Friday, January 22, 2010

Winterizing for Tenants

Every sensible homeowner has a checklist of things to do before winter comes. But for tenants, winterizing doesn't always get done. Some tasks they can't do, either because the landlord won't allow it, or because they don't have access to, for example, the basement. In other cases, they don't pay for heat and so winterizing isn't an economic priority.

A friend rents two floors of an older house in Toronto and has a problem with the upstairs bedrooms getting very hot while the main floor can be cold. Green Tenant spent an evening helping fix the problem.

Diagnose the problem
Before doing anything, try and figure out the problem and solutions. The house has a central boiler with water heat serving more than one apartment. The thermostat is in the apartment, but the landlord has asked that it not be set below a certain point or the basement will freeze (he has been working on the basement).

Part of the problem is the radiators. The main floor only has two large rads, and one does not seem to be working properly, while the second floor has three in smaller rooms. Turning off a rad upstairs may help, but the placement of them makes that difficult. Fixing the downstairs rad is something to get the landlord working on.

Heat also escapes the main floor up the stairwell. A ceiling fan would help, but the wiring isn't there for it, making it more than a tenant t

Find the drafts
We decided to seal drafts on the main floor in order to keep more heat from escaping. We identified three areas that were worth working on:
  1. Front door. A major draft underneath and smaller leaks around sides.
  2. Under the sink. The kitchen floor is always icy, and there was a noticeable draft coming from the plumbing under the sink.
  3. Windows. No matter how new they are, windows let a lot of heat out. Closing curtains helps, and clear plastic can reduce drafts and create another air barrier.
Door draft
The front door was a problem because there was only an old, wooden threshold and the weather stripping on the sides had worn out. I installed an aluminum and rubber threshold on the
bottom, which got rid of the draft. Using a measuring tape, hacksaw and cordless drill/screwdriver, it took about ten minutes to install.

The ten
ant will also apply foam weather stripping to cut drafts on the sides. I don't like this stuff because it doesn't stick very well. I'll be doing my own front door next week, so check back for instructions and tips on installing weather stripping and door sweeps.

Heat-shrink plastic films are a great way to deal with drafts around windows. I've used them in my own apartment, and next week will post instruction and tips. In the meantime, here's a post on using them in my opwn apartment.

Sealing drafts
Under the sink there were two problems requiring two solutions. The easy one was a draft around a drain pipe coming through the wall. The solution was to seal it with a bit of caulking.

Before caulking, make sure the surfaces are clean and that you've removed any old caulking. Use a kitchen/bathroom caulk, as it will likely be exposed to moisture at some point. Latex caulk is also fairly easy to work with and cleans up easily.
Before you start, get a small container of water with a lot of dish soap in it. The solution should feel slippery on your fingers.

Luckily, caulking now comes in squeezable tubes. I had one left over from a couple small jobs, including the grey water barrel project. Tubes are not as good as caulk guns for big jobs, where you want long, smooth, even lines. But they're less expensive for a small job, and are easier to work with in an under-sink cabinet. When you open the caulk, cut the tip to a width appropriate to the gap you're trying to fill. As you squeeze out the caulk, try to keep a nice, even flow and leave no gaps.

Next, wet your index finger in the soapy water. Use it to smooth the caulk. Again, try to get it done in one long, smooth stroke. If it's a long line of caulk, you'll need to clean off your finger a few times as you work along. This soapy smoothing is the key to a nice, clean caulking job. It takes practice, and is harder to do around a pipe than along the edge of a bathtub. But nobody looks under the sink, so it's a good place to get some experience.

The other draft was coming from the basement, through the gap around the water pipes. My first thought was to pop the base cover off the cabinet and use some spray foam to seal the hole. Easy to do on Ikea-style cabinets. Sadly, not easy on these ones.

Instead, I used some spray foam to seal the hole from inside the cabinet. It's not a perfect solution, but the best that came to mind. We used a minimally expanding foam, and are crossing our fingers that it will hold up to the temperature of the hot water pipe, as we couldn't find a high-temperature spray foam insulation anywhere in the neighbourhood. If it holds up, that's great. If not, it will be a small cleaning job to get it out.

Watch for more apartment winterizing tips from Green Tenant in coming days!

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