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Will converting my heat from steam (boiler) to electric baseboard heat freeze my pipes?

emaydeoh
emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
edited March 6 in Strictly Steam
My 1 story house is 123 years old (I rent from a family member) and the old steam heat/boiler system has been having issues, recently one of the ancient pipes sprung a small leak and it is in a very inaccessible crawl space. Everyone quoted (a shockingly high amount I cannot say here) to replace the pipe, and one guy finally crawled under there and temporarily patched it so we have had heat... but not sure for how long. We had 4 different plumbing companies come. I am not handy at all so am not equipped to fix it myself. I am not even physically strong enough to fix one of our leaky unions on a radiator.

My landlord/uncle is finally fed up servicing the radiators, boiler, etc every few months as it's very expensive, and his handyman is installing electric baseboard heaters today. The handyman said that since the "basement" is not insulated and has vents to the outside, without the boiler and radiators running, the pipes under the house could freeze. For context, the basement is a concrete hole in the ground that holds the boiler and water heater, and then it leads to a smaller area under the foundation that is dirt running the length of the house, and about 1-2 feet of space above your head below the floorboards. There are a few "vent" things on the side of the house (holes in the wall with grates over them) to air out the crawl space. It is uninsulated, and the house is very drafty and you can even see some light from the house while you're in the crawl space. We have never had a pipe freeze because the boiler keeps the basement very warm.

But I am now worried I will have to run the poorly functioning boiler IN ADDITION TO the baseboard heaters, just to make sure our pipes don't freeze. It gets below 30F often here in winter, with the coldest being around -5F (Colorado, USA). The house will be kept around 70F, but not sure if the baseboard heat will reach downstairs enough to help the pipes. I am curious if anyone else is in a similar situation, and if you've found the heat from the baseboard heaters enough to keep the pipes under the house warm?
Currently paying $300-420/month in cold months to heat the house with boiler/gas. 1,200sf house.
Not sure how much to expect from electric heat!

It is not ideal and if I owned this house I would insulate it better and get forced heat, but I cannot do that as a tenant without a lot of funds.
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Comments

  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 371
    The forum does not discuss costs but replacing a leaky pipe shouldn't cost that... I know, it happened to me. If you are willing to take pictures and share on this forum I think you will find your best bet is to fix the steam right.
    emaydeoh
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 4,445
    Unrelated to your posted questions, but I can't resist...I would hate to be paying for electrical resistance heat in Colorado winters (maybe you have super low electric rates, I don't know)
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    emaydeohkcoppCLamb
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    edited March 6
    @dabrakeman Whoops just removed the price! I had some really nice folks in this forum offer to help me find people here who would fix the pipe for cheaper, but since I don't own the house I do not have much say in who my landlord and his property manager hire. I kept trying to make recommendations to them but they wouldn't take my advice! I think after 4 plumbers and 1 commercial plumber all quoting around the same they just got fed up. One wouldn't even look at it until they did a 7 day air quality test. 7 days without heat! HA
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    @ethicalpaul Oh our electric and gas rates are super high here. I don't know if it is okay to mention the price of that but it is about $400 per month just for our gas boiler heating right now (will remove if not allowed!) I can't imagine electric would be too much more? I actually think natural gas right now for some reason costs more, Xcel our energy company just doubled natural gas rates in the last year.
    ethicalpaulmattmia2
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,146
    edited March 6
    @ethicalpaul Oh our electric and gas rates are super high here. I don't know if it is okay to mention the price of that but it is about $400 per month just for our gas boiler heating right now (will remove if not allowed!) I can't imagine electric would be too much more? I actually think natural gas right now for some reason costs more, Xcel our energy company just doubled natural gas rates in the last year.


    You could calculate the $/MMBtu difference, but that implies that you know the boiler efficiency, which is a bit of a WAG due to the issues it is facing. You can zone it easily to keep some rooms slightly warmer/colder than the others if you want.

    $/kwh * 293 for electric baseboard (COP =1) vs. $/therm * 10 / boiler COP is the $/MMBtu cost comparison.

    Electric baseboard appeals to a landlord because its cheap to install, offers some redundancy, and is extremely easy to find replacements for. Since they don't pay the bills, energy usage isn't much of the decision process.
    ethicalpaulmattmia2PC7060
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    @Hot_water_fan thank you for this! I will try to calculate. I had a question maybe you could answer, do you think if I just keep the boiler "running" without the radiators themselves running as often, it would still keep the basement pretty warm? Ie. I could set the radiator heat at 50 so the radiators do not turn on but the boiler stays on and ready with the pilot light. I don't know if that makes any sense.
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,984
    Something crazy is going on with utility bills. One can read in newspaper pipeline price for NG and what we pay retail. Supposedly electric energy wholesale price may moderate but retail will not on account of distribution cost and governments' meddling.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,391
    Sounds like the system has been maintained by hacks, steam wasn't the problem, but that ship has set sail.

    No way would I leave the un insulated basement of a 123 year old house completely unheated. Sounds like Russian roulette to me. Of course given what you have stated already sounds like the owner would blame anything but the lack of heat for the pipes freezing.

    With the thermostat set at 50 the boiler won't stay warm, it won't do anything because there will be no call for heat. Steam only fires the boiler if there is a call for heat so that won't do anything.

    Personally as a tenant who has been ignored to this point I wouldn't do squat about it. If it freezes you can't go without water etc, so the landlord either has it completely fixed that day or you get to stay in a hotel for a bit on their dime.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    CLamb
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    edited March 6
    @KC_Jones Yeah that was my thought. I am really worried about the pipes freezing down there. I guess I will just have to run the boiler. I am mostly worried about a pipe bursting if it freezes. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to live anywhere else in this city, hence why I am living here, so if a pipe burst and ruined the whole house and all of my things I would be really out of luck :( I may just keep the steam heat running on days when it is below freezing or see if they could even put an electrical heater in the basement?
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,146
    @KC_Jones Yeah that was my thought. I am really worried about the pipes freezing down there. I guess I will just have to run the boiler. I am mostly worried about a pipe bursting if it freezes. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to live anywhere else in this city, hence why I am living here, so if a pipe burst and ruined the whole house and all of my things I would be really out of luck :( I may just keep the steam heat running on days when it is below freezing or see if they could even put an electrical heater in the basement?


    I'd make sure your renter's insurance is paid up and substantial :smile: .
    ethicalpaulmattmia2
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,614
    You can just leave the water running. Hot and cold water. Obviously not a great solution but possibly best option at this point. Not that this is a foolproof option.
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,614
    Can they add some electric baseboards in the crawl space?
  • STEAM DOCTOR
    STEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,614
    Not sure if that's up to code or not. 
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 4,445
    edited March 6
    emaydeoh said:

    @ethicalpaul Oh our electric and gas rates are super high here. I don't know if it is okay to mention the price of that but it is about $400 per month just for our gas boiler heating right now (will remove if not allowed!) I can't imagine electric would be too much more? I actually think natural gas right now for some reason costs more, Xcel our energy company just doubled natural gas rates in the last year.

    It's OK to talk about your electric rates/costs and items available for sale publicly here. Just not the prices of quoted or completed jobs.

    Electric can be a lot more than $400 per month not because your electric rates are necessarily high...but just because heating with a toaster (that's what electric baseboard heat basically is) uses a LOT of electricity. It also requires a lot of capacity in the electric panel, I don't even know what size/service level of electrical panel might be required--it depends on the heat loss of the house.

    I'm sorry it sounds like you have no easy solution here.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,391

    emaydeoh said:

    @ethicalpaul Oh our electric and gas rates are super high here. I don't know if it is okay to mention the price of that but it is about $400 per month just for our gas boiler heating right now (will remove if not allowed!) I can't imagine electric would be too much more? I actually think natural gas right now for some reason costs more, Xcel our energy company just doubled natural gas rates in the last year.

    It's OK to talk about your electric rates/costs and items available for sale publicly here. Just not the prices of quoted jobs.

    Electric can be a lot more than $400 per month not because your electric rates are necessarily high...but just because heating with a toaster (that's what electric baseboard heat basically is) uses a LOT of electricity. It also requires a lot of capacity in the electric panel, I don't even know what size/service level of electrical panel might be required--it depends on the heat loss of the house.

    I'm sorry it sounds like you have no easy solution here.
    That part has me curious. I know in my house no way could I add electric baseboard without a service upgrade. If you need say 50k worth of baseboard that will be 62 amps @240. Not sure what kind of service you have or how much baseboard was installed, but I definitely have concerns based on what the OP has stated so far. I guess the question is, how did the handyman decide how much was needed? Without a heat loss or something its a WAG.

    I'm speculating the cost is going to go way up for the electric heat.

    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    Canuckermattmia2
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,812
    You don't have much in the way of good options here. The leaky pipe is an easy (and cheap) fix, unless someone is taking someone else for a ride, which it sounds like what's happening. So I think the refusal to fix the pipe is a dodge for something else.

    Are you paying your own electric bill? If so, you are going to be in for a horrid surprise, even if enough electric baseboard is installed to keep you legally warm (in most jurisdictions, the law says that the house must be capable of being heated to 68 to be fit for occupancy).

    As to the basic question, will the pipes under the house freeze? The answer is yes they will.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Canucker
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    @Jamie Hall Yes I really tried to push for fixing the pipe and using someone from this site, but the homeowner and property manager were basically fed up after having so many people come by already. :( unfortunately.
    I think at this point, I plan to keep the steam heat on during really cold days that are below freezing. I am now too paranoid the pipes will freeze! Then maybe use the electric heat just during days that are chilly. I just HOPE the pipe patch stays for the time being. I just need it to last a few more years.

    What kind of electric bill do you think I should expect? Like over $400/mo?
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    @KC_Jones the electrical panel is upgraded and is a 240V panel with a lot of empty spaces for new brakes so the handyman is installing each heating unit on its own breaker I believe (30W breakers I think?) I think we are doing about 4-5 electric baseboard units total.

    mattmia2
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 3,697
    Best guestamet is 2.5 to 3 times as much straight electric!
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 18,833
    If the basement is cold from open vents, you should close and insulate that area. Your heat bill will be related to how much cold air is coming into the space. Regardless of the heat type, of course.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    PC7060
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,812
    hack job...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ethicalpaulmattmia2
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    edited March 7
    @hot_rod I don't know too much about insulating, but could I put some of those fiberglass (?) rolls of insulation around the main water pipes and around the vents? Or maybe just put insulation on all of the main exterior crawl space walls?
    Do you think that would help the pipes not freeze just from insulation alone, without the boiler?
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 3,697
    Insulation S L O W S the transfer of heat it doesn't STOP it.
    ethicalpaul
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,146
    You don’t own the house, I wouldn’t insulate anything!
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 4,445
    emaydeoh said:

    @Jamie Hall Yes I really tried to push for fixing the pipe and using someone from this site, but the homeowner and property manager were basically fed up after having so many people come by already. :( unfortunately.
    I think at this point, I plan to keep the steam heat on during really cold days that are below freezing. I am now too paranoid the pipes will freeze! Then maybe use the electric heat just during days that are chilly. I just HOPE the pipe patch stays for the time being. I just need it to last a few more years.

    What kind of electric bill do you think I should expect? Like over $400/mo?

    Wait, there's a property manager involved in this fiasco?
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    mattmia2
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 18,833
    emaydeoh said:

    @hot_rod I don't know too much about insulating, but could I put some of those fiberglass (?) rolls of insulation around the main water pipes and around the vents? Or maybe just put insulation on all of the main exterior crawl space walls?
    Do you think that would help the pipes not freeze just from insulation alone, without the boiler?

    While it’s not your responsibility to insulate,the money spent on a roll or two could reduce your heating bills enough to make it worth doing.
    If the boiler is not running anymore any grills or openings to the outside could be closed. Even cardboard in a pinch will cut down on drafts, infiltration.

    If any gas or oil fired equipment is running, it needs some outside air to breathe.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,394
    Your between a rock and a hard spot, you cant afford to move and have to make the best with what you have. I would ask that they put heat tape on any water lines in likely to freeze places and also seal up basement and crawl space as well as they can. These have a thermostat so they shut off when temps rise. Be prepared to see your heating costs go up dramatically with the electric baseboard heat.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
    emaydeoh
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 3,697

    If the pipes freeze, that’s the landlords problem for not fixing the heat. He’s too cheap to repair. The steam pipes. Wait till he has repair flood damage.
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 5,335
    This sounds like you might want to find a different landlord.
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
    WaherCLamb
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 3,697
    When he gets his first electric bill he’ll be moving. 
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 550
    If you don't own the house/apartment you aren't responsible for the infrastructure if you are renting. Paying the bill yes, but fixing the pipes no.

    Electric heat would be the worst thing to do in my opinion. Add a zero to your heating bill.

    Get a steam pro from this website to provide an inspection and outline every single issue and the cost to fix it. Steam is probably one of the simplest heating systems possible.
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,146
    Electric heat would be the worst thing to do in my opinion. Add a zero to your heating bill.


    Electric is great for a landlord, bad for the renter. It won't be 10x as expensive if they're installing 4-5 baseboards, as stated above.
  • dabrakeman
    dabrakeman Member Posts: 371
    There is nobody in the find a contractor listings in his Colorado area. So, unless the OP (@emaydeoh) can get the landlord(owner), property manager, or local HVAC guy to tap into this discussion and start providing details and taking some advice then the most logical approach of fixing the steam system isn't going to happen. Maybe too late already if they are already starting the baseboard installation. Best bet might be to negotiate some new rental contract where the landlord pays electrical. Figure something out based upon past years electrical and gas combined billing plus rent that you payed.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 4,445
    pecmsg said:


    If the pipes freeze, that’s the landlords problem for not fixing the heat. He’s too cheap to repair. The steam pipes. Wait till he has repair flood damage.

    The last few responders haven't read the thread...this is a complicated situation. The landlord is the poster's uncle. The poster can't afford to move. The poster has items they don't want to lose to flooding. The uncle is fed up with failed attempts to repair the steam pipe.

    There's no good answer
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    emaydeoh
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    @ethicalpaul thank you so much for summarizing, this is exactly what is happening. My uncle/landlord bought the house to tear down in a few years and is doing me a favor by letting me live here for so cheap. I cannot afford anywhere else in my very expensive city. I do as much maintenance as I can on my own but cannot put hundreds or thousands of my own dollars into insulating or modifying anything too much, unfortunately. Because my landlord lives in another state, he has someone who manages his houses here and they are both getting fed up with the steam system and don't seem to understand the pros of keeping it (or want to hear it from me.) Basically, my options are to suck it up and use the electric baseboard heaters the best I can, or be homeless. Its a really tough situation for me and definitely not a normal "tenant" scenario (family member, no lease agreement, etc.)
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    @hot_rod we do have a gas-powered water heater in the cellar, would it be a bad idea to close the cellar vents for that reason? There is one on each side of the house about a foot wide.
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    @dabrakeman yes the electrical baseboard heaters are being installed as we speak. I have reached out to someone from this forum who was recommended to me and lives in Denver to see if there is any last attempt to just fix the steam heat on my own. I don't have a lot of money and don't feel super hopeful it is something I can afford on my own though. My "landlord" is a family member who is letting me live here for cheap before he tears the house down, so I don't have a lot of leverage as a "tenant", also no lease agreement, etc.
    Mad Dog_2
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 7,342
    Even if there is no written lease there are default rights and responsibilities that will be spelled out in your state law.
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    edited March 7
    @mattmia2 I understand that, I just don't want to push too hard since they are doing me a favor by letting me live here, if I push too hard they may decide to just demolish/sell the house like originally planned and not have to deal with all of this.
    pecmsg
  • emaydeoh
    emaydeoh Member Posts: 50
    A little update for anyone who cares! The electric heaters were installed and... don't do anything. They are about as warm as a toaster. Cannot feel their heat even 6" away.
    I am taking matters into my own hands and hiring my partner's friend who works on boilers and just going to pay him with my own money, which I shouldn't have to do as a tenant but I really have no other choice. This will use up all of my savings but I am realizing without the radiators going, we are going to be FREEZING (the pipes too) with a $1k electric bill every month.
    Mad Dog_2