Bit of a problem this last two weeks in that I’ve had two tenants give notice saying their flats are too cold. This distresses me a great deal, as we go to a huge amount of effort to ensure we have happy tenants, but in both these cases there are steps we’ll be taking to ensure the same complaints don’t happen again. In one ground floor flat there is insulated plasterboard and adequate heating but the laminate flooring which was put down didn’t have any particular insulation underneath it and the cold coming through from the cellar in winter is chilling the whole room, discolouring the flooring and furniture legs. We’re going to take up the laminate, insulate and lay carpet with extra thick underlay but the tenant wants to go back into shared accommodation anyway so that will be done between tenancies. In the other it’s not so easy. It’s a top floor flat, converted prior to me buying the Victorian building but not using insulated board, with modern electric heating and wooden flooring. And no matter how long the heating is on for, it’s cold.
I’ve waxed lyrical on Twitter about plasterboards which incorporate insulation on their rear sides, especially when renovating old buildings for rental. We’ve two large Victorian buildings both split into flats next door to each other, one refurbished a few years before the other. The later one, re-boarded using insulated Knauf plasterboards is noticeably and considerably warmer than the one done using ‘normal’ boards, the one in which this cold top floor flat is situated.(Bear in mind that in this blog post, I’m not taking about properties which have gas fired boiler central heating systems, many apartment new builds and conversions don’t have gas connections anymore as landlords often consider gas as ‘risky’ and stick to just electric.)
In the past, the type of heating system didn’t matter much to tenants as energy bills were much lower and everyone had either electric storage heaters which use up cheaper electric at night to warm the heavy internal bricks then release it slowly during the day, or gas fires which seem to throw forward much more heat on cold winter nights. Storage heaters are great in winter as they slowly and steadily maintain an ambient temperature in the fabric of the building (your walls, floor, ceiling and even furniture) but were slightly annoying as they weren’t controllable in warmer months. If you turned them off at night, they were stone cold til the next night so you couldn’t get a quick instant boost. These days there are new storage heaters which also have a controllable convector element but many landlords have long since got rid of both gas and the double meter or readings system needed to measure daytime use and night-time use so storage heaters are hard to re-fit again.
I was one such landlord, taking out what I then saw as cumbersome, old fashioned heating and replacing with new wall mounted slimline electric heating. All very well and good in warmer and cheaper years but now there are real problems and I regret removing them. Tenants are being stung on electric costs which have rocketed beyond anyone’s comprehension. They don’t use the slimline heaters during the day whilst at work, then come home and turn them up to full. These heaters then struggle to heat everything in the room – walls, furniture and air – from stone cold to toasty warm in the instant the tenants want them to. I do suggest to tenants that onesies, woolly socks and furry boots will help keep their winter heating bills down more than teeshirts and flip-flops but it’s unfair to expect them to live in cold properties which their heating struggles to warm up.
Not only that but if only ‘regular’ plasterboard has been used, the lack of insulation also means heat is also seeping out of the building constantly. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to heat a cold room using an electric heater then stood on the sofa arm or ladders – boy oh boy, the ceiling area is boiling and the floor is freezing! They just do not seem to throw the heat around like gas fires or traditional central heating systems.
It’s not just the downside of cold tenants. Properties which don’t ever get properly warm in winter can suffer more worrisome problems like damp or mould developing, especially if ventilation is poor or if they are north or east facing so don’t get that warm in summer either. Humans create a lot of moisture through washing, cooking, clothes drying and even nighttime sweating and all that moisture in the air looks for cold spots to condense on, causing black mould and damage. Often this isn’t anyones ‘fault’ but a combination of inherent issues between the building and it’s occupier, but it can be a minefield treading the what-to-do and how-to-solve path.
For the last few years here at Moregeous Mansions (period property, high ceilings, no insulation, single glazed windows), we’ve had all three systems. First an old gas boiler and radiators which cost circa £1800pa gas and electric, about £200 in gas each month to heat. Then that broke down and we installed four wall mounted electric heaters for one winter two years ago. The electric cost? £600 per month for three months, I nearly DIED! And due to that extortionate cost, last year we used Calor gas heaters at £30 per bottle which throw out instant, much nicer heat and kept us cheaply warm as a temporary measure. Gotta say that the gas fire heating was much more pleasant than the electric, it reminded me of being a kid in the 70’s getting dressed in front of direct heat in the winter!
At the moment however we’re back to a plug in, electric, oil filled radiator, one of those wheel around one to warm the single room we’re living in, but something else has made a huge difference. It’s currently the only room in the house to have been re-boarded with insulated plasterboard and since we moved from our old bedroom of a similar size across the hall =(still with the old plaster) into this new room, the difference in heat in the room from the same heater is phenomenal. I turn the heater off at about 9am and the room is still noticeably warmer than the (open to the elements, unheated) rest of the house, eight hours later, unlike our old room which almost immediately dropped in temperature.
I need to make a decision on what to do with this tenanted flat – re-fit a storage heater instead of the slimline useless one? Lay carpet? Go so far as to re-board using insulated boards? It’s clear that a combination of all three current choices isn’t working. I’d be interested to hear other landlords views on this subject and if you’re experiencing issues with any of the above?