February 20, 2019

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Does My Apartment Have to Be So Hot in the Winter?

Does My Apartment Have to Be So Hot in the Winter?
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Q: My apartment in a 14-story co-op in Long Island City, Queens, is consistently overheated. I have complained several times to management, as have others. But whatever comfort ensues lasts barely a day before the apartments overheat again. Even with windows open, the temperature in my foyer gets as high as 82 degrees, and higher near the baseboards and risers. I have lived in this building for 15 years and this is the most uncomfortable winter I’ve spent here. What can I do?

A: A New York City apartment can feel downright tropical in winter, with the indoor temperature soaring even as it plummets to single digits outside. This often happens for a relatively straightforward reason: some parts of the building are cold, so to compensate, the heating system overcooks everything.

Even subtle changes in a building can send the system out of balance.

“Someone could have complained and the super turned up the boilers. Or somebody went on vacation and closed all their windows. They could get vastly overheated just by their neighbor,” said Marshall Cox, the chief executive of Radiator Labs, a company that makes the Cozy, an insulated radiator cover with a built-in fan. “There are a whole slew of things that can happen.”

To install the $650 Cozy, which is not sold individually, your co-op would need to invest in covers for the entire building. Before making any major investments, management needs to determine what is wrong with the system. It should hire a mechanical engineer to inspect the boiler and heating system, which may need to be cleaned or serviced. (You should make this request in a letter signed by as many neighbors as you can muster.)


“Just like in anything, a lot of it is the maintenance protocol,” said Peter E. Varsalona, a principal at RAND Engineering & Architecture in Manhattan. “After all that’s done, you can look at more sophisticated measures to regulate your steam heating system.”

You could also try to improve conditions in your apartment. Wrap heating pipes with insulation. An ordinary radiator cover could reduce the heat, although it may leave the space too cold. Ask the super or hire a plumber to install a thermostatic radiator valve, a relatively simple fix that could help regulate temperature.

Surprisingly, engineers often recommend using portable fans and opening windows. But as anyone who has tried to sleep in an overheated apartment knows, the room eventually gets cold and you have to decide if it’s worth getting out of bed and shutting the window just to wait for the cycle to begin again.

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