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Westchester Co-op Masters Heat Balancing Act

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on August 24, 2022

Larchmont, Westchester County

Heat imbalance, steam heat, condensate lines, sensors, co-op board.

The driveway at the Carlshire co-op will soon be ripped up so underground pipes can be replaced.

Aug. 24, 2022

It’s a familiar problem in New York buildings: during wintertime, some residents are shivering while others are sweating, even with their windows flung open. Heat imbalance was a perennial plague in the two seven-story buildings that make up the 110-unit Carlshire co-op in the Westchester County town of Larchmont

“The whole heating system needed balancing,” says Rick Cherry, president of the co-op board. “There were spots where the steam was trapped.”

The board brought in Rye-based Marcy Management & Engineering to troubleshoot the system, which consists of a single gas-fired boiler under one building that’s connected to the second building by a series of underground steam and condensate pipes.

Marcy’s team, led by its president Jake Stone, a professional engineer, learned that the postwar buildings’ old control system was not functioning properly. He recommended installing a new control system designed by Empowered Buildings, which entailed placing sensors in about half of the apartments and on many of the steam and condensate pipes. The board agreed.

“We began collecting so much data that it helped us troubleshoot,” Stone says. 

Adds Cherry, “Through repairs to the piping, he got the heating system working much  better. The energy management system was able to pinpoint where a line was not working properly.”

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Meanwhile, Stone set up a dedicated email address where residents could register complaints last winter. Complaints flooded in at the beginning of the heating season, but by diligently addressing those complaints and making necessary adjustments, Stone turned the flood to a trickle by the end of the season. One upshot was that the co-op board president’s telephone stopped ringing. “That dedicated email address was so smart,” Cherry says. “It took so much off my back.”

But there was still an elephant in the room. Sensors revealed that the system started hemorrhaging 1,000 gallons of water a day. Yet, mysteriously, there was no evidence of leaks or flooding anywhere. Stone soon discovered that an electrical fire had melted an underground condensate line, which returns condensed water to the boiler after steam has been delivered to radiators. The lost water was simply seeping into the ground, hence the lack of flooding. After the condensate line was repaired, a larger leak was discovered under the driveway between the two buildings. The solution: dig up the driveway and replace the underground lines. The cost: $200,000.

 “Several of us board members were reluctant about that expense,” Cherry says, noting that the co-op has a healthy reserve fund and the board had taken out a $1.6 million second mortgage to cover exterior repairs. Though there was enough left over from that loan to cover replacement of the underground piping — without levying an assessment — board members still balked.

“But Jake was great at answering our questions and convincing us that we needed to spend the money and do the work,” Cherry says. Contracts are now being signed, and the plan is to finish the job before heating season begins.

Besides the end of shivering and sweating, there will be another benefit for the co-op, according to Craig Tamchin, chief executive at Empowered Buildings. “Typically,” he says, “we see savings of up to 20% on heating costs once a system is running properly.”

Cherry is optimistic that the years of imbalanced heat are finally coming to an end. “With the underground piping work and a few adjustments to the energy management system,” he says, “there’s every reason to believe the system will be working well this winter.” With a laugh he adds, “It had better be!”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — ENGINEER: Marcy Management & Engineering. PROPERTY MANAGER: RMR Residential Realty. ENERGY SOLUTIONS COMPANY: Empowered Buildings.

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