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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2014
    Location
    Chicago, IL
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    Default Brrrrr--- Missing radiators in many rooms--do I have a small or big problem?

    Dear This Old House community, I am in the process of looking for condos to buy. The last condo I looked at didn't pass inspection due to many problems including a poorly installed HVAC system (lack of sufficient returns, etc). I just looked at another condo which I am very interested in, but noticed that of the six rooms in the 1100 sq feet unit, only two rooms have radiators installed (the front living room and the back den). The other front bedroom, side bedroom and kitchen/dining area all appear to have HAD radiators, but they have been removed with caps on top of a pipe coming from floor. When I spoke briefly to another owner in the 7 unit brick building built in the early 1900s, she said, "Oh, many people removed their radiators because it would get too hot; however, I removed different ones than the owner of the unit you are interested in." She also mentioned that they had installed a new boiler for the building. She didn't know, on the other hand, if any radiators had been saved or why each unit "did their own thing" in terms of removing radiators. My question is, why would people remove radiators? Would it be "easy" to reinstall them or would there be reconfiguration issues with the new boiler? I have lived in apartments before where a radiator was removed and the room was cold unless you left the door open all the time. Should I be concerned about this as a major repair issue, or is this an issue I can work out with the building association easily? Being a teacher, I am on a budget and am trying to find a place which doesn't require too much upfront work to move in. I also don't want to spend more money on a home inspection and then have the unit fall through again due to serious building issues. Please advise!! Thank you so much everyone for your help!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Posts
    84

    Default Re: Brrrrr--- Missing radiators in many rooms--do I have a small or big problem?

    Just from an initial read of your post, this doesn't sound like a very attractive investment---we need more info as to the details of this condo & the building in which it is situated.

    Radiator heat can be either steam or forced hot water (FHW); from your description it seems like it's steam, that the building is located in a central urban area & that the building association would have responsibility to keep the heat flowing to the various apartments; since the heating season has yet to start, you have no idea as to any problems that exist with the system's function; there is rarely, if ever, any need to remove any radiators from an occupied unit; if there is too much heat in any part of the apt. the rads have shutoff valves that can be simply turned off if there is too much heat in one location.

    I also wonder about the security of the building---in unsafe areas rads are often removed from an apt/condo, broken up & taken away to be sold for scrap metal by drug addicts or alcoholics.

    How reliable is the building association? Do they have enough presence to prevent such vandalism & control the occupants??

    There is more service attendance required if indeed this is steam heat----especially in older systems, which have a reputation of constant breakdowns----the steam boiler usually has to be "blown down" each day (removal of a gallon or so of dirty water) so that the system doesn't eventually clog up; the individual steam radiator vents are likely to clog periodically, that means that SOMEONE HAS TO BE IN ATTENDANCE DAILY to attend to these steam boiler service needs----this is quite different from the vast majority of residential units in your area where a modern forced hot water or modern forced hot air heating systems that requires very little attendance during the entire heating season is in place---concentrate on THESE types of units for any prospective purchases.

    You might be better off confining your search for condos in stable residential areas that have a more modern heating system---in any case don't forget to hire a building inspection service to check out the building for any problems that you, as an investor, might overlook.
    Last edited by dodsworth; 09-09-2014 at 06:37 AM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2014
    Location
    Chicago, IL
    Posts
    3

    Default Re: Brrrrr--- Missing radiators in many rooms--do I have a small or big problem?

    Dear Dodsworth,
    Thank you for your prompt and thorough response! I am currently waiting for answers about the boiler and radiator situation from the association. I do not know if it's FHW or Steam, but I will be hopefully finding out these answers soon. The condo is in River Forest, which is a very nice suburb of Chicago. Many of the condos in Oak Park and River Forest are "vintage" condos in older buildings built in the early 1900s. Many of the vintage units that I have looked at have this type of heating system. I didn't realize there was so much maintenance involved with the boilers. This may mean for me that if I find a condo in one of these older buildings, it may be better if the building is run by a mangagement company rather than "self-managed" which this building is (it's a three storey brick building with 6 units and one basement unit). The unit I am looking at is on the first floor. I think the reason the radiators were removed is because the owners were too hot; unfortunately, because the building is "self-managed," each owner seems to "do what they wanted" in terms of removing radiators randomly instead of installing a thermostat, or as you mentioned, just shutting it off. My follow up question to you is, if you don't mind, since many of the condos I will be looking at are truly "vintage" with radiator heat systems, what kinds of questions should I be asking to the owners and association about how these are maintained? I'm not sure I can completely avoid looking at these units since my price range is limited in terms of what I can afford. Thank you so much, and I will post any additional info that I get about this current unit. Jennifer

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Posts
    84

    Default Re: Brrrrr--- Missing radiators in many rooms--do I have a small or big problem?

    jbell,

    Granted that your investment searches will necessarily include "vintage" units, I would strongly suggest that as far as the heating system goes, YOU SHOULD CONSIDER ONLY THOSE UNITS THAT HAVE FORCED HOT WATER (or forced hot air w/gas furnace) , as opposed to steam; buying a residential unit with steam heat is just asking for daily maintenance, headaches & troubles; be advised that many vintage houses, especially in northern, older cities like Chicago & its suburbs have FHW heat that feature cast iron rads, as opposed to more modern convectors such as baseboard & radiant heat (all different forms of FHW)---there should be little or no problem with FHW heat featuring rads, unless the rads themselves look very rusty & leak water (rare); the FUEL SUPPLY of the FHW boiler is also very important---natural gas service is very desireable, as opposed to #2 fuel oil or propane; natural gas is much less expensive; the age of the boiler is important; get the model # of the existing boiler & Google it on the internet to find out what year it was manufactured---any FHW boiler more that 10-15 years old will burn excessive fuel & is a candidate for replacement with a new FHW boiler (expensive, approx. $5k); late model FHW boilers are much more efficient & also look for the presence of a 40 gallon indirect hw heater (below) sitting right next to the boiler (they have no moving parts & last for decades) as its "companion" to heat the domestic hw (DHW) for showers, dishes, etc.----many older FHW boilers have only an inadequate "domestic coil" attached that produces only 1 gallon or less of DHW for the showers, etc. & is constantly running out of HW in the middle of a shower.

    I can't overemphasize enough the importance of bringing along with you a friend or someone experienced in the numerous components that comprise a living unit that have to be examined to "size up" a prospective investment so that you can make an informed decision as to the accept/reject decision on the heating system (old boilers on their last legs), 2-pane relatively recent windows throughout the unit, wall insulation, air conditioning, updated electrical, plumbing, bath & kitchen fixtures, floors, walls, ceilings in good shape, absence of structural problems, solid roof---the list goes on & on.

    http://www.supplyhouse.com/pex/contr...indirect%20hwh
    Last edited by dodsworth; 09-09-2014 at 10:15 PM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2014
    Location
    Chicago, IL
    Posts
    3

    Smile Re: Brrrrr--- Missing radiators in many rooms--do I have a small or big problem?

    Dodsworth, thank you again all your information about Steam versus FHW heat, types of boilers, etc. This has been very educational for me. I also appreciate your tips and ideas. I will have a friend come with me if I decide to do a second look at this place before going any further such as making an offer and hiring an inspector. I have been told by many that people don't maintain their homes as well as they used to, and I'm noticing this as I look at places that basic functions such as heating, electricity, windows, etc. have not been maintained (or work has not been done properly) and then the sellers just want to "pass on" these problems to their buyers! I guess the old adage always will ring true "Let the buyer beware!" I'll keep y'all updated.

    I'm loving this "This Old House" community! Thanks again!!

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