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Madison Avenue Co-op Gets Backup Hot Water at a Cool Price

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on February 6, 2019

Upper East Side, Manhattan

Hot Water Backup

Spaghetti, anyone? The new backup hot-water system at Colony House (image courtesy RAND Engineering & Architecture).

Feb. 6, 2019

The board at the Colony House co-op on Madison Avenue at East 65th Street knew it was facing a chilling prospect. The backup boiler for the building’s domestic hot water system was nearing the end of its life – after more than half a century of faithful service – and the board was determined to install a system that would guarantee hot water at all times in all 64 apartments. 

“We were seeing that our original equipment was dying,” says Robert Grant of Midboro Management, the co-op’s property manager. “We started looking at putting in a state-of-the-art, redundant system so we would have a backup. Then we thought that if we’re going to have a redundant system, let’s install a system that can work alternately.” If the two systems took turns working, the thinking went, they would both last a lot longer. 

Brilliant, but there was a problem. The post-war, white-brick building’s heating, cooling and domestic hot water systems are all fed by Con Ed steam. Installing new equipment would require a temporary shutdown of incoming steam lines, and it appeared that the only way to do that would be to break through walls in the tony Givenchy boutique on the building’s ground floor. “That would have cost a fortune,” Grant says. “We were freaking out.” 

That was when the contractor’s master plumber, Michael Smith of Stellmar Plumbing & Mechanical, came up with an ingenious solution: create bypasses on the nine steam return lines so Con Ed would not have to shut down the steam during the installation of the new system. “That let us avoid breaking into the built-ins in the Givenchy boutique,” says Grant. “That really saved us – $40,000, maybe more.” 

Smith had worked on the replacement of the building’s primary water-heating system 25 years ago. “Because I knew the building,” he says, “I didn’t see a need for shutting down the steam and bringing in a mobile boiler during construction.” 

Since this was a capital project in New York City, there were glitches. At the recommendation of the super, Geza Wester, the board had specified that one of the system’s key components – a dilution tank that cools steam condensate and uses it to pre-heat water for the two domestic water heaters – be made entirely of stainless steel. But the dilution tank that arrived from the manufacturer had some carbon steel parts, and the board decided to return it, delaying the project. 

“Geza was insistent, based on his previous experience, that the tank be completely stainless steel,” says the project’s engineer, Peter Varsalona, a principal at RAND Engineering & Architecture, adding that stainless steel lasts longer but costs more that carbon steel. “At the end of the day, we want to keep the customer happy. The board trusts Geza, and they wanted something he was happy with.” 

So the tank was returned, and a stainless steel one was eventually delivered and installed. The new system includes a semi-instantaneous domestic water heater, the dilution tank, a second circulating pump, and assorted gauges, piping, and other mechanicals. It’s able to run as a backup or in place of the existing water-heating system. By giving each other breaks, the two systems will enjoy longer and healthier lives. The project’s cost, $128,500, came out of the co-op’s reserve fund. There was no assessment or maintenance increase. And the showers at Colony House are always hot.

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS: CONTRACTOR: Stellmar Plumbing & Mechanical. ENGINEER: RAND Engineering & Architecture. MANAGER: Robert Grant of Midboro Management.

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