Still freezing after all these years....
February 4, 2008 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Why is my condo still cold?! I've sealed up all the windows...

I live in a basement level, two bedroom condo. My windows were very drafty, so I put in basement wall pink insulation boards (R value 7.5, I believe) in all the windows. While that's definitely helped a lot, it's still much colder than my former house.

In my old house, I would turn the heat up to 80 F occasionally, and it would be ... warm! I could get out of the shower naked and not shiver. Here, despite all the sealed windows, I still feel cold getting out of the shower. Not freezing, but not warm either. And while I can now sit up in bed and not feel a freezing draft on my neck, I'll roll over and the other pillow will feel ... cold. I just don't get it.

I have a few theories. One, it's a basement level place and will never get warm no matter how hot the thermostat (only one in the living room) is turned, since heat rises. Two, there might just not be enough insulation in the walls (handyman thinks this could be true).

Three, in the bedroom anyway, one of the baseboards (the one under the window near my neck) does not seem to be generating any heat. It's not cold to the touch (feels about room-temperature), but it's definitely not as warm as the other baseboard. Handyman thinks that either it needs draining, or that there aren't enough fins to support the heat....for about two feet on either side of the baseboard, there are no fins, only pipes.

Still, why would this make the entire place feel not warm? Why is it so much colder than my old house, with all the windows sealed completely with pink board?! Thank you!
posted by Melismata to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on the age of your house (and the location, and, ultimately, how it was built) it's very possible that there is no insulation in the walls at all. That alone could be the difference. Though it doesn't help that one of your heaters isn't working.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:30 PM on February 4, 2008

It's probably not the windows, it's most likely the walls and the floors. The floors are probably stone or concrete under whatever's on top (flooring or carpeting) and it may as well be ice, because it doesn't warm up, and it's probably not insulated. And there may be hairline cracks in the foundation walls behind your drywall (or whatever your walls are) that are letting in cold air, not to mention that possible lack of sufficient insulation.
posted by iconomy at 7:37 PM on February 4, 2008

If the walls and floor are cold and poorly insulated, you can heat the room up to 80 degrees and still feel cold because of radiational cooling. This has nothing to do with it being in the basement or heat rising; it could happen on the 47th floor -- although being in the basement, the floor adds considerable cold surface area that would not be as cold on upper floors. With a well-insulated set of walls, the temperature difference between your skin and the wall is not great, so you don't lose much heat through radiational cooling from yourself (a warm body) to the wall (a cold body). But with poor insulation, and cold temperatures outside the wall, the wall doesn't stay as warm as the air in the room, so you lose more heat through radiation.

Best way to address this, besides insulating all the walls and floor or moving out, would be to use a small radiational space heater (the kind with glowing coils rather than a blower) pointed directly at yourself, which would compensate for the heat you are losing to the walls by radiation.
posted by beagle at 7:45 PM on February 4, 2008

Also, how long per day is your heating on for?

With brick and concrete floors as your presiding heat soak factor, leaving the heating on 24/7 for a few days may make more of a difference. If your thermostat is simply getting the air hot, then as soon as it turns off, it will feel cool as the heat zooms into the brick. I used to live in an open fire-heated place, and it was only after 6 months of super hot fires and cold houses that we accepted that keeping the fire lit 24/7 got the house warm - and more economically. Once you get the default heat level of the apartment to a reasonable level, you can moderate the heat. But until you get the brick warm, you are screwed.

Try leaving the heating on all the time. Then try cutting it back after in a timed fashion after about a week. It may be cheaper in the long run. Once you get that heat in the bricks, you'll be surprised the difference it makes...
posted by Brockles at 8:03 PM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is it damp?
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:08 PM on February 4, 2008

I've been in some basement apartments that always felt cold even when they weren't, partly because they had cold floors, and partly because they were damp in that particularly horrid way basements can get.

So two things: First, you need to get an accurate thermometer (if you don't have one already) to check the interior temperature, to make sure that it really is cold, rather than you feeling cold when really the air temperature is ok. If this is the case, you need to look at other issues, including humidity, your metabolism, etc, before worrying about insulation or the heating system.

But assuming that the thermometer supports your sense of chilliness, you need to address the heating and insulation issues. A good HVAC company should be able to assess both, and tell you if there is anything that can be done. It's worth the $65 or so for the service call (might be free if they are going to give you an estimate on work needed) to get someone out to take a look at things. If your heating system is actually owned and maintained by the building owner (don't know how your condo works) then you need to become the biggest pain in the ass tenant they have ever had until they get serious about making it work.

Lastly, am I reading you correctly that you have covered up all your windows with foam boards? There are much more cheerful options (as in, allowing in light) -- basement apartments feel so much better when they get whatever small amount of sunlight reaches down there. It just feels warmer when there is daylight; a combination of interior storm windows and insulated curtains should give you the insulation you need without making your place look like a NASA module.
posted by Forktine at 8:11 PM on February 4, 2008

Is your thermostat not working properly? If you set it to 80 degrees, then the temperature at the thermostat should be quite warm. If it's not, either the thermostat or you may be off.
posted by zippy at 8:35 PM on February 4, 2008

Get a cheap infrared thermometer and measure the wall, floor, ceiling and window temperatures. If any are significantly below 72 or so you have issues that beagle described.
posted by caddis at 8:43 PM on February 4, 2008

Is your ceiling insulated? There's a chance you're just heating up the people above you.

It just feels warmer when there is daylight; a combination of interior storm windows and insulated curtains should give you the insulation you need without making your place look like a NASA module.

I agree with this.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:29 PM on February 4, 2008

Ditto Brockles' advice. I'm in a not terribly well insulated apt with an exposed brick wall running the length of the house. I would turn off the heat before I left for work and only heat the room I was in when home, and I was *always* cold. So last fortnight I tried turning up the heat and kept it running constantly for a full 24 hours, and after a while the brick warmed up and I could crank it back down again very economically. It's the initial warming-up period that you don't want to skimp on.

Haven't gotten my power bill this month though...
posted by media_itoku at 9:53 PM on February 4, 2008

I lived in an apartment once that had poor insulation and windows but still seemed colder than it ought to be in the winter. It wasn't until I'd been there for a while that one day in the evening at just the right moment I noticed sunlight streaming in underneath an external door. There was more than a quarter-inch clear gap which I hadn't noticed because it was a (non-fire-escape) door that normally had furniture in front of it.
posted by XMLicious at 10:16 PM on February 4, 2008

In my old house, I would turn the heat up to 80 F occasionally, and it would be ... warm! I could get out of the shower naked and not shiver. Here, despite all the sealed windows, I still feel cold getting out of the shower.

80 F in winter is a huge luxury, basically anywhere you need heat in the winter. In Boston, at least, you'd be talking about an oil/gas bill in the thousands of dollars to keep a place that warm (seriously!). My house is set at 64, and that's due to the roommates; I'd have it set significantly lower during the daytime and the middle of the night.

You may have to accept that, in winter, you'll be cold getting out of the shower. I mostly dry off in the shower in a cold place, before opening the shower door; makes it more comfortable.

Being in the basement will, unfortunately, tends to be the coolest part of the house, and many aren't well insulated. If you own the place look at having better insulation put in. In the long run you'll save money on your heating bill.
posted by 6550 at 10:28 PM on February 4, 2008

Second the ceiling thing. I used to live in an apartment complex that had this problem. I spent one year in a basement and a couple more directly above it. Summers, the top never got down to 'warm' and the basement was nice. Winters, the top didn't need a whole lot of heating and the basement never got up to comfortable—and the snow melted off the roof above the rooms before it melted off of anything else in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, for the top there was an attic space into which more insulation could have been placed, but between floors? Not a lot of options. If you really love the NASA aesthetic you could cover your ceiling with foam board, I guess.

Forktine speaks the truth about getting a rise out of your management.
posted by eritain at 11:08 PM on February 4, 2008

Seconding no insulation. My house doesn't have any, except for the two rooms I've remodeled and insulated myself. Those are the two warmest rooms in the house. In the rest of the house I've sealed windows and installed new storm windows, but it's still cold.
posted by iguanapolitico at 5:50 AM on February 5, 2008

Seconding 80F being very warm. I can't imagine not being cold when getting out of the shower in the winter. You may need to adjust your expectations downward because there might not be enough capacity in your heating system to keep your condo at 80F. Get a thermometer and measure the air temperature and see if it is objectively cold.
posted by ssg at 12:02 PM on February 5, 2008

Luckily, the condo assoc. pays the heating bill; but given how drafty my windows were, I truly cringe at how much money and earth resources they're wasting on the whole building.

Beagle, why is a radiational heater better than a blowing kind? Do they drive up your electric bill a lot? (I do have to pay for that one...)

Brockles and TheCorpse, I leave the heat on all day and night at around 72, ususally 75 on weekends. It is not damp in the slightest, it's actually quite dry. The bedroom with the underperforming baseboard used to read 65, now it's around 70 with the sealed windows (72 on weekends).

And yes, I'm aware that my metabolism is a tad messed up, and am looking into that. :)

Caddis, where does one get an infrared thermometer?

I sealed the windows because they really were very drafty (blasts would wake me up at night), and I thought that it would solve my cold problem. Again, it's much better, but at 75 F it should feel warmer than it does.

Thank you all for great answers, you've been very helpful. I'm guessing that either there's something wrong with the thermostat, or there's little to no insulation in the walls, and I will look into both of these issues.
posted by Melismata at 12:26 PM on February 5, 2008

Here is but one. I think you might also find them at Home Depot and perhaps even Radio Shack if you don't want to wait on shipping. I would call first though. Some are quite expensive, and I think you might even find one for less than the one I found. Anyway, if you are wearing long sleeves and pants and are chilly at 75 F then you have either a draft, which you should be able to feel, or cold surfaces such as walls. The infrared thermometer, in addition to just plain being a cool gadget, will help you plot out which surfaces are cool and could benefit from insulation, perhaps even some wall hangings. There was a reason for tapestries on castle walls. To find drafts I think the smoke from a burned out match is the traditional method.
posted by caddis at 1:25 PM on February 5, 2008

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