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steam heat, disable 1st floor and leave 2nd floor

SUPER80SUPER80 Member Posts: 5
Our two family home was built in the 1920’s. We have one single oil furnace to heat the whole house via steam heat. We want to change to gas and add two new furnaces.  Our plan is to leave the second floor radiators and install a new steam furnace for that floor to be controlled by the second floor tenant.  On the first floor we want to remove and cap the radiators then install baseboards which would be heated by the second installed furnace (water).  Also our basement is finish and would prefer not to remove any steam piping other than removing the radiators on first floor and capping off within the floors.

We live in northern New Jersey.  My question is can this be done. I have been told by one company that we cannot because of the steam piping and size of furnace would not be compatible. I'm not sure why the steam pipe size and pacement(s) would matter, after-all we are using what was already there.  Then another contractor said it can be done since the first floor apartment was always closing the radiator valves off and the furnace still functioned with heat to the second floor.

I would appreciate your feedbacks, comments, questions on this topic. Thanks.


  • BioBio Member Posts: 255
    Short answer is

    Yes, but at what expense

     I was in the same situation when it was time to remove my oil boiler but with recomendations in this wall I kept steam for both apts,it's now very confortable heat for both apts, I highly recommend Joe at ecuacool (see "Find a Contractor" above), he installed my boilers and balance the system and my tenats and my self are now saving $$ 
  • JStarJStar Member Posts: 2,668

    Why do you want to remove the steam on the first floor? Bio is right; the expense will never be recovered by converting to hot water. Steam is incredibly efficient and comfortable.
    - Joe Starosielec
  • A thought

    Short answer is yes. But not before doing some homework. First suggestion: don't tear out the rads. Baseboard (copper fin-tube type) is limited for utilizing outdoor reset because it relies on convective, rather than radiant, for emitting heat to the occupied spaces. CI rads, on the other hand, become luxurious sexy radiant heaters at lower temps.

    First: a heat loss calculation on a room-by-room basis

    Second: EDR calculation for each rad with cross-check to see what water temp is required to meet the heat loss on the coldest day of the heating season

    Third: Insect rads and piping for any obvious signs of deterioration, which would require repairs prior to converting to water.

    Fourth: find a suitable hydronic contractor well versed in conversions and hydronics to handle both jobs. Might want to consider converting the upper floor too. Modulating condensing boilers are best suited for delivering both comfort and economy.
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,428
    Definitely have JStar (Joe) look at this

    since the basement is finished, if you change the piping in any way you will have some tearing out and replacement of wall or ceiling surfaces. This adds to the cost.

    Second, unless you use cast-iron baseboard, you'll lose comfort. But CIBB is more expensive than the usual fin tube.

    Since the second contractor mentions first-floor radiators being shut off, it sounds like you have a system balance issue here. Fixing this is not rocket science and will cost a whole lot less than buying two boilers and a whole lot of re-piping. If we can balance a 32-unit co-op apartment building with one-pipe steam (click on our company name below for more) JStar can balance the system in your house.

    What make and model boiler do you have now? If it's relatively recent, the right pro might be able to switch it to gas using a conversion burner.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • SUPER80SUPER80 Member Posts: 5
    follow up

    Thank you all for you views and comments on this.  Straight to the point; the Oil Furnace is well over 35 years old.  The oil furnace technician indicated the blowers were changed twice within the last 15 years when he started maintaining the furnace.  We are converting from Oil to Gas for obvious reasons…oil is getting expensive.  Aside from that we spent over $1K on service calls on the furnace alone last winter.


    We have one thermostat controlling the furnace for the whole house.  When the second floor tenant calls/complain for heat we activate the thermostat.  The first floor gets really hot if the radiators valves are open so this is why most if not all the time the valves are kept closed.  FYI…the thermostat is located in the basement level.  Also, I totally agree that CI radiators are better for heating compare to baseboards.


    The separation is being done so the Second floor tenant will have their own furnace and will therefore have their own thermostat to control as they please.  They will also be paying for their own usage as their gas line will be connected to the furnace.


    As we occupy the first floor and the basement we needed our own furnace.  Since the steam pipes run throughout the house and we want to leave the second floor on steam we opted for using baseboards on a water driven furnace.  We were told we could not convert or reuse the radiators on the first floor because they have only one input/output pipe.  Plus, it’s easier to run the baseboards from the first floor to the basement boiler room.


    I’m still wondering if removing and capping the radiations on the first floor and leaving the second floor with the existing steam pipes would work with a new steam furnace.  Are there any issues I’d be facing (pipe size / locations) when connecting to a new steam furnace?

    I realize the issues with heat loss that might be experienced but…not having your tenant call you at 10 pm, 1 am, or 6 am for heat is a trade off (some what).  I’ve take the liberty for doing some research on CI baseboards including the typical cost since there is a lot of talk about their efficiency.  On the first floor (approx. size) three bedrooms (11x11), living room (14x14), dining area (12x10), office (9x7) … with these space the CI would be too much $$.


    Your thoughts and suggestion are welcome…
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,428
    Instead of going that far

    you can put air vents on the second floor rads that the tenant can control. Once the system is properly set up so the heat is even on both floors, if they get too hot or cold they can make the adjustments themselves.

    Having the thermostat in the basement is likely part of your problem. The basement behaves differently because it's at least partially below ground level. Not sure what type of heat emitters you have down there, but that is one place where a hot-water loop running off the bottom of the steam boiler, and under control of its own thermostat, would work well. We've done quite a few of these.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • SUPER80SUPER80 Member Posts: 5
    and zoning ...

    that puts me back at square one. my ultimate goal is to have the second floor tenant have their own system to control when ever they want and pay for their own usage.  since the steam system is up there I didn't want to touch the piping.

    i'm still lost after the first contractor said that I just can't remove and cap the first floor rads and install a new furnace to supply steam for the second floor only.  any idea as to why this is a bad idea?

    Its looking like I may have to demo the basement ceiling to remove/run piping.  I failed to mention that the system for the first floor and basement will need to be zoned. I did not mention this to the contractor after he made his statement. I plan on zoning living room, bedrooms, and basement.

    With this idea, please let me know your thoughts.
  • ZmanZman Member Posts: 3,558

    Yes it is possible to do exactly what you are proposing. You will have to repipe some of your steam and purchase and install a new correctly sized steam boiler (not furnace). After you do that, you will have to repipe you main floor for the new hot water system, then purchase install and vent the new hot water boiler. Are you doing all this so that the upstairs renter stops wasting heat? It is going to be very expensive.

    My first recommendation is to fix your existing system. Move the t-stat to a better location and control the heat upstairs. You could even find a way to lock out the temp setting upstairs so the cannot turn the heat up too high. This will involve a new boiler and some balancing.

    If you are set on hot water, redo the whole house. Put the upstairs on it's own zone and limit the max temp. If you really want them to pay there share, put a BTU meter on the zone.

    I am not in favor of turning your heat system into a Mutt.

    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • boiler control

    a Honeywell visionpro thermostat with remote sensor in the upstairs apartment would enable you to control the temperature, and the thermostat to feel the upstairs temperature.

    so for achieving what you wish to do:

    1. thermostat $500-

    2.balancing system $500-

    how does that compare to the price of 2 new boilers?--nbc
  • ZmanZman Member Posts: 3,558
    I Like it..

    Great idea. make sure to leave an inoperable T-stat in front of the sensor so they can crank up the heat when they feel cold.

    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • JStarJStar Member Posts: 2,668
    edited September 2013

    I see two options for you...

    1. Keep one steam system for the whole building. Install Thermostatic Radiator Valves on the top floor, and move the thermostat to the first floor (out of the basement). This will be the most efficient, and most comfortable system possible. Your fuel bills will be lower with this option than any other.

    2. Keep steam on the top floor. Add a hot water system to the basement and first floor. The only benefit here is zoning and division of utility bills. Unfortunately, you may end up with an oversized steam boiler, and an oversized (less efficient) hot-water boiler. Especiallly less efficient if you only install new copper fin-tubed baseboard.

    Option 1 is best for comfort and economy.

    Option 2 is best for convenience.

    Give me Option 1 any day, and find a way to divide the gas bill.

    A few years ago, I started to develop a scheme of smaller gas meters to log the CFH of each "zone" based on a thermostat demand. You can also install a thermostat on the top floor that only runs an hourmeter. In other words, you have some creative options to work with without spending a lot of money.
    - Joe Starosielec
  • SUPER80SUPER80 Member Posts: 5

    Thanks everyone for your input on this topic.  Because we wanted to separate the heating system from 1st floor and 2nd floor we have considered keeping the whole house on steam heat.  We’re in the process of getting an estimate on re-piping the steam pipes and placing two steam boiler in the boiler room.  We were trying to avoid doing any demo in the basement but it appears we’re going to demo the ceiling and some walls for access.  Oh well, at least we can stuff some insulation to sound proof the basement a little.  Everyone seems against the idea of tin-fin baseboards and understanding their shortfalls I would totally agree.


    I appreciate everyone view on comfort and economic value on this.  The suggestions were great but we need a permanent fix that works in the long run and having two units with each floor controlling their own is the best choice.  Asking to split the bill is out of the question with tenants especially around here.  I don’t want to end up in the position to argue about how much they used and we used (even with data).  That’s a waste of time with some people.  If they want to run their system 24/7 then they are more than welcome..its going to be their gas line.


    As always if you have a better suggestion on how to go about this or have comments please share.  By the way, does anyone have suggestions on where to get CI radiations around the metro area? I would call and find out the cost.  And for your experts, do you see any issues with using (reused) re-claimed CI rads (baseboard) from older homes?  If not, I would def. check out some places as it should be less expensive than new ones.
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