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Home COFSAB Forum Condo Owners Forum Q&A How to cool down a too-hot condo in winter without frozen pipes

  • How to cool down a too-hot condo in winter without frozen pipes

    Posted by Tricia Lowrey on October 21, 2022 at 11:44 am

    Just bought a condo and became a homeowner for the first time in June.

    For reasons I don’t understand and can’t seem to get an answer about, the temperature in the hallways and common areas of the building are kept at 27C. (I am on the ground floor, it is even hotter on higher floors.)

    This causes all the units to be very warm as well. (I assumed the previous owner was just a weirdo who liked it really warm) I ran a portable air conditioner in summer, and since the weather cooled down, I have been able to cool my unit down to 22-24C or so, by opening all the windows all the way, but that’s not going to be an option much longer because of the risk of frozen pipes. I do need to keep it cool, ideally closer to 18-20C, because I have some health issues that cause me to get overheated very easily.

    The obvious solution would be to ask for the temperature in common areas to be turned down to something normal and reasonable like 20C, but since

    • the property manager almost never responds to emails
    • his phone suddenly drops the call if I ask a question he doesn’t feel like answering
    • I don’t have contact information for any current board members
    • the last time a notice of board members was filed with Land Titles was 2014

    I am probably going to have to DIY for quite a while.

    Advice on DIY cooling, and on how to get the property manager or Board to do something about it, is equally welcome.

    Tricia Lowrey replied 1 year, 3 months ago 4 Members · 6 Replies
  • 6 Replies
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  • Dana Bouwman

    October 26, 2022 at 4:10 pm

    That’s definitely a tricky one! Maybe try asking the property manager when the next AGM is. That might make their ears perk up a little and more likely to answer your question about heating the common areas. Congrats on buying your new place – I don’t have any great advice on how to cool things down within your unit, unfortunately!

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  • Marlene Janzen

    October 26, 2022 at 8:31 pm

    Most boards and managers are keen to stay on budget, so they might respond to suggestion for energy conservation (that may explain why temps were higher in summer if they didn’t want to run AC)? Since it now takes gas to heat the common areas you might get a better response by suggesting they can save money on utilities by turning down the temperature?

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  • Tricia Lowrey

    October 27, 2022 at 11:07 am

    Thank you both for your replies.

    My reply is long, so I have tried to make it as easy to skim as possible.

    My first thought was lack of air conditioning… except that there are radiators at each of the entrances, and they cycled on and off all summer. The forecast for my move-in day was something like 34C, and I asked, could at least the radiator at the main door please be turned off because my poor movers – I didn’t get a reply and it was not turned off. (Footnote 1)

    Another possibility is that the heat is coming from other people’s units. I had a problem with the heat in mine when I moved in, where the temperature was over 30C, and the radiators were going full blast, and would not turn off – I am not sure how many times I called and emailed the building manager about that (never got a reply), before I took matters into my own hands. I did eventually figure out how to fix it myself. (Footnote 2) Even other units having the same issue may be part of the problem, if it was the whole problem, I would expect more variability in temperature, rather than a narrow fluctuation between 26.5C and 27.5C in all the time I monitored.

    It’s not like this is a weird, heritage-old building with some arcane heating system that the people who would understand it, are at the end of their lifespans. It was built in 1999. There should be a way to fix it, and if there isn’t, it really should have been in the pre-sale disclosure package. I really, really don’t want to have to go the latent material defects route.

    Honestly the complete lack of responsiveness of the building manager is at least as big a concern as the heat. The level of incompetence is darn near impossible to distinguish from malice.

    He almost never responds to email. It almost always takes multiple, increasingly frustrated emails, over several weeks or even months (Footnote 3), to get any reply at all, even if it’s just ‘call (someone else) at (their number)’ … unless it’s something super easy like, notices were slipped under everyone’s doors about voting on new bylaws, with a note at the end, please email him for a copy of the new bylaws if you don’t have them, so I did, and the response time on that was under a minute. So I know he does have access to email and does check it, he’s just very selective about what he responds to.

    And no, he doesn’t answer the phone, or return calls if you leave a message, either.

    I will be sending another, very sternly worded email, pointing out the waste of money, the comfort issue, and the risk of frozen pipes due to thermostats being overridden by the heat coming in from the hallway, and then my girlfriend has offered to take over on phoning (maybe if there is an unfamiliar number on his call display, he will answer?). She is highly skilled at dealing with broken systems and unhelpful people (Footnote 4) – but I imagine, since she doesn’t live with me and her name isn’t on the title, she will just get stonewalled because privacy.

    After that, I really don’t know. Mail letters to the last board members on record (assuming they even still live there), and the president/owner of the management company? Get RECA involved with licensing for the building manager, and/or the management company? Get a lawyer?

    Thank you again for reading all this!


    Footnote 1: They were pros and didn’t complain in my earshot, but I bought a couple cases of gatorade at costco and they drank all of it.

    Footnote 2: I started taking the radiator apart and sticking my phone into it to take photos of any part with a brand name or model number and googling it all. It turned out that the problem was, the zone valve is a normally open valve, and the thermostats you can buy at big-box hardware stores are for normally-closed systems, so the zone valve was responding to the signals from the thermostat, in reverse. The previous owner had left the thermostat turned up to its maximum setting, to turn the heat off, so when I looked at it and said why on earth is it cranked to max, and turned it off, the heat came on. I was able to find the right kind of thermostat at a specialty plumbing/HVAC store, and once I wired it in, my heat worked properly – but who knows how many other units people have tried to be environmentally responsible and installed programmable thermostats they got at a big box hardware store, and are now trying to manually control their heating by turning it all the way on, or all the way off, in reverse. I would love to create an info sheet about this (and I have the skills to make a good-looking one), and distribute it to everyone in the building, but I think that is the kind of thing that I should get permission from the Board before doing. I also think such an info sheet should have been included in a ‘welcome new owner’ type packet – but I don’t think such a packet exists, or at least I never got one.

    Footnote 3: I could go back and count how many emails it took to get him to send me the forms a new owner needs to complete – it was a lot, and took a subject line in capslock and sharp words to get a reply at all (and several more reminders before he actually sent the forms). Over 3 months, and I lost count of how many emails, to get the intercom connected. One month, and five emails, to be told who to contact to get my move-in damage deposit refunded. Lost count of how many emails and phone calls about not being able to turn off the heat in my unit, never received a reply to any of them.

    Footnote 4: She (and her then-wife) adopted a child pretty much as soon as it became legal for them to do so – and anyone who can successfully navigate the adoption and child welfare system, OR get the necessary disability supports in school for their child, is a serious Boss, but she not only did both, she did so back when homophobia was so much worse and so much more prevalent. She doesn’t think she’s a hero but I do.

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  • Tricia Lowrey

    October 28, 2022 at 9:26 am

    Well, here is an unexpected, but hopeful update!

    I got home from work yesterday, to find a note slipped under my door, that there would be a full water shutdown today, because contractors would be in doing some work on the water shutoff valves in the mechanical room.

    I have no idea whether the work is in any way related to my email about the building temperature last week, but I decided to dash off a quick “Hey, if they are in there anyway, could you ask them to please do something about the temperature, what a waste of money” type email.

    And first thing this morning, I got a polite and helpful reply: thank you for reaching out, I will ask them to investigate.

    I have no idea why this email got a response when so many others have not, but I am cautiously optimistic. I will see what happens, and update either way.

    Thank you again for listening/reading, and offering sympathy and support, I really appreciate it.

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  • Mark Hambridge

    November 26, 2022 at 10:21 pm

    Hi Tricia: My apologies for not replying sooner. Until I read your footnote #2, I didn’t think I had anything to contribute.

    Our project consists of three tall buildings with two hot water boilers in each, which deliver hot water to perimeter heating through vented steel baseboards in units. The temperature is controlled by one or two thermostats in each unit which manage the water flow through zone valves. At each end of a ‘run’, there are shut-off valves so that a zone can be isolated for maintenance or repair in the event of a freeze and burst. Each unit or zone is fed by a riser delivering the hot water and a return pipe which takes the cooled water back to the boiler.

    At first, we had a lot of problems. The buildings were erected in 1979 and ‘renovated’ around 2000. No renovation or maintenance was done on the heating system. The pipes needed intensive cleaning and flushing to get the water to flow correctly. Some additives were put into the water to let it easily slip through the old iron and copper pipes. Many zone valves did not respond to the thermostats because they were old and burned out. Many thermostats were wrongly wired (like yours), so they reacted perversely!

    Some users opened windows to cool their units in winter, which caused perversely wired thermostats to shut down, resulting in standing water in the copper pipes. They then froze and burst, flooding many units below and beside the frozen one, with a consequent massive repair bill and insurance claim. The corporation decided to install bypasses around the zone valves, controlled by a manual valve operated by the building operator, to allow a minimal hot water flow even if the thermostat had closed the valve because of excess heat. This has saved several freeze-ups.

    The corporation examines and ensures the zone valve bypasses are working correctly at the beginning and end of the heating season. Every unit receives a notice about the correct operation of the heating system at the beginning of each winter. Most units have fireplaces; proper operation in those circumstances means the fireplace thermostat must ALWAYS be set lower than the heating system thermostat.

    All that sounds like a lot of work; however, preventive maintenance has saved a lot of problems resulting from improper operations.

    Not all of these actions will apply to your situation; these posts are read by many in similar situations. I hope to offer helpful remarks to others. Feedback is always welcome.

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    • Tricia Lowrey

      November 28, 2022 at 12:44 pm

      Thanks for your input! What a mess, I am glad you guys were able to figure it out and come up with something workable.

      Please spread the word!

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