This is unofficial advice given neighbor to neighbor; accuracy is not guaranteed, and any work on a unit should be done by licensed professionals with proper permissions from the building management.
What follows are two distinct sets of information written by two different neighbors. The first is a comprehensive look at all our heat and AC components, including the electric heat panels, and the second is focused specifically on the heat pumps.
Heating and Cooling
When this building was converted to condominiums in the 1980’s. The condos were furnished with heat panels in the bathrooms and entry way. Many people have removed these. However, that being said, they may not have removed the wiring to these panels. Please remember that all re-wiring should be accomplished by a competent electrician. Many residents have used Village Electric and have been satisfied by their work.
Heat Pump Winter:
Most of the cooling and heating is produced by heat pumps in your condo. In the winter, water is heated by boilers in the basement and there is a pump which circulates this water through the entire building. Your heat pump when activated will draw heat from the water and transfer it to the air in your apartment by fan. The heating of the water is paid for by your condo fee but of course all operation of the heat pump is paid by you via your electric bill.
Heat Pump Summer:
There is a reversing valve in your heat pumps. When you switch to the “cool” setting on your thermostat, the heat pump reverses from heating to cooling. In the summer, the boilers are shut off and the water which travels to your apartment circulates to an evaporating tower on the roof; the water is cooled by the evaporating tower. Your heat pump will now draw cold from the water and transfer it to the air in your apartment by fan. Note the water will never be “cold,” but your unit will be able to draw cold from the water even if the temperature of the water is in excess of 90F.
Heat Pump Drains:
Each heat pump has a drain which drains any condensation which might form in the summer. There have been several issues in the past with water leaking down from the heat pumps to your neighbor below. To mitigate this issue, each year the drains are checked by the management company.
Heat Pump Maintenance:
Each heat pump should have a filter in front of the unit. You may have to cut a filter to fit but it is recommended that you install a filter and regularly replace the filter. If the unit has no filter, dust clogs in the fins preventing the heat pump from operating efficiently. These heat pumps are particularly susceptible to overheating or freezing; when this happens, it can usually be traced to inadequate air flow. Over the years, many of the heat pumps have been replaced by new units. Because the new units are different, they never fit the air profile of the heat pump cover. The heat pump cover needs to be modified to allow proper heat flow. If you have any trouble at all with heating or cooling, recommend you contact Steve Bedard at A1-Maintenance 978-957-5526.
In addition to the maintenance above, the plumbing which provides for the water flow through your heat pumps may become clogged. In recent years, there has been some work in the building to replace the cooling system on the roof, new boilers in the basement and replacement of pumps. When this work is/was done, sediment is dislodged and circulated through the building and into your heat pumps. When your pipes are open, there should be only a 2 degree difference between the incoming water temperature and the outgoing water temperature.
If you take the front panel off from your heat pump you will see two copper pipes above your heat pump. The pipe on the left side contains the incoming water and the pipe on the right side contains the outgoing water. By using an infrared thermometer (often used for checking frying pan temperature), you can measure the incoming pipe temperature, the outgoing temperature and the compressor temperature (black coil at the bottom of your heat pump). If the compressor is anything more than ten degrees above incoming water temperature, your unit is working too hard, your electric bill is higher than it should be and your compressor will burn out earlier than necessary.
Some heat pumps are more sensitive to air and water flow. This doesn’t mean that the unit needs to be replaced, quite the contrary. Most likely this unit will provide you with cooler air when running efficiently. Some compressors will work when operating in excess of 130F. Others will not work much beyond 120F. Again, these temperatures are too high and either the pump to the whole building is down or the pipes in your heat pump are clogged.
A few residents have installed water flow meters in their heat pumps to verify adequate water flow.
There are several electric heat panels which were installed originally in each unit.
Electric Heater by Front Door
There is an electric heater which is flush to the wall beside the front door of your condo. This unit may have been removed but it is/was on a 20 amp service. There is a small fan which operates by the knob on the front of the heater. Intensity of the heat may be adjusted by the knob.
Electric Heater in Bathrooms
There are electric heaters in each bathroom. These are wall mounted units that are mounted at the floor. These have knobs which activate the heat. The knob can adjust the intensity of the heat. These again are on 20 amp breakers.
Electric Heat Panel
There is a large ceramic electric heat panel on the ceiling of the second floor near the front door. This panel is 2 x 6 feet in size and is controlled by a thermostat on the second floor near the panel. This electric panel is expensive to replace. The thermostat is actually on the 20 amp line so it’s not a typical thermostat. The 20 amp lines are connected in the box on the wall where the thermostat is connected. The thermostat runs across the hot lead in the wall. There aren’t many options for smart thermostats for this kind of setup. Some residents have recommended the Mysa Smart Thermostat or the Stelpro Ki Electronic Thermostat for the Smart Home; these thermostats are pricey. There is a breaker which feeds this panel and the electric heater by the front door. I have turned this breaker off at the electric panel as I never use these heaters.
Admin note: Again, If you have any trouble at all with heating or cooling, the local company most often used by residents is A1-Maintenance: (978) 957-5526. A web search also turns up an alternate phone #: (978) 937-8250.
Further Information Regarding the Canal Place HVAC System (added summer 2022)
After the confusion surrounding the spring changeover from heat to AC this year, I did some research in the hopes of coming up with an official informational sheet that could be handed out by management. The hoped-for document still hasn’t gotten the level of review and confirmation needed to make it an official hand-out, but the information below is good enough to share here as informal advice from a neighbor. Some of this will repeat Bill’s info but some of it will be new.
Canal Place Heating/Cooling System Basics
Heat and air conditioning are supplied in this building by water source heat pumps (WSHPs). The brand installed during the 1980s-era condo conversion was ClimateMaster and, although the WSHPs in the building have been replaced multiple times, ClimateMaster continues to be the brand in use because of its compatibility with the Canal Place system.
Key components of the building-wide, Association-funded-&-maintained system include:
- A Loop of piping connecting each unit’s heat pumps to the boilers in the basement and the cooling tower on the roof. Circulating pumps keep the water in this Loop moving so it can help remove heat from, or add heat to, the living areas as needed.
- The Boilers add heat to the loop water during the colder months.
- The Cooling Tower removes heat from the loop during the warmer months.
The heat pumps in individual units are not pumps in the sense of motors propelling liquid through piping, but are instead an apparatus that moves heat from one location to another.
Key components of the in-unit, owner-funded-&-maintained heat pumps include:
- A compressor; this compressor powers refrigerant through a cycle of evaporation and condensation that alternately generates heat and absorbs heat. During heating season the higher temperatures generated in this cycle are used to heat the living space while the lower temps are absorbed by the warm loop water. During the summer the higher temps are drawn away by the loop water and the lower temps are used to cool the air in the living space. Much the way a traditional AC unit exhausts hot air to the outside, the water loop carries the heat generated in the process of cooling a unit up to the roof to be released via the tower.
- Two heat-exchangers serve to transfer heat back and forth between the refrigerant, the water of the loop, and the air of the living space.
- A reversing-valve determines whether the system is providing heating or cooling based on how the wall thermostat is set.
- A blower transfers the temperature-adjusted air to the living space.
- THE simplest and most important type of maintenance is to replace the air filter every three months. Dirt and dust buildup reduce airflow which cuts efficiency and can damage the heat pump, potentially resulting in costly repairs. Avoid “premium” rated filters; ones rated merely “good” or “better” will catch dirt without restricting air flow. A web search for “water source heat pump maintenance” can provide more information about removing dust buildup.
- To check the filter, open the front panel of the HVAC compartment. On most units this is done by giving the slotted latch-heads at the top a half turn and then nudging the panel loose. If you find the filter is missing entirely, consult a professional about the right size and type to install.
- Do not block HVAC vents with furniture or other objects.
- Most experts recommend heat pumps be serviced and examined by a professional annually.
- Condensation drains should be checked regularly to prevent water damage to the apartments below. Under normal conditions this is done annually by the building’s maintenance staff.
The semi-annual switch between heating and cooling:
Because the boilers and cooling tower share a single loop, they cannot both operate at the same time. This means that around October each year the cooling tower is shut down and drained and and the boilers are started up. In May, the boilers are shut down and the cooling tower is put back into service. Choosing just the right time between the end/start of freezing nights and the start/end of sweltering days to switch is an ongoing challenge. Management and the Board regularly review ways to improve timing and communication for this shift.
The following tips constitute “neighborly advice” based on the personal experiences of condo owners over the years along with limited advice from other sources. This info is NOT being provided by professionals and none of these tips should be relied upon as professional advice. When in doubt, contact a licensed professional to address these issues.
When a resident’s heat pump doesn’t seem to be doing its job, the first question is if it’s the heat pump itself or the building-wide system that’s the cause. In the case of a problem in May or October, it’s possible the building has not yet switched from heat to AC or AC to heat. The rest of the year there is always the chance that there has been some sort of building-wide malfunction, although, over all, the system is well maintained and fairly dependable.
If unsure whether or not the problem is building-wide, a resident can:
- Check with the management.
- Check with other residents.
- Check with A1 Maintenance of Dracut and see if they’ve been getting calls from this building.
- Check the loop temp on the LED display on the basement garage wall between the doors to the electrical and mechanical rooms. The ideal operating temperature is between 60° and 90° but the heat pumps can still operate outside of that range. Most problems with the loop temp occur during AC season. When the readout goes above 100° or so management should be notified. Above 120° residents should shut off their heat pumps to save electricity and to avoid wear and tear; the heat pumps will not function properly at that temperature.
- If the building system seems fine, the next step is to try resetting the heat pump in question. To reset the heat pump:
- Turn on the thermostat so that the heat pump is running.
- Turn off the circuit breaker for that heat pump (it should be marked in the electrical box).
- Leave it off for 30 – 60 seconds.
- Turn the circuit breaker back on.
- In about 10-15 minutes the heat pump should be functioning normally.
- If the heat pump is still not working properly or the problem reoccurs, consult a professional.
If your heat pump is rattling and showing excessive condensation inside the compartment, the compressor may be frozen, most likely because the air flow is being blocked. To address a frozen condenser:
- Turn off the unit until you can replace the air filter.
- After replacing the air filter, set the heat/cool switch on your thermostat to “off,” and run just the fan for at least two hours.
- Turn the heat/cool switch back on.
- If this doesn’t solve the problem or the problem reoccurs, consult a professional.
The most often recommended service company for these heat pumps is A1 Maintenance in Dracut.
More detailed descriptions of how Water Source Heat Pump systems work can be found here:
The manual for at least some of our heat pumps is here: