For lots of people autumn means leaf peeping, pumpkin spice lattes, and cozy sweaters. But for our clients, that charming chill in the autumn air also means that heating season is bearing down upon their buildings. While there’s nothing we can do about the inevitable approach of a cold northeast winter, there’s plenty that property owners can do now to keep their heating costs down and their tenants warm as the trees lose their leaves and the fall descends into winter. As any of clients will tell you, the key to making it through any heating season without breaking the bank is preparation. We compiled 13 simple steps that you can take now to avoid expensive problems in the winter.
Start in the Boiler Room
1) Visually inspect the boiler and all heating system piping and insulation
You don’t have to be a heating professional to give the boiler and the heating system piping a once over on your own. Before you start visually checking the system give the room a smell test, if it smells like natural gas or oil you might have a leak and should call an expert right away. If it just smells like a regular basement in there, check to see if there’s any signs of rust or mineral deposits on the boiler itself. Be sure to inspect what you can see of the flue pipe, or where the boiler vents out, and see if there’s any rust, soot, or burned paint. After you’ve looked over the boiler, take a look at the heating pipes. Make sure there’s no spots without insulation and note sections with inadequate or damaged insulation. Also make sure to check for visible water leaks around the boiler.
2) Compile your notes and have your boiler service company make the necessary repairs
If you’ve seen any rust, soot, signs of burning, or inadequate insulation, give a boiler company a call and have them send a professional over to make repairs. As you’d imagine, this is a busy time of year for boiler service companies, so the more specific you can be with them the easier it is for them to make necessary repairs now before it gets too cold out.
3) Full boiler and burner tuneup
Even if your building’s boiler looks clean as a whistle, it’s important to get the boiler and burner tuned up annually to keep it that way. Those yearly tune-ups will help increase your boiler’s lifespan and keep it running efficiently throughout. Don’t procrastinate either, scheduling a tune-up in the fall can be tricky so now’s a great time to give your boiler service company a ring.
4) Internal boiler cleaning removing any scale and sediment buildup from the water side and soot buildup from the water side.
New York City has some of the best tap water you’ll ever taste, but even that has dissolved solids in it which can revert to being solids when that water is heated up. Given that boilers (you guessed it) boil water to heat your property, you can expect some degree of “scale” or sediment build up from the fire side of your system. Similarly, on the “fire side” of your system the soot will naturally build up. Having a professional clean both sides before winter sets in can dramatically improve the efficiency of your heating system.
5) Conduct a combustion efficiency test before and after tuneup to ensure the boiler is operating at the proper efficiency
A combustion efficiency test measures how well your heating system’s burner is able to burn fuel and how well your boiler absorbs the heat from that combustion. In short, a combustion efficiency test is a great way to see how well your heating system will perform in the winter. Conducting a test is easy, most boiler service professionals have digital “manometers” that they can quickly connect to the boiler to test it before and after they service it. When you schedule your tune-up and cleaning, be sure to ask them to prepare to do just that.
6) Shut down separate domestic hot water boilers if the heating boiler only provides domestic hot water during heating season.
Some buildings have a separate domestic water heater to keep warm water flowing to showerheads and dishwashers throughout the spring and summer months. That separate, usually smaller, summer water heater can help save you on utility and maintenance costs as it allows your central heating system to take the summer off when its not needed. However, it goes without saying that it makes little sense for them to run at the same time if it’s not needed, so when you’re ready to fire up your heating boiler, you should be sure to turn off the hot water system as well.
Move on to the Apartment/Hallways
7) Make sure windows do not allow a draft when closed.
After you’ve emerged from the basement, take a walk through the common spaces of your building and check the windows. Obviously, make sure that any open windows get closed and do a quick hand check on a cool day to see if there are any major drafts. If your building has lots of rental units, this would be a good time to proactively reach out to your tenants to see if they’ve got any similar issues now, before it gets really cold out.
8) Make sure all baseboards are clear of any obstructions.
In addition to asking your tenants about their windows, it’s also a good idea to remind them to keep their radiators clear of obstructions. Radiators work via convection, which means that the heat from baseboard radiators needs to rise and cycle through the room in order to efficiently keep the space warm. That means that obstructing a radiator (like, say, positioning a couch in front of one) can dramatically reduce its ability to keep units warm.
9) Make sure all radiators and baseboard valves are open.
Even if you’ve followed every step perfectly up to this point, your heating system won’t be operating at maximum capacity until all the radiator valves are fully opened. Your tenants should be able to do this on their own, though some radiators require a screwdriver, wrench, or even a special bleeder key. Regardless, be sure to have a small container under the valve when you open it up to catch any water that might come out.
10) Remove or cover any a/c units as needed
At this point in the year, your tenant probably doesn’t need that window AC unit anymore. Offering to remove them now will help make the unit more efficient and mitigate the risk of your tenant dropping or otherwise damaging the unit.
11) Add or replace weatherstripping to any exterior and apartment doors as needed.
Now that you’ve made the rounds, be sure to check the weather stripping on apartment and exterior doors on your way out of the building. Good weather stripping will help stop drafts and save you money on heating costs. Best of all, it’s an inexpensive fix that’s easy to do yourself if need be.
Specifics for Steam Heating Systems
12) Test and replace any faulty radiator air vents and/or steam traps.
Steam traps and radiator vents are handy devices that vent out condensate and air while trapping steam in the system. If your building relies on steam heat, you can have a professional run heat and sound tests to detect any problem area before it becomes a more expensive problem in the winter. If you or your tenant notice steam coming from a trap or vent, you should replace it as soon as possible.
Specifics for Hydronic Heating Systems
13) Bleed any air out or radiators or baseboards
Air trapped in a hydronic radiator keeps water from heating the whole radiator which limits the effectiveness of your radiator overall and can be the cause of uncomfortable cold spots for your tenants. We recommend bleeding your radiators once a year to make sure they’re operating at peak performance. Fortunately it’s a pretty easy task for any qualified boiler service company. Also make sure to check all heating circulators to make sure they are operational before the heating season.
Lastly, make sure all thermostats and boiler controls are operational. Of course, the easiest way to save money while keeping your tenants comfortable is by working with a partner like Runwise. Our industry leading, advanced technology helps you manage your building's heating system from your phone and can help detect issues before they become expensive problems down the line. Best of all, installation of our system takes a day, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy all of autumn’s charms outside of your building’s boiler room.