Why is my apartment so cold?
December 12, 2005 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Brownstone filter: Why is my apartment so cold?

Hey AskMeFi...I hope you can give me some tips on this.

- I live on the top floor of a three-story brownstone, very old construction (Brooklyn, NY)
- I have a radiator at each end of the apartment, and a hot pole in the bathroom, in the middle
- The radiators go off once in awhile (once every couple hours)...when they do, things feel fine...in between, however, it gets down to 62F/14C, (I have a thermometer) with the radiators cold to the touch. Both radiators are opened the whole way.
- This apartment is also very hot in the summer. (I've never understood why I get shafted in both the summer and winter. I've asked around the neighborhood and living on the top floor just seems to be like this.)
- When I visit my landlords downstairs, their apartment is very warm.
- I did the plastic-wrap/blow-dryer thing on the windows last winter and it didn't do much.

Is there anything I can do? Can they send more heat up the pipes without getting tropical in their apartment? Do any of you know how these systems work?

Thanks for your time!
posted by cgs to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
downstairs is always warmer than upstairs (closer to boiler)--old buildings leak heat tremendously--top floor is always hottest in summer (it's the roof)--do the plastic thing again and get those long snakey stuffed things for windowsills/doorways--some people get heat reflectors and put them behind the radiators--i'd put up heavier curtains in winter too...
posted by amberglow at 10:44 PM on December 12, 2005

This recent thread has a few more tips on winterizing your pad.

For the summer, see if you can get your landlords to paint the roof reflective silver. (Or aluminum, as it turns out.) That helped out a lot on my last place.

And if it's any consolation, it's 62 degree in my place right now, because I'm paying for the heat.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:27 PM on December 12, 2005

Slight derail: This old thread on the temperatures people keep their houses at is still fascinating for some very prosaic reason. 55F? Jeesh people. 62 doesn't seem totally unreasonable, but too cold for me too.
posted by fionab at 11:56 PM on December 12, 2005

As an aside, you might want to check your local tenant's laws to figure out what the minimum temperature needs to be if your landlord is responsible for heating your place.

I say this because I was having trouble earlier this winter with my heat not being turned on- I looked into the Philadelphia tenant's rights laws and found out that landlords who take care of heating must keep their tenants' apartments at a minimum of 68 during the winter.

Google around a bit, and good luck!
posted by elisabeth r at 5:59 AM on December 13, 2005

Can they send more heat up the pipes without getting tropical in their apartment?

Probably not. It sounds like there's just one thermostat/control for the heat in the whole building, probably in the landlord's apartment, and the radiators don't have thermostatic valves. Also, I'm guessing everyone below you has a radiator and a hot pole (to carry the heat to the apartments above) at each end of the apartment, further increasing the imbalance.

I once lived on the second floor of a walkup in Brooklyn where for some reason the thermostat for the whole back half of the building was in my apartment (the landlord didn't live in the building), and throughout the winter I was constantly getting calls from the downstairs neighbors saying they were sweltering or the upstairs neighbors saying they were freezing.

It's possible the landlords and other tenants could partly close the valves on their radiators so the building thermostat could be turned up without making their apartments too hot (or, probably more important to the landlord, wasting money), but everyone banding together to adjust for your comfort level doesn't seem like a likely scenario.
posted by staggernation at 6:36 AM on December 13, 2005

On the NYC tenant rules on temperature as suggested by elisabeth r above... in one of the places we lived in Brooklyn, the thermostat was time regulated, and the landlord wanted to know when we'd be home. Since we were students at the time with irregular schedules... well, it was cold a lot.

In wintertime, the rules are 68 degrees from 6am-10pm and 55 degrees overnight. (Roughly. Depends on outside temperature.) To answer the question, eventually we just bought a space heater. It's on your dime, but if it's warmer than the housing rules enforce, there's not a whole lot to be done.
posted by cacophony at 6:59 AM on December 13, 2005

Apart from what amberglow said, warm air rises and cold air falls. Thanks thermodynamics!
(I've never understood why I get shafted in both the summer and winter. I've asked around the neighborhood and living on the top floor just seems to be like this.)

We basically leave the radiator on full blast and use various widths of openness on the windows to control temperature along with closing and opening doors in the apartment. This helps slow the movement of heat.

You might also consider getting a small space heater with a timer (no exposed coils!) for wherever you sleep and set it for around an hour before you wake up. Since your metabolism slows while you sleep, you're usually coldest when you wake up and that's just no way to start the day! I've found that just waking up warm makes the rest of the house feel more bearable.
posted by Captaintripps at 7:06 AM on December 13, 2005

I live in the top floor of a Brooklyn brownstone, built in the 1880's as well. Believe me, it's not just you. Unfortunately, I think it's largely the lack of insulation - yes, heat does rise, and there's radiators, but the lack of an attic and any real insulation in the roof means that a large chunk of that radiates right away. Similarly, you get baked in the summer. (Though, many folks are now painting their roofs reflective silver to cut this down a bit - has your landlord done this?)

As for the winter, I've found space heaters and the judicious use of spray-foam insulation and the plastic weatherstripping were of the most help. Looking behind the wallboards near the windows, you saw just the outside facade - no hint of insulation. The spray foam and the plastic took care of most of the drafts and air leaks. Then, the space heater to heat up the space you were actually using the most.
posted by bemis at 7:14 AM on December 13, 2005

I second the silver paint on the roof, it made a huge difference - probably 10 degrees on my apartment temperature in the summer living on the top floor. As far as the heat is concerned do what I do, get yourself a very comfortable thermal zipper sweatshirt. That'll give you an extra 5-10 degrees of warmth.
posted by any major dude at 8:20 AM on December 13, 2005

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