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Steam heated apartment

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Posted by dana on September 08, 2008 at 15:22:35:

I'm trying to figure out how advise the owner/manager of a (currently vacant) ~1000sf rental apartment what to do:

The single-pipe steam boiler is a ~75year old originally coal fired beast with a 10 year old retrofit gas burner. The electronic ignition may be finicky/flaky, probably needs replacing.

The footprint of the attic is ~450s.f. and insulated with R19 batting everywhere except the open staircase (doored at the bottom). There is a kneewall framed out, but the attic space isn't currently living-space, with only ~150-200s.f. of flooring. To insulate it properly the kneewall & rafters in the to-be-built-out space would need to be done. The exterior walls (3 sides) are probably uninsulated(TBD) wood frame construction, but the windows are all 10-15 year old vinyl double-pane double-hung sashes in decent shape.

The tenants pay the gas bills, so there isn't HUGE incentive for a major upgrade, but I'm thinking the AFUE of the existing kludge is probably Fix the burner & ignition and do some minimal insulation & air sealing for sub-$2K and call it a day.

2> Be rid of the beast in the basement once & for all, install a new 75-80%AFUE steam boiler in it's stead (is that ~$5-7K? More?), and similar minimal insulation upgrades as in #1.)

3> Replace the boiler & do a more proper insulation job for something like ~$10-12K(?) total project cost.

Are there any other options I'm missing?

Am I anywhere near reality on guesstimates? (I know the costs are different depending on local markets, but just ball-park wise.)

Were this my own home I'd be doing hydronic baseboard (zoned by floor) & full-on insulation at a minimum but I'm curious how the bang per buck shakes out in this situation.

My inclination is to go for #2, since the antique is likely to be a maintenance headache if left in place, and likely to cut the bill in half. But if there were a more-efficient hydronic retrofit option that could be had for similar money I'd like to hear about it. (I suspect a buffer-tank + wall hung hot-water heater system would still be more expensive, taking the cost of plumbing in baseboards in to account.)

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