use ductless splits for ac if needed
  • vibert_c
    vibert_c Member Posts: 68
    Welcome to this forum @ajax88
    It is so much more rewarding to help a person choose a heating contractor before they find themselves in the clutches of a semi competent government licensed dumb head [knucklehead]

    As the title says I need a bit of help. Wow! What a huge understatement.

    To answer your questions; this is what I have learned in 18 months since I posted a similar question in this same forum.

    1. Certainly it is ridiculous. [Ideally we want each tenant paying their own heating cost. We know that means buying three of whatever system we chose.] Landlords today are hell bent on directly passing along the heating costs to their tenants; this is short sighted in my experience. If it is more practical today to indirectly include the cost of heating within their rent then by all means be up front with a prospective tenant. A tenant is not stupid; no comfort no stay. Keep them cozy and they will stay longer than twenty years!

    2. I doubt it very much but I am simply a savvy homeowner. Did you ever consider that the folks that want to take you in this direction are only capable of this style of so called comfort. Remember you are purchasing comfort. I would suggest that you repost your query with this heading “seeking a heating consultant in USA to design a heating system for a 1917 triplex in “my hometown”. We know these chaps exist on this forum; don’t expect to pick their brains for nothing!

    3. Are the boiler/s hot water heater/s still in the basement? Please outline just what is left after the local buzzards picked the skeleton clean.

    Every HVAC we've spoke to is trying to convince us to install forced air. Wake up to smell the roses lady. You are talking to the wrong people!

    For what it is worth, here is what I have settled on for my dwelling where the outdoor ambient gets down to minus 8° Fahrenheit for weeks on end.
    https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/151994/new-steam-mini-tube-installation-in-ohio#latest

    There is an old Scottish proverb “never hold the cent so close to the eye that you can’t see the dollar”. Old geezers like myself finally figure this out by the time their hair goes grey!

    All the best in your endeavor.

    vibert_c
    MilanD
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,938
    Is there a way to meter what each unit would use from one boiler? Flowmeter or hour meter on their zone valve/pump.
    Then proportion that into the total bill and each pays their portion?
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 4,190
    edited December 2017
    > @JUGHNE said:
    > Is there a way to meter what each unit would use from one boiler? Flowmeter or hour meter on their zone valve/pump.
    > Then proportion that into the total bill and each pays their portion?

    I was thinking the same but without recording actual therms used by each tenant, I don't know how to calculate that.
    A minute timer wired into each pump relay to track thermostat demand?
    But that would require a monthly visit to record time.
    WiFi?
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,938
    If I were the landlord I would want to visit the basement every month anyway.
    How about the DHW if indirect heater? Would the tenants with the most space heating demand have the most DHW usage?
    I think so, if you like it hot you also like hot water.
  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 2,283
    edited December 2017
    Hello, I like what JUGHNE said about submetering using a single boiler and indirect tank for domestic hot water. If that can't happen, you might want to look at mini-splits and heat pump water heaters.

    Yours, Larry

    ps. I'll add that this is a great time to do a thorough job of air sealing and insulating the shell of the building. You might want to visit www.buildingscience.com for good info on making the shell snug and efficient, and www.homeenergy.org is another good source of info.
    Rich_49
  • MilanD
    MilanD Member Posts: 1,159
    As a landlord myself, I can confidently say that what you should do depends on your projected future cash flow.

    Unless your rents are in the top range per unit for the area and unless this is high end area, and again, depending on your projected cash flow in the said area (as in net cash after all costs including PITI, vacancies and upkeep), keep it simple. 3 of everything for boiler heating makes sense only if your cash flow comfortably covers 3x the maintenance expense on 3 systems. That's the beauty of multifamily buildings: one roof, one heating system, one thing to break, one thing to fix, and best of all - if one unit is vacant, the others still bring in $$.

    In high end rental, yes, do all bells and whistles as that is probably what's expected. If not high end, one hot water cast iron boiler and one simple system with as few of moving parts as possible, plus an outdoor reset and no thermostat for them to mess with (something likes of Johnson Controlls A350R) will more than pay for itself through less services calls and lower maintenance costs. Since you are starting from scratch, design the system for heat loss and every room will be comfy. Charge extra for rent to cover heat and don't worry about bill-backs for heat. Tenants will love simplicity.

    Do separate gas dhw: tenant pays for hot water = good value for you. Or, to avoid gas meter charges, keep dhw electric. In my area, gas meter connection alone is 35 bucks. That's about what'll cost to heat water with electricity.

    AC: again kiss method: unless expected to be high end, window units are cheap to buy and replace, or you can go fancy with those floor ACs vented through a large flex plastic pipe and window vent adapter. Fancier yet, mini splits with a heat pump, and you are separated for shoulder season for heating too, and perhaps even for the winter. Then boiler is your backup, or do without.

    If you can separate water meter, great, if not, low flow aerators on all faucets and low-flush toilets and again - factor into the rent.

    Btw, replace anode rods in dhw tanks every 5 years and water heaters will last 20+ years without an issue.

    Key in this will be techs who know what they are doing. Bigger company with a good track record and solid warranty would be my choice on mini splits, and someone from this forum for the boiler install.
  • newagedawn
    newagedawn Member Posts: 586
    i have a three family and each are separated with the tenants paying for their own bills, all are natural gas with a boiler and HW tank, i have never had a complaint, things to consider in my opinion, the heat loss of each space, if possible keep those cast iron radiators you wont regret it and with the money you save on the baseboard for each unit you can put that to use for really efficient heating systems, saving your tenants money, which will make them stay longer, all my tenants have been in that building for more than five years and all paying the rent on time!!!!!
    "The bitter taste of a poor install lasts far longer than the JOY of the lowest price"
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,938
    IIWM, I would do one boiler in the basement for heating.
    Do the minute/hour meter for each zone.
    A consideration is the flue/chimney. Need relined?
    A single simple CI boiler would be good......but it is sized for the entire building and only 1 zone calling would short cycle it......people with different schedules....day workers...night workers. 65 degree people/75 degree people. Plus you need combustion air in basement for that.

    Now with a ModCon boiler with turndown we would see longer burn cycles for the single zone call. A good match for CI rads.
    Venting thru side wall may not be an option for where you are.
    You could build a chase from basement to roof for needed air inlet and exhaust. Maybe use existing chimney.





    One electric water heater for each unit. (unless rates are outrageous--one bath & one kitchen in 900 sq feet can't use a lot of hot water--also that would go thru their electric meter.
    Lower floor could have theirs in the basement. Other would have a WH closet in the unit. Get the basic WH, size closet just a little larger for fatter tanks in the future.
    Simple piping, little heat loss compared to single unit in basement. Less insulation, no recir line/pump. Tenant pays as they use.

    Common laundry in basement (are they considered to be a cash cow or not) ? Electric from house meter. (Your cost)
    Hot water could be from boiler indirect tank. That gas usage would be thru the NG house meter and the bill split between the 3 units based upon their heating meters. (their cost).
  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 421
    edited December 2017

    Keep the radiators in your rental units and do not let anyone convince you to change to forced air heating as you do not have too nor do you need too.

    You can take advantage of remote gas metering for each boiler for each rental unit using a domestic hot water coil in each boiler for the tenants hot water needs.

    Do not let anyone tell you you cannot do this as many boilers including steam boilers come with domestic hot water coils installed and it eliminates a second gas connection for a separate water heater and flue pipe and it uses single flue pipe for both needs and is legal as far as the national plumbing code requires.

    By using a very small boiler the size of a typewriter table with a domestic hot water coil to make hot water and steam for each tenant,
    You will be able to let the tenants pay thier own gas bill without worrying about whether a tenant wastes gas and your having to pay for their wasting natural gas.

    You will also not have to worry about having to maintain three separate water heaters or any issues from three tankless water heaters saving you thousands of dollars.

    Your two pipe steam heating system will need some TLC and perhaps flushing the radiators and piping to clear out any sediment and perhaps a few new valves but not much else.

    If you buy the books that Dan has written about steam heat you will know what you are talking about when dealing with a plumbing contractor and you will also know whether they are the ones you want doing your plumbing work and servicing your boilers every year for the coming heating season.

    One very smaller steam boiler with a domestic hot water coil per apartment eliminates the need for a standby or tankless water heater and still makes the tenant responsible for the payment of the gas bill.

    You can always tie in a fourth steam boiler of the same size to the common headers for the other three boilers and valve it off to have as a back up source of steam and hot water in the event you have a problem with one of the three main boilers for the three apartments or to allow the servicing of all three boilers at once during a week in the summer months of off peak usage where only the domestic hot water will be the greatest load on the 4th boiler which is also the back up boiler for the three apartments in the event of an issue with that specific apartments boiler that would require it to be taken out of service for a period of time.

    As long as the plumbing tie ins and steam headers and cold and hot water lines are done properly by a steam contractor or architect using and tying in a fourth steam boiler with a domestic hot water coil for a back up boiler you will have a redundant heating system that will be there to supply heat to a tenant in the event of a problem with the specific boiler for that apartment by simply opening and closing steam valves to direct the steam to the tenant that needs it and also opening and closing valves for the domestic hot water so they have that too.

    In the Basement:
    All the steam lines and return header pipes have to be properly labeled and tagged for each apartment and the cross connecting steam lines to and from the fourth boiler which is the back up boiler.

    All the hot and cold water lines have to be tagged for each apartment to allow for easy change over to the back up boilers domestic hot water coil as needed by one tenant or all three with the back up boiler..

    You should also have a D ring binder describing how the plumbing is set up with good understandable plumbing diagrams with the matching tag numbers for the cold water line or lines entering the basement from the street and how they are connected to the boiler water fresh water feed lines in a common header to all four boilers and a common header for the four domestic coils for the four boilers and each additional appliance like laundry sinks and washing machines if you have them.

    Having a master plumbing drawing in a cardboard tube rolled up using heavy drafting paper to create the diagrams for the entire system in a cardboard tube labeled for the building to identify each line in the basement going to each apartment, including the water feed lines to the boilers and hot and cold running water.

    Having a second set for your plumber to have in his or her possession is a good idea for their employees in the event of a problem or emergency like a blow water line or a flooded basement from bad water connection from the street..

    It will just take some planning and execution to have everything done right the first time and have the new smaller boilers skimmed and serviced when they are put into service.

    If you talk to an architect first after reading Dan's books they will see that you have done your homework and that you know what you need; which is three "very small" steam boilers with domestic coils and a forth back up boiler with a domestic coil that can provide enough hot water for all three apartments when the three other boilers are being serviced for what ever time is needed to service them and also have a back up heating source and domestic hot water in the event of that one of the three boilers requires a trouble call from your plumber.

    Paying an architect for 2 or three hours of his time to design the plumbing and piping will save you thousands of dollars and prevent wasting money on things you do not need like scorched air heating.

    Purchasing pipe labeling/plastic inventory tags for all the lines in the basement lets you or a plumber know what is what and where everything goes for each apartment with no mistakes that could cause a dangerous condition in the basement.

    =====================================================
    About question one:
    No, three very small steam boilers with domestic coils plus a back up boiler with a domestic coil is all you need in my opinion as you use a single flue for each steam boiler.

    About question two:
    a: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    b: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! too much hacking and making holes when you do not need to in opinion and the issue of change orders from any hidden problems that will jump out and kick you when routing the scorched air will not become evident until the building surgery starts.


    about question three:

    Three very small steam boilers with domestic hot water coils plus the forth steam boiler for a common back up boiler.

    Just as an FYI:
    My first submerged domestic hot water coil ran without problems for 33 years until I changed boilers so you do not need a tankless coil for each tenant which would require a separate flue pipe that would either be connected to the boiler flue or individual flue exhaust or power venter.

    you have big algebra problem with a lot of variables and you need a good heating and plumbing architect and you need to make and use decision trees.

    Buy all of Dan's books on steam heat and read them several times and highlight the things you do not understand and ask your architect to explain them to you before you make any decisions and to avoid making a rash decision that will come back to haunt you if you do not do your homework.



    My thoughts anyway as I have been burned more than once.


  • ChasMan
    ChasMan Member Posts: 459
    edited December 2017
    I own a triplex. It is not a Manhattan Brownstone but I can tell you from experience that if the heating bill comes from the landlord it immediately becomes suspect. I make three copies of it and divide it up by square footage and wait for the phone to ring with complaints... And ring it does EVERY MONTH. I have friend that has a dozen or more triplexes with the same issues. I have three electric meters though so I don't have billing issues there.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,938
    ChasMan; I would guess you have one central heating system. Do you think your 3 tenants would be content with the time meter plan if they had their own zoning, and then they were given the monthly bill with all 3 shares divided up proportionally?

    Just curious how city tenants react, I am a landlord BTW. (although just now have a single family unit where they pay all utilities, life is much simpler).

    Checked out my son's triplex in Chicago. 80+ YO.
    Noticed in the basement there were 3 NG lines each going to the 2 gas clothes dryers. There was a lockable gas stop on each.
    Apparently in the old days, you would lock off your lines until you wanted to dry clothes. (interesting)
    Today it is a single electric dryer fed by the house panel.
    Coin op of course.
  • ChasMan
    ChasMan Member Posts: 459
    edited December 2017
    JUGHNE: Time meter zoning.. Well, If I could fake a bill with their name on it from an oil company they might be ok with it. The issues are many. Mostly they think when gas at the pump goes down, oil on their bill should go down. And it does, just not last month for this month. Another issue is they go away for a week so how come they have to pay for the whole month. My favorite is why was last month only xx dollars and this month it is more?. With the bill I send a letter that is about as clear as I can make it. And about that gas pipe lock, that gives me an idea - Anyone know how to hook a visa card reader to a feed valve?
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,938
    Our electric utility had a few coin operated electric meters.
    They would put those on for whoever had payment problems.
    The rate thru the pay meter was higher than normal, they could get a little credit for the past due that way.

    Some people don't care if the price of a barrel of oil goes way up,
    "My car burns gas.....not oil" :)
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,938
    Almost forgot, in Asia and Europe in order for your hotel AC and heat to operate they require you to insert your room key card.
    And I am sure they can track the time you had either operating.