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1000 gallons a year for 1200 sq foot 2nd floor apartment??!! Please help!

Jason_Talbot
Jason_Talbot Member Posts: 22
edited October 2022 in Oil Heating
My mother rents a 1200 sq foot 2nd floor (middle) apartment in a 3 story victorian house in Boston. She runs the thermostat between 68-70. She has hot water (correction:STEAM) radiators in every room. Boston avg temp between Dec-March is about 33F. Her oil usage last 12 months was 1000 gallons! She checked with her downstairs neighbor and they reported using only 250 gallons a year! The house is insulated the same everywhere and her apartment has brand new double paned glass windows. The boiler is in the basement and one of the radiator pipes runs through the front vestibule which is otherwise unheated (about 10 feet of pipe). Besides this there are no other heating lines running through unconditioned space.

The landlord said he had someone check the boiler and "everything looked ok". Obviously something is very wrong. How can we go about figuring this out? Call one of the heating/HVAC companies in Boston? Does anyone know a company in the area that specializes in diagnosing heating problems?

Her oil bill is going to be insane this winter if we can't figure it out. She is on a fixed income and really needs help. Grateful for any insights you all can give us.

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,525
    That is a bit high... to put it mildly. Two possibilities come to mind -- somehow there is a tremendous amount of infiltration in her apartment, but not in others. Doesn't seem likely... the other is that either she is paying to heat or partly heat some other apartment or apartments or that her oil is being used by others.

    Some sleuthing is needed here.

    The only two folks I know are Ryan at @New England SteamWorks , but he does mostly steam, and Bob Gagnon 978-453-2211. There are others who are in Find a Contractor on this site; I just don't happen to know them.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Jason_Talbotreggi
  • Jason_Talbot
    Jason_Talbot Member Posts: 22
    Thanks. Could this be as simple as some maladjustment of the furnace?
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 13,173
    Assuming it's not an underground tank leaking oil or the oil line leaking under the floor. I would get someone to combustion check the boiler #1. Tell them you want a print out of the combustion report. Post it here

    Then let the system go completely cold. Then turn the system on and see how long it takes to fully heat every radiator. Some rads could be air bound.

    The middle apartment should take the least heat. Ther is always the possibility that the other tenants are keeping their stats low and living off her heat.

    Does this boiler heat any domestic hot water?
    CLamb
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,027
    Thanks. Could this be as simple as some maladjustment of the furnace?
    No. That’s a huge spread. Is the boiler just for her apartment and not shared? That’s pushing $7k for oil in a place that shares walls! Absurd the landlord would consider that acceptable. 
    MikeAmann
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 18,279
    A dedicated boiler for each apartment? What size is yours, what type of heat emitters?
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • Dave Carpentier
    Dave Carpentier Member Posts: 414
    I nearly dropped my drink. 1000 gallons in MA ??
    Even this house, 2 stories above ground in northern Canada.. we only use up 650 or so.
    Hope no one is stealing a bit of oil to reduce their own bills.

    Maybe you (or someone) could install an hour-meter on the oil burner to keep a log of run time. Use the nozzle flow (need nozzle spec flow and current oil pump pressure) and the run-time to find the actual gallons burned over a period of time (like between fill ups).
    30+ yrs in telecom outside plant.
    Currently in building maintenance.
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 809
    edited October 2022
    Being a skeptic of sorts and not knowing the piping arrangements, how about any of the following:

    underground leak in the fill line to the oil tank complex not visible,

    theft of oil by pumping oil from tank,

    piping allowing other boiler(s) to use oil from her tank.
  • pedmec
    pedmec Member Posts: 713
    Your paying the first floor heating bill. You can't be sandwiched between two units and paying more than the first floor.
    MikeAmann
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 323
    With the price of heating fuel continuing to rise I'd wouldn't be surprised to see residents finding a way to syphon heat from unsuspecting neighbors .. NOT getting political here .,.. but I've noticed quite a shift in societal values since COVID first hit..
    Just my opinion..... not stating as Fact.. only observation..✌️ 
    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question
  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 690

    My mother rents a 1200 sq foot 2nd floor (middle) apartment in a 3 story victorian house in Boston. She runs the thermostat between 68-70. She has hot water radiators in every room. Boston avg temp between Dec-March is about 33F. Her oil usage last 12 months was 1, 000 gallons!

    She checked with her downstairs neighbor and they reported using only 250 gallons a year!

    The house is insulated the same everywhere and her apartment has brand new double paned glass windows. The boiler is in the basement and one of the radiator pipes runs through the front vestibule which is otherwise unheated (about 10 feet of pipe). Besides this there are no other heating lines running through unconditioned space.

    The landlord said he had someone check the boiler and "everything looked ok". Obviously something is very wrong. How can we go about figuring this out? Call one of the heating/HVAC companies in Boston? Does anyone know a company in the area that specializes in diagnosing heating problems? The landlord has left it up to us to figure out the problem since "he already had it checked".

    Her oil bill is going to be insane this winter if we can't figure it out. She is on a fixed income and really needs help. Grateful for any insights you all can give us.

    =================================================================

    The sticky wicket of obtaining permission from the landlord to look at the boiler comes into play here.
    I am quoting Sir Winston Churchill in his describing the intentions of the former soviet union in 1939;
    "There is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma That which is so dense as to be totally indecipherable or impossible to foretell".

    Your mothers landlord is being vague or bluffing, plain and simple!!

    Saying he had someone check it out, and they said everything looks ok tells you nothing.

    If each apartment had a separate boiler with a domestic hot water coil that would narrow it down somewhat but the landlords explanation to you is simply a smoke cloud.

    If your mother and the other tenants can store items in the basement that would be an opportunity to look at the boiler or boilers and take pictures of the heating system piping and hot water heaters if any.

    I would ask or see about wandering down into the basement to take lots of pictures of the boiler and the plumbing if your mother can store things there.

    1. How is domestic water made for the tenants?
    2. Is there an electric water heater in a closet in each of the three apartments?
    3. is there a domestic coil in the boiler feeding a single hot water riser pipe that is delivering hot water to the three apartments?

    Is the hot water heating system for this three story apartment building one of the following?

    1. a gravity hot water heating system that is top fed or bottom fed?
    2. a hot water heat system with circulators in the basement?
    3. or is it actually one pipe steam heat?

    It would be great if you could get pictures of the radiators at both ends and the heating system in the basement as the landlord is not being at all helpful or interested in this as saying he had someone check the boiler and they said everything looks ok is NO ANSWER as he should have shown you the oil burner efficiency test and boiler cleaning bill.

    How is your mother being charged for her oil consumption?

    If the two other tenants are only using 250 gallons of oil annually That is one tank of number 2 heating oil or dyed K1 Kerosene per year.

    How can they definitively say that that is how much they are using UNLESS each tenant is billed annually or monthly for fuel use by the oil company as there would be 3 separate oil tanks, 3 separate filling pipes with
    separate vent pipes for three separate boilers.


    Please tell us more and send pictures if you can.

  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 454



    The landlord said he had someone check the boiler and "everything looked ok". Obviously something is very wrong. How can we go about figuring this out? Call one of the heating/HVAC companies in Boston? Does anyone know a company in the area that specializes in diagnosing heating problems? The landlord has left it up to us to figure out the problem since "he already had it checked".

    Asking the tech to "check the boiler" is different than asking them to "see why 1 boiler uses 4x more fuel than the other 2".

    Your mom's apartment should have the lowest fuel consumption of all since it has heated space above and below. Assuming the boiler runs okay, either the fuel is going somewhere other than the burner, or your moms' boiler is heating space outside her apartment.

    My first thought is that there are radiators in the basement or some other common area that are tied into your mom's system. A good heating guy would quickly figure this out with access to the entire house, but it might be tricky to figure out from just the basement. Considering how much your mom stands to spend this winter, I would try the "find a contractor" link below and see if there is someone in your area that can take a look. If all else fails, call the oil company and see if they have someone.

    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/


  • Jason_Talbot
    Jason_Talbot Member Posts: 22
    edited October 2022
    Thanks to all for your comments. I am posting photos of the boiler and the diagnostic report from March 2022.

    There is no leaking from the oil tank.
    There are two steam circuits feeding 7 radiators in my mom's apartment. I traced all radiator lines and there is no cross connection to the other furnace.
    The other furnace for the 1st floor unit is identical to my mother's. The top floor has their own dedicated gas fired force air unit on the 3rd floor.
    Domestic hot water is heated with gas.
    I think it is extremely unlikely that anyone is siphoning oil from the tank (though I suppose I can't be sure).
    There are two separate oil tanks and they are charged monthly (oil deliveries happen every few weeks I think).








  • Jason_Talbot
    Jason_Talbot Member Posts: 22
    A (partial) breakdown of the month to month oil usage last year

  • captainco
    captainco Member Posts: 737
    There is a thief in the building. Someone is siphoning oil. No oil boiler could run that big of a difference.
    BronzeAgePlumberMikeAmannbucksnort
  • In_New_England
    In_New_England Member Posts: 130
    As another data point: also in the Boston area, 1400 sq ft, 2 story + basement house, oil heat, high temp baseboards + DHW: 700-800 gals/year.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 13,173
    Does the boiler have an auto water feeder or is the water added manually?

    you could have a leak in the boiler above the water line and have steam going up the chimney if you adding much water. Have you checked the air vents?

    Start with a cold boiler and fire it up. When the supply pipe coming out of the boiler gets hot where you can't hold your hand on it start timing and see how long it takes to start getting steam at the radiator valves
  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 690
    edited October 2022
    How do you know/can you verify the boiler you pictured feeds steam to her apartment???

    One thing to check is the piping in the ceiling of the basement to see if there is a cross steam pipe connection between boilers that can bypass each other where opening and closing 2 valves could redirect the steam from your mothers steam riser to thier steam piping and from thier steam piping to her steam riser.

    You need to or should put a nanny cam in the basement facing the oil tanks to rule that out or have definitive proof of oil theft.

    One possibility is the identification tags if any for the oil tanks filler pipes have been switched and your mother is paying for thier oil.

    If the identification tags for the tanks (if used) were switched and the driver has to manually enter the name of the customer on the ticket or type it in using a computer terminal no one would be the wiser about it except the person or persons that switched the tags.

    The tank truck driver has no reason to go in the basement since the tanks safety shut off whistle warns him when the tank is nearly full.

    Switching identification tags is or may be the likely reason she is paying more than she should.

    Checking the filler pipe identification tags if used would be first on the list and tracing the piping to the specific tank would rule out the switched tags scenario.

    It is also possible the tank truck driver is making a clerical mistake also by mistakenly identifying which filler pipe belongs to your mother or the other tenant.

    I guess I would work backwards going to the oil company first to ask how your mothers filler pipe and account is verified and ask to see the fuel ticket copies.

    It may just be a clerical error on the drivers part if any identification for your mothers tank and the other tenants identification tags were removed or destroyed as well and never replaced.






    MikeAmann
  • Jersey2
    Jersey2 Member Posts: 144
    I am going to state the obvious (which might not be right) that 1) the neighbor gave her a wrong number, because it is impossible to only use 250 gallons in one year and 2) your mom is keeping the temperature high. At 82+ degrees one can burn 1000 gallons in a year even in a 1200sf space if the space leaks air.
    I'm not a plumber or hvac man and my thoughts in comments are purely for conversation.
    BronzeAgePlumber
  • BronzeAgePlumber
    BronzeAgePlumber Member Posts: 3
    Poor heat retention and poor boiler operation still don't explain 4x the usage as other units. either a serious leak underground tank or a thief.
  • MikeAmann
    MikeAmann Member Posts: 683
    edited October 2022
    Paint your mother's filler pipe a different color than the rest.
    Notify the oil company of the change so they are indeed filling the correct tank.

    Put a lock on the filler pipe (if those exist) to prevent stealing.

    I love the nanny cam idea.
  • captainco
    captainco Member Posts: 737
    The oil tank is in the picture in the basement. That eliminates a leak.
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 323
    Probably not the cause of extreme oil usage (if that's what it turns out to be)  but this control device Pressuretrol - Vaporstat  ?? looks like it's seen better days as the Pigtail it's sitting on...it looks rusty..
    I guess you would notice any steam leaking out of it..but that pigtail should be checked for flow..
    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question
  • neilc
    neilc Member Posts: 2,096
    edited October 2022
    and,
    that's a mercury bulb trol,
    so when you check, clean, or replace the pigtail,
    you also want to orient the pigtail so the loop is square / perpendicular to the trol face,
    the loop will contract and expand and will tilt the trol as it does,
    there should be a small hanging pendulum, and case mark, in back of the box to assist in leveling the trol
    if the bulb is tweaked and holding on due to the expansion then you may be wasting fuel and seeing too high a pressure,
    what pressure do you see when the boiler has been firing?
    reggi said:

    Probably not the cause of extreme oil usage (if that's what it turns out to be)  but this control device Pressuretrol - Vaporstat  ?? looks like it's seen better days as the Pigtail it's sitting on...it looks rusty..
    I guess you would notice any steam leaking out of it..but that pigtail should be checked for flow..

    known to beat dead horses
  • ron
    ron Member Posts: 317
    edited October 2022
    reggi said:

    With the price of heating fuel continuing to rise I'd wouldn't be surprised to see residents finding a way to syphon heat from unsuspecting neighbors .. NOT getting political here .,.. but I've noticed quite a shift in societal values since COVID first hit..
    Just my opinion..... not stating as Fact.. only observation..✌️ 

    catalytic converter theft is greatly on the rise, almost zero hesitancy now on the part of the thieves you can watch youtube and facebook of people getting pics of some guy with a handheld cutoff saw in the daytime. Two renters (not mine) fully exploited not paying rent for a year before leaving... "but that's just my opinion... because I don't want to get political and offend or break the rules and point out reality."

    I'm sure the oil company service tech's won't be dissuaded in helping given the conflict of interest, the more oil used the more money they make.

    in the spirit of halloween:

    advice:



    you could always spend $300+ for wifi monitoring of oil tank volume.


    "mostly peaceful removal of gas" :

    https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/22/us/gas-theft-us-rising-gas-prices/index.html

  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 690
    edited November 2022
    I am sorry that I did not catch that earlier but that
    old leaky pressuretrol and pigtail need to be replaced.
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 994
    edited November 2022
    I'm going to be the odd man out here. I don't think that is really out of hand. Maybe 20 or 25% higher than I might expect because it is a second floor. Here's a thread of folks in smaller old flats using over 200 therms a month (roughly equivalent, that would theoretically mean 10% less in oil gallons). If you have a couple cold months at 200 and 4 months at 100 that is 800 gallons. I tend to think the person who says 250 a year is understating. and the folks on that thread who give lower numbers often mention clossed cell foam insulation

    While the momentary operation is 84% efficient if I'm reading the henscratch on the tag correctly, you might want to check whether the operating control is a vaporstat, accurately running very low steam pressure and air valves on radiators, to see how long from when you first make steam at the boiler till you get heat at raditator valves or first sections of the radiator. The fastest venting means less time running when you are heating the basement and the 1st floor or outside with the pipes running up to the 2nd floor. To the extent that the 1st floor guy is reporting usage anywhere near accurately, maybe he isn't taking oil from your tank, but heat from your pipes. Do they run through the first floor, esp if it was vacant sometime you could ask the landlord to insulate them. Careful operation can result in less hours of runtime to get close to the same comfort.

    Is there gas in the house. Price per btu for oil may be double this year even with high gas prices. So talk to the landlord about contributing to a gas conversion. Depending on gas service might cost 3 or 4 grand and that would easily pay back in a couple years so if you split it w landlord you are ahead of the game.

    Expensive fuel is an inspiration to good insulation, but it isn't easy to do good insulation in older houses. you have to disturb either the interior or exterior finish and if you really want a good job you need to gut it. Some kind of blow in cellulose with minimal disturbance to the exterior is possible. The incentives are a little more difficult with rentals although there are various subsidies available. But if you get in line now you might, might be talkng about something that would help next winter. And even then, the impact on the second floor is less. I have 1st floors over cold basements that use fuel just like your mom does.

    And then, you could suggest your mom vote for a president who isn't so hostile to fossil fuels. And you can thank god the victorian is not in England where there isn't even anyone like that to vote for (or the one person there is gets run out of town on a rail by the elites who don't care if the plebs freeze this winter).
  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 690
    Hello Archibald,

    the problem is the landlord not the tenant as he is responsible for
    maintaining the heating system, the tenant is not responsible for
    the heating system maintenance.
    The landlord has cast a blind eye on the tenants questioning the
    amount of oil she is using, and the oil dealer just laughs as the
    landlord is simply a client who contracts boiler maintenance.

    MikeAmann
  • reggi
    reggi Member Posts: 323
    @Jason_Talbot Have you found any information about the fuel usage ? You haven't updated we're wondering if you found the answer... Sometimes it's just a mistake...it happens..there is some good information either way posted to help
    One way to get familiar something you know nothing about is to ask a really smart person a really stupid question