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Thread: Steam heating in 3 unit home

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2016

    Default Steam heating in 3 unit home


    I purchased a 3 unit home with steam heating system. I did a lot of research and I know that there are many fans of the system but as an owner, it is not very attractive (lots of maintenance) and the radiators take up lots of room in the units and the units are small to begin with. The piping is extremely old and the system is at a point where it needs a large investment to bring it back to a good state.

    I was thinking of disposing of the entire heating system and installing 1 split ductless AC with heat pump ( in each unit for kitchen/common living area, and 2 window ACs with heating ( for the 2 small bedrooms.

    The advantages are:

    1) Each unit will have AC (they currently only have heating)
    2) Low heating pipes will be removed from basement which will provide more storage space
    3) From my understanding, the utility bills will be lower (at least for the main areas)
    4) More straightforward maintenance.

    Does anyone think that changing the system would be an error? Is there something else I should be considering?

    Also, each unit has 60 amps. Would I need to upgrade the electricity if I opt for AC option?


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Lala land, OH


    Your IP indicates you are in the SE corner of New York State. Is this correct? How bad are your winters? If a heat pump can keep up with your climate then they will be ok. Many do have a backup heat source. How high are your ceilings. If they are higher then normal modern height, you will need to keep that in mind.

    What condition are the radiators in ? That seems to be the decision maker on older systems. If the radiators are good, there are modern plumbing systems that are cleaner and fairly easy to install. Steam does not have the same number of options then hot water circulation does. There are upgrade valves, air releases, etc for them. If the house has any historical value, keeping the radiators keeps them happy. (removing radiators seems to really bend some people out of shape)

    Before going with a mini split, check into how noisy it is, some are much louder then others.. Utility cost may or may not be cheaper. Keep in mind you'll be running the system in the summer when you were not in the past. Radiator systems can be surprisingly efficient at times.

    Who is paying for the operation of these systems? If the tennants are, you likely will need to upgrade service. If the landlord is paying, and you have a common service to the building, you may be able to upgrade just that, which may be cheaper then upgrading 3 services. However, 60A is quite small by todays standards.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2016


    Thanks so much for the reply.

    I'm located in Paterson NJ. Ceilings are a bit higher than average but not by much. The radiators are quite old and the piping (at least in the basement) shows many signs of leaking and patched up repairs. I got a few estimates for repairing the system and they were all in the thousands and that would just bring me back to square 1 which is a cumbersome system which takes up lots of room in the basement and a system that requires lots of maintenance. What do you mean by "If the house has any historical value, keeping the radiators keeps them happy. (removing radiators seems to really bend some people out of shape)"?
    Tenant pays utilities but I would prefer if the system I offer them is more efficient. Each unit has 60A + 60A for common areas. Upgrading to 150A per unit would cost me roughly $4000 (it's a quote I got from one electrician) so if installing these ACs would require a service upgrade, it would be another thing to consider.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Kent, WA


    I would think a 100A service to each unit would be enough. Heat pumps aren't a panacea as far as maintenance goes either. There are little things to go wrong, and many die after 10 years now. You can't install these yourself. I'm not sure if window AC/heaters would be allowed as a structure's heating unit. Some areas may require that you use a fastened in place heating unit (so you'd need one of the hotel style that mount in an exterior wall, or do more mini splits).

    I would also get the main unit with electric heat strips. This may be required in winter to make enough heat to warm the place. It is also a backup heat source should the heat pump decide to break. But that can really increase the electric usage. You'll need an HVAC guy with some new design knowledge in order to pick units sized properly for your apartment size and outside temperatures.

    What is the energy source for your steam heat -- gas, oil, or electric? Depending on your utility rates, the mini splits may cost more, the same,or less. Costing more would be unusual because you've got new heap pumps -vs- old steam, but it oucld happen if your electricity is extremely expensive.

    Finally, what is the source of hot water? Is the stream boiler making that too? If so, are you going to need water heaters in each unit, or go with a common one for all? An electric water heater in each unit is going to increase the power needed by another 20 amps, so you would need to go from 100A to 125A feeders to each unit. Then, you also need to assess the total service to the apartment to make sure it is large enough (unless each unit is individually fed from the utility). It will definitely be less than the sum of the unit loads, so don't just add them up.
    Last edited by suemarkp; 05-04-2016 at 10:57 PM.
    Kent, WA

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