It's chilly in here...
October 15, 2009 12:48 PM   Subscribe

So, we'd really rather not go to our landlord about this problem, but we're having problems with the heat in our apartment.

Today I turned on the heat for the first time of the season. Nothing happened. We have hot water still, and we have access to our water heater in our apartment. Do you think there's anything we can do? Also there's a notice on our filter line that looks really old, says the heater shouldn't be turned on until something is installed. On top of that it was working just fine earlier this past spring.

What's the deal?
We've just had to convince the landlord to fix a few things, and we're right now waiting for them to fix something else.

Could it be a fuse?
posted by wild like kudzu to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
It's not like the landlord can say no. It's your HEAT...and it's their job to make sure it is working.
posted by Windigo at 12:52 PM on October 15, 2009

Check with your municipal office to find out when the heat should be activated. In many areas in the Northeast United States, for instance, the law states that it must be turned on on October 1. If your landlord's missed the date, put on your friendly face, and ask, "Doesn't the heat come on October 1st?" A gentle prompting should be enough in most cases.
posted by Gordion Knott at 1:01 PM on October 15, 2009

Yeah, "the apartment sucks in other ways" is not a good reason to not go to your landlord about this too. They're obligated to keep your apartment in working order, especially stuff like the heat.
posted by brainmouse at 1:01 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your rent is designed to cover maintenance expenses. Get your money's worth -- call up your landlord and tell them about the problem.
posted by phatkitten at 1:12 PM on October 15, 2009

The law states you must have heat. Tell him to fix it.

Ps maybe the pilot light is out? if you remove the cover there is usally a little button to lite it again. Also is the red switch on ?
posted by majortom1981 at 1:16 PM on October 15, 2009

You don't seem to have any idea about what piece of machinery or equipment actually provides your heat, never mind the mechanism by which it does so. Hint: your hot water heater is dramatically unlikely to have anything to do with your furnace/steam generator/heat source for heating the apartment -- same with fuses. With that in mind, I kindly suggest that any information you get here is only going to be enough to get you into trouble. Call your landlord.
posted by amelioration at 1:39 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

It may be something quite simple. When I was a landlord, I had to pay the service call when a tenant had flipped the emergency furnace shutoff switch instead of a light switch. So look at the basics. Thermostat set to 75 (to make sure it kicks on), Furnace/heat switch at the thermostat set to Heat (not AC), no tripped breakers. Is it a hot water or steam system? Does it need water added? Have the landlord give you a tour of the system so you can do simple troubleshooting.

Your landlord might be an ass about it if you've had recent repairs, and maybe your landlord is predisposed to be an ass, but repairs and furnace problems are part of the deal. Better to call during the day than pay after-hours charges for repair.
posted by theora55 at 1:41 PM on October 15, 2009

In order to answer this, we need to know what provides heat for your apartment. Do you have a furnace? Gas or Oil?

Do you have central air (forced hot air coming out of vents) or radiators or electric?
posted by zippy at 1:59 PM on October 15, 2009

Response by poster: I think maybe we have a furnace... we're just two early 20s girls we don't really know what we're doing admittedly. We don't have central air, we only have one in-wall unit in the living room.

I think maybe we should just call.
posted by wild like kudzu at 2:22 PM on October 15, 2009

Dunno where you're located, but my local gas company (PG&E) will come out for free and inspect heaters and re-light pilot lights. Give them a call/check the website and see if yours does.
posted by mollymayhem at 2:49 PM on October 15, 2009

Where in the country are you? If you live in a prewar building in New England or New York, there's a fair chance you have oil heat, which means that, in order for your heat to work:

1. The oil tank has to be full;
2. The line from the tank to the furnace has to be open;
3. The furnace must be turned on.

These things are all generally done by the oil guy when he comes for the winter's first delivery. Note that, in some cases, this may be later than you expect. Before they happen, the thermostat won't do much of anything.

If you have oil heat, call the landlord, and I promise you he'll know exactly what to do (it will probably be call the oil guy) because the first time you turn the heat on in the year is always a little bit of a production.
posted by goingonit at 2:54 PM on October 15, 2009

If it is just one in wall unit, and you know where your breaker box is, take a look and see if there is one labeled for your heat, and if that is tripped. It shouldn't take more than 5 minutes to check, and if it is just that you need to flip on the breaker, that is easy enough to do yourselves.
posted by markblasco at 2:54 PM on October 15, 2009

Your landlord is legally obligated to provide you with heat, even if you haven't paid rent in 17 years and are running a clandestine meth lab/day care from the apartment. Call him. Tell him you will not pay rent till you have heat.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:58 PM on October 15, 2009

Don't threaten or get mad or anything, just say, "Hey, I turned on the heat, and nothing happened. Can you fix it?" If it doesn't get fixed in a few days, THEN you turn up the pressure. I had to call the city and complain in order to get my heat fixed a few years ago at a previous apartment, but there's no need to be confrontational and angry unless they don't fix it.
posted by Slinga at 3:36 PM on October 15, 2009

Relax, if you just turned the thermostat to "on" and nothing happened, it might not even be broken.

Call your landlord and say "How do I turn on the heat?" - there might be a pilot light, or a switch someplace, or a baffle to remove, or a tank to fill up. Since you don't seem to be sure if you have a furnace or what it's fuel source is, you are probably unaware of the procedures for setting it up at the beginning of the winter.

If I wanted to turn on my heat right now, I would need to turn on the gas and light the pilot. The fact that my thermostat would have no effect until I do these things does not mean that something is broken any more than your computer is "broken" if you haven't plugged it in.
posted by yohko at 7:08 PM on October 15, 2009

I think the first thing to do is figure out whether you have electric, gas, or oil heat. Odds are good your heater has a little plate on it saying something like "Acme Model-32 Gas Heater" which should be a clue.

If gas, you might have to light the pilot light; there are usually detailed instructions printed on the heater (often on the inside of the door you open to get to the pilot light).

If electric, check the breaker.

If confused, call your landlord. It is, after all, their job to make sure stuff like this works— it's one of the reasons you send them that check every month. I'd suggest calling tomorrow so that you don't have to call on the weekend.
posted by hattifattener at 7:25 PM on October 15, 2009

If it's a radiator (which I think it might be since you mention that you have hot water; if you're not sure what a radiator is, it's pipes with hot water running through them), then there's probably air in the pipes stopping the hot water from reaching the rad, and they have to be bled. There's usually a little tap on a pipe leading out of the radiator; you get a bucket, put it underneath, and turn the tap; let the water run out until it starts to run warm. If it hisses, spurts or bubbles then you definitely had air.
We usually bleed ours every year before turning on the heat.
posted by Billegible at 6:39 AM on October 16, 2009

Billegible is correct, unless you have steam heating, which still has required radiator maintenance but it's completely different. Call your landlord.
posted by goingonit at 7:36 AM on October 16, 2009

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