Heat Sensor Technology Reducing Fuel Costs and Tracking Potential Problems

It's the dead of winter. Outside the temperature is below freezing. Your building is sending up heat, and you've got

your windows open. What's going on? Why can't your building's heating system just make everyone comfortably warm instead of turning your apartment into an oven?

What's going on is that most boilers are controlled by the outside temperature. A simple reset timer mounted on the outside of your building reads the air temperature and, based on that reading, instructs the boiler to cycle on for a predetermined period of time. The heat starts coming up, and it gets warmer and warmer inside the building; but, of course, the temperature stays about the same outside. And because it's generally true that the lower the temperature outside, the longer the boiler runs, inside it gets warmer and warmer still, wasting fuel and making residents uncomfortably hot. And that's when the windows start to open.

The obvious solution is to somehow control the boiler's cycles based on the temperature inside the building. That's what indoor computerized heat sensors are all about. A number of unobtrusive heat sensing devices about the size of light switches are mounted on walls throughout the building, usually in residential units. These sensors feed temperature information to a main computer most often connected by wires to the boiler/burner system (although there are wireless systems). The main computer processes the information and, based on its readings, cycles on and off until the average temperature of the sensors reaches a preset comfort level. When that happens, the computer instructs the boiler to cycle off. The cycle repeats itself constantly, maintaining comfortable temperatures throughout the building.

Temperature Controls and More

We really give thermostatic control to the building, explains Herb Viertl, president of Optimum Applied Systems, Inc. (OAS), a Dobbs Ferry, New York-based installer/servicer of the Heat Computer, a heating control system. Viertl says that in buildings of between about 40 and 100 apartments, ten sensors are enough to establish the building's heating pattern for the computer that controls the boiler.

What's more, because the information the computer gets is stored in a log that can be accessed and printed out, whoever is responsible for making sure the heating system is operating properly (e.g., the superintendent or managing agent) can get a read-out of what's going on with the system. So if there's a significant aberration in the temperature readings provided by any of the sensors, that data is immediately available, providing valuable information about heat distribution imbalances, steam leaks and other problems that can result in resident complaints and abnormally high heating costs. Our control doesn't attempt to rebalance the building, which is a piping problem, says Viertl. What the computer does is monitor what's going on and give you a roadmap for where the problems are.

The Monitor 2000 system from U.S. Energy Controls in Flushing, New York functions in the same way. Before computers, it was hard to monitor the temperatures in ten different locations, says company president Jerry Pindus, who lays claim to developing the concept for the computerized heat monitoring system in 1978. Pindus' system uses as many as 30 indoor temperature senso ffb rs based on the logic that, the more information you can get, the better.

Both the OAS and U.S. Energy Controls systems offer more than just temperature control. The systems also monitor and report indoor and outdoor temperatures, boiler, domestic hot water and return line temperatures and burner flame failure. If there's a burner malfunction, if the domestic hot water temperature is too low or if the system is being manually by-passed, the systems automatically dial a preset telephone number and give a verbal or printed message of the condition.

They also generate written and verbal reports of current temperatures and the status of all monitored points, provide a record of all monitored temperatures at pre-set time intervals, provide a record of every burner on/off cycle, power failure and over-ride, and provide a daily record for total daily burner run time, oil and water consumption and corresponding high/low outside temperatures.

According to Viertl and Pindus, the systems work with any type of boiler/burner oil or gas system. Prices start at about $4,500 for the plain vanilla system and go up depending on the number of options and sensors a building chooses to install. Claims of fuel cost savings run from 15 percent to more than 30 percent, ostensibly paying back the cost of installation over the first two years or so.

Pro-Active Technology

The problem with thermostats or thermostatic type control is that it is reactionary, adds Vince Clerico, national sales manager for Heat-Timer Corporation located in Fairfield, New Jersey. Let's say there's a call for heat in a steam heated building, he explains. Depending on the size building it may take 15 minutes to make the steam and then another 15 to 30 minutes to distribute it into the building. During that time the building temperature continues to fall, although eventually the building warms up. Once the thermostat is satisfied, it turns off the boiler.

The problem, Clerico adds, is that you can't stop the heat once it's been generated. The system piping and radiators are still hot, even when the boiler is off, so you end up overshooting demand. This makes maintaining a consistent set point virtually impossible. And it wastes fuel. Tenants overheat and open their windows. Now you're paying good money to heat all of New York City! That's why we designed a control that anticipates the need for heat before it occurs, and turns the system off before a set point is reached.

Heat-Timer is now offering a new option on many of its models. The Remote Intercept (RI) takes computer-based boiler control a step further by allowing the user to communicate via computer and modem with his boiler system from any remote location. According to Clerico this option allows the user to monitor several conditions including water temperature, when the boiler needs to be cleaned, oil tank levels, water meter consumption and more.

Savings Realized

I promote this computerized system to my properties, says Jeffrey Gold, executive vice president of Brooklyn-based Marvin Gold Management Co., Inc. Not only does it help a building create and maintain a reasonable comfort level, but it also provides evidence that you're in compliance with the law in terms of when and how much heat you're providing, it lets you know if you're burning fuel efficiently, and it can help to prolong the life of the heating equipment by firing it only when it needs to be fired. What's more, Gold continues, installation of the system is J-51 eligible. And the dollar savings are absolutely actual.

The board at Berk Owners Corporation, a three-building, 288-unit co-op in Jackson Heights managed by Marvin Gold Management, is a case in point. Last winter the co-op gave the U.S. Energy Controls system a three-month trial in one of its buildings. We saved 1,000 gallons of oil over a six week period in the test building, says Claudia Harshfield, board secretary. Plus, the computer also did something else that was very important to us. Our steam pipes are under cement and the U.S. Energy c5e system told us we had a leak. We never would have known about it otherwise. The system has now been installed in the other two buildings, and according to Harshfield the property expects to save between 20 and 25 percent on oil costs because of it.

The Port Washington, New York-based management company Mark Greenberg Real Estate (MGRE) is now in the process of arranging for the installation in an 88-unit West Lawrence, New York co-op of a similar system manufactured by Brooklyn-based Microtherm, Inc. I've been doing research into this for a while, says MGRE director of management Steve Greenbaum. The system shows you the savings on a print-out. It's a simple system and not exorbitantly priced. If it can help my properties save ten percent on their fuel bills, it will pay for itself in the first couple of months.

Our goal, adds Viertl of OAS, is to help buildings save money. And, on the coldest day of the year, to get people to close their windows and be comfortable in their homes.

Ms. Dershowitz is a Contributing Editor for The Cooperator.

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22 Comments

  • I live in a building with heat sensors,and they have been nothing but a disaster.The landlords and the super are constantly playing games ,with no heat many times at night,and minimail if at all in the daytime.Many of the tenants in our building have gotten sick.They should be outlawed,because its just a way for landlords to get over,by using their laptops to deny us heat,and yet they want their rent.
  • Karen is absolutely correct,They are nothing but a scam,and I know for a fact,because I contracted pneumonia last year,due to lack of heat.The super plays dumb also,as to there is nothing that can be done
  • I live in a rent stabilization building 18 floors. I just got word that my landlord is installing heat sensors. What can be done to stop him? This site is pro heat sensors right? Anything is save a dollar. Now I'll have to use electric heaters again.
  • not sure if you can stop the landlord. although I've been told I could have refused the install. however, my recent experience is that if you have no choice, be sure to have the installer put the sensor in the room that you find to be the coldest. I have a 10 degree difference from room to room in my uninsulated apartment. I moved the sensor to the coldest room and the heat is now turning on every hour. Before it stayed off all night.
  • The system s*cks... I had heard the "buzz" word about this last year and didn't really understand. As a tenant I was never told that this was being installed... the owner is a tight-wad, now I know why. I spoke to my "managing" agent and told him that no way was it 69 degrees, I've lived in the building for 18 years. He was very calloused and said it doesn't matter how much money I'm paying in rent they are in "compliance" to the law. I have some choice words to use to describe both he and the owner.
  • my building installed these devices and were are dealing with the same issue as everyone else. These sensors are useless. My apartment is freezing 24/7 and the heat is turned off every night even when the temperarture is 12. I know how they save money THEY TURN OF THE HEATER.
  • I noticed since april of this year 2010 my building has not had any heat, even though the nyc law states heating season is oct 1st thru may 31st, and it still gets cool at night and today is may 16th 2009, like anyother poster in here said this sensor stuff is a scam, the landlords use to play games with the heat, what gets me about this and should all of us really, is wtf is their body for like hpd or department of buildings if they refuse to take the landlords to task about this?
  • bloomberg has been a friend to nyc building landlords and is letting this city crumble, places like hpd and department of buildings are a waste if tax payer money.
  • These landlords are real BS artists. They put these new systems in that are supposed to make things more efficient. All they do is make things more convenient for them, while makings more miserable for tenants. They can make you freeze in NY while they are vacationing in the Caribbean and it's legal!!
  • you all are ignorant whiners....there is so much waste in the buildings i have been in especially with the steam pipes running through them...it is ridiculous that you have so much heat that windows need to be opened....that is throwing dollars out the window. i keep the thermostat down in my own home.....colds and pneumonia are caused by viruses, not lack of heat. in fact heat brews bacteria...it is so much healthier to have a cooler apt. and what is wrong with living efficiently? what happened to saving the planet......put on a sweater!
  • Its clear that the above tenants want to continue to freeload on someone else's expense. you all can go purchase your own homes and decide on your own home temperatures.
  • Tenants/ Co-op owners have to realize that "feeling cold" is not a measure of only whether adequate heat is being supplied. Any windows open? Have you sealed your air-conditioner - not just the surrounding accordion flaps, but the whole unit itself? Are your windows draft free? Have you cleaned your radiators / radiator fins? Even after all these measures, its possible that you may still feel cold at 70 deg. setting. Some people need more heat for feel warmer, but its certainly not the buildings responsibility to heat the unit to 80 Deg just so that you are more comfortable. Not a single complainer above has mentioned the exact temperature in their apartment - which indicates that there is no measurement - simply how one feels. We need to realize that this is a collective effort. Heating the whole building to 80 deg to make a few residents comfortable end up with other dwellers opening their windows due to excess heat - thats just throwing money away. It ultimately comes out of your own pocket.
  • MINISTER ALBERTA FERGUS on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 1:05 PM
    AS A TENANT RESIDING IN ABUILDING WHERE SOME APARTMENT HAVE THESE DEVICES I TOTALLY AGREE THAT HAVING THEM IS A DISASTER WAITING TO .HAPPEN, WHATHAPPENS IF THE COMPUTER THAT IS ATTACHED TO THE BOILDER IS NOT ABLE TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE BOILER WHAT HAPPENS TO THE HEAT. WHAT HAPPENSIF THE OMPUTER SUFFERS A MALFUNCTION. WHENTHE LANDLORD INSTALLS THESE SENSORS DO THEY GET INSURANCE JUST IN THE EVENT SOMEONE GETS INJUR OR DIE FROM A LACK OF HEAT. DO LANDLORDS EXPLAIN TO THEIR TENANTS OR ASK THEIR PERMISSION TO INSTALL THESE DEVICES. MOST BUILDING ARE PREWAR BUILDING BUILT TO SUSTAIN CERTAIN TEMPERATURE AND DISASTERS THEREFORE EACH APARTMENT TEMPERATURE IS DIFFERENT ESPECIALLY IF A TENANT IS USING THEIR OVEN OR STOVE TOP TO COOK. WHEN A STOVE IS USED THE INSIDE TEMPERATURE WILL RISE WHICH WILL GIVE OFF FALSE READINGS CAUSING THE BOILER TO TURN OFF AND AS A RESULT LEAVE OTHER TENANTS IN THE COLD. SURE LANDLORDS LOOK FOR A WAY TO SAVVE MONEY BUT I FEEL THAT THESE LANDLORD WHO INSTALL THESE DEVICE SHOULD OBTAIN INSURANCE FOR THESE HEAT SENSORS AND BY THE WAY HOW MANY YEARS DO THESE DEVICES HAVE ARRANTY COVERAGE AND WHAT WARRANTY IS OVERED. TENANTS HAVE A RIGHT TO BE INFORMED OF THESE MATTERS SINE THEY ARE RESIDING IN THESE BUILDINGS. WILL THEY GIVE OFF CARBON MONOXIDE IF THE BOILER DEFECTS. THERE ARE MANY QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED BEFORE INSTALLING THEM.
  • We have just been informed that these sensors are going to be installed as usual the tight ad landlords are full of it and are always looking for a way to make the ttenant pay for the landlords responsibilities of treating the tenant like human beings and not trying to pad their pockets with the few dollars we have to survive.
  • I currently work for a management company primarily doing Project Management. I also handle all of the sensor installations for the gas and the oil boilers. The cost of the devices (sensors and cable) is extremely inexpensive (under $400). It is a simple solution: the sensor system overruns the boiler controls (which work with the outside temperature only) and will shut off the boiler when the inside apartment temperature is over 70 degrees. I am sure you have noticed that the while the boiler is working, tenants are also keeping windows open. Especially in the fall and spring time. We have seen tremendous savings due to this simple solution. This will reduce the consumption of oil/gas at a minimum of 20 in the first year alone.
  • An inside sensor has no way of knowing if an apartment has reached 70 because the heat from the radiators is sufficient or if it reached 70 because the tenant in that apartment wants to keep his unit at 72 and is running a space heater, cooking a roast or keeping every incandescent light in the place on 24 hours a day. Conversely, the inside sensor has no way of knowing if the temperature in a given apartment is below 70 because it's cold outside or because a tenant has opened all the windows and blocked all the radiators. Inside sensors are only useful if the setting is controlled by occupant or if competing factors are not controlled by anyone; otherwise, they are a useless gimmick. A system that comes on when the outside temperature goes below 57 and shuts down if it's above 57, leaving the individual unit control to valves and damper, would be far, far superior.
  • An inside sensor has no way of knowing if an apartment has reached 70 because the heat from the radiators is sufficient or if it reached 70 because the tenant in that apartment wants to keep his unit at 72 and is running a space heater, cooking a roast or keeping every incandescent light in the place on 24 hours a day. Conversely, the inside sensor has no way of knowing if the temperature in a given apartment is below 70 because it's cold outside or because a tenant has opened all the windows and blocked all the radiators. Inside sensors are only useful if the setting is controlled by occupant or if competing factors are not controlled by anyone; otherwise, they are a useless gimmick. A system that comes on when the outside temperature goes below 57 and shuts down if it's above 57, leaving the individual unit control to valves and damper, would be far, far superior.
  • My building just installed these wireless sensors today. It was placed in the warmest room in my apartment. I will be moving it to the coldest room. Also, my apartment line sits over the boiler, so we receive a disproportionate amount of heat, while other apartments never warm up to the legally required temperature. Couple this with the new computer controls on the water heater and hot water pump, where we are constantly losing pressure on the hot water and also not getting consistent hot water, it's another scam on the tenants/shareholders.
  • Mark Levine, RAM (Excel Bradshaw Management Group, on Thursday, June 12, 2014 10:21 AM
    @SCH, it's possible that the sensors were installed on other apartments within the same floor and each of those units has a separate flow of heat, etc. I have these installed in many buildings that I manage and the way that the system works is that it takes the average of the DIT (Desired Indoor Temperature) and once it hits the predetermined average temperature, the heat will stop coming up. This will save the funds in the long-term because you are no longer working on the outside temperature to run the boiler but are now working within the framework of the DIT.
  • I live in pre war building were there is marginal maintenance or up keep for years the boiler had been malfunctioning .There has been a serious need to replace it but the management/owners will not do so. some years the heat was so excessive that I had to open windows just to be comfortable.the radiator are so old at times they have leaked badly. In the past few years the heat has just been cut back. Some people are warm on the 1st floors but not up at the top. Solution heat sensors that are connected to a computer system not the boiler.The will enable the management to say there is enough heat based on the over all average. The boiler will never get any computer messages because it is not part of the system.This is a total scam.I will not participate.The building has already had some cold snaps and with real winter just around the corner I expect more cold. I will use my stove as much as possible cook bake roast what ever it takes. were my under armor under the clothing It works outdoors and it will work indoors.The owners and management do not live anywhere near this building or NYC.
  • Look...if anyone of you had to pay these crazy oil prices...you would never put on ur heat ok...when oil was $5 plus..$3200.00 every two weeks for a 1000 gallon tank...you think landlords make money?... Yeah we make money for NYC we make money...im lucky i can buy a freakn car..never mind vacation in the carribian...people aee funny sometimes...i as a landlord live in my building with my tenats...im trying to do the best i can tomake everyone happy...but ehen tenats pay when they want to and not when they are supposed to...things get all messed up...you pay late nothing happends i pay our property tax late which on a 22 family building coast about $28000.00 and about $22000.00 for water and sewer...plus $28000.00 yearly for oil...can anyone say toyota camry lmfao!!
  • The worst system ! Hot and cold spots all over apartments. Cold in some apartments and too hot in others Nyc need to look into this mess .