Steam Heat
April 26, 2011 1:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to sign a lease on a commercial space that has radiator heating. The landlord wants us to pay one third of the heating costs for the building, as the space takes up the ground floor of a three story building. At first this seemed logical to me, then I thought about it a bit...

On each of the other two floors there are three apartments, making six total. I'm assuming that each of these apartments has a minimum of two radiators, one for living area and one for the bedroom, but likely three or four, including the bathroom and the kitchen.
The entire ground floor space has just three radiators total.
My question: How is radiator (I'm assuming it's steam) heat coming from one boiler divvied up? Is it just the number of radiators, or the size of the radiators, or the size of the pipe going into them? Is it somehow dependent on the size of the room?
If it's the number of radiators, then I'm guessing we should be negotiating for a lower share of the heating bill.
posted by newpotato to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Best answer: For a commercial lease, it would be very unlikely and unusual to negotiate anything other than your percentage of the buildings total square feet. What you can do, and will have a good chance of success however is attempt to negotiate more/newer/better radiators into your deal as a landlord paid lease hold improvement. Conversely, you may be able to negotiate them into the lease rate where you pay for them and then deduct the cost out over a fixed term.

Either of these strategies will likely prove more successful than having the landlord agree to a formula not based on square footage.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:21 PM on April 26, 2011

Best answer: It's pretty tough to figure out. The amount of heat a radiator gives off is determined by the size of the pipe, distance from the boiler, size of the boiler, size of the radiator, type of air vent, whether the pipes are insulated and probably some other factors I'm forgetting. You won't easily be able to figure out whether you're getting your "fair share" of heat, so square footage is probably the best bet.
posted by electroboy at 1:23 PM on April 26, 2011

In my state, an apartment is required to have their own meters for this stuff and a divvy-up equation for utilities means the apartment is illegal. That may not hold sway for commercial space, but for the apartments above. NB: I don't live in a part of the country that uses boilers and steam heat.
posted by rhizome at 1:26 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't forget that your radiators will probably be used more than anyone else in the building; the heat in your space will rise to secondarily heat the spaces above you, letting them turn their radiators down. You would probably end up paying more than your fair share if the costs weren't evenly distributed by floor, and you were instead charged by metering the amount of steam going through 'your' radiators.

My personal experience of living in a commercial space with steam heat was that 90% of my heat came off the pipes feeding the radiators, rather than from the radiators themselves, because I lived on the 4th floor, and got so much 'free' heat from the floors below.
posted by nomisxid at 1:40 PM on April 26, 2011

The issue shouldn't be how much you are paying, but whether or not your apartment is warm enough. Your heat will be contributing to the heating of apartments above, so it should be square. If your apartment is consistently colder than those above you, your landlord should be compensating you, or making additional provisions. If your apartment is uncomfortably cold, your landlord needs to provide additional heating. Most landlord-tenant regulations have some provision for minimum temperature in living spaces.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:48 PM on April 26, 2011

Best answer: Heat rises. My winter gas bill in a first floor studio in Philadelphia hit $300 one month. Mainly, I ended up paying for heating the landlord's space on the second and third floors.

I'd ask to see monthly heating bills for the space you want to lease, and negotiate on that basis.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:16 PM on April 26, 2011

No answer, but something to consider: Does everyone have their own thermostats to turn up their own heat in the apartments? If so, it seems unfair that you would be asked to pay 1/3 of what could be an expensive bill considering six apartments with varying preferences for how warm they might like to be in their spaces.
If there is only one thermostat, then who controls it?
Will that be an issue with the apartment dwellers?
Definitely ask to see the monthly heating bills for previous years. That may be your best way to decide.
posted by LilBit at 2:29 PM on April 26, 2011

Check with local zoning and tenant laws. I know there are many places where landlords cannot legally charge for central building heat or A/C because it's not metered for the individual spaces (what rhizome said!!!). Landlords make up for it by charging more rent. You might be legally justified in telling the landlord to stick it.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:50 PM on April 26, 2011

Best answer: I'm no expert, but I do live in a building with steam heat.

Individuals cannot regulate heat to their units, other than by turning a radiator on or off. When the heat comes on, it comes on for the whole building.

There are four thermostats in different parts of the building. Their readings are averaged together by a master thermostat in the boiler room. The master thermostat is set to turn the boiler on at x lower (averaged) reading and to turn it off at y upper reading.

Radiator sizes are determined by the size of the room to be heated. The bigger the room, the more tubes the radiator will have, thus ensuring, at least in theory, that the building heats evenly when the boiler is running. I say in theory, because I live on the top floor and must keep half my radiators turned off to maintain 69-71 degrees.

So if heating costs are divided equally among the three floors, I'm thinking that's a good deal for someone on the ground floor.

In case that helps.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:01 PM on April 26, 2011

Best answer: I live in an apartment on the top floor of a three-storey building. The large window in my living room is single-glazed. The amount of heat coming up from below meant that even when it snowed for a week last winter, I didn't switch on any heating. So long as your radiators can maintain a suitable temperature in the winter, I think you're getting a good deal on the heating costs.
posted by Lebannen at 4:22 PM on April 26, 2011

Another factor to consider: the heating cost surely includes the cost of heating water, which the apartments above will use much more of than you will (showers, dishes, etc.)
posted by ssg at 7:18 PM on April 26, 2011

I'm on the top floor of six, with no control of the thermostat, and often keep my windows open during the winter months because the radiators are constantly churning. Yes, you have regulators, but if they're old radiators chances are better than fifty-fifty that the internal seals are completely shot so it never stays closed. Odds are also better than fifty-fifty you're leaking somewhere. Check the conditions of the floorboards around the radiators for water damage/obvious repair work. Not that it matters if you're leasing, but something to keep in mind.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:11 PM on April 28, 2011

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