Keeping Radiant Heat Alive

Eichler remodel unites original main house and new addition with PEX radiant system
Fridays on the Homefront
The above Eichler addition, along San Mateo Highlands' Powhatan Place, was one of the focuses of this home's extensive remodel. Another was the new PEX-tubing
radiant heat system, which extended from the main house into the addition while a single floor-covering material brought the entire house together seamlessly. Photos: courtesy Klopf Architecture
Fridays on the Homefront
Powhatan home's new radiant system is marked off, awaiting slab grooving.
Fridays on the Homefront
PEX tubing runs from the main house to the new addition.
Fridays on the Homefront
Mike LaChance (right) and brother Dale of LaChance's Radiant Heating. Photo: David Toerge

There you are in your Eichler as winter approaches, like that little Dutch boy and the dike in the old folk tale.

You know your radiant heating system leaks—but, hey, you've got plenty of fingers to plug those leaks, right?

Or do you? After all, you've been contemplating a remodel, which might include new flooring. And what would come of said flooring if you run out of fingers?

"Normally, when people have steel pipe [radiant] with leaks, they don't want to spend the money to fix it," said Mike LaChance, who should know. The owner of LaChance's Radiant Heating, based in the South Bay, his company has repaired systems in more than 200 Eichlers, including one that was a highlight of last summer's Eichler home tour in the San Mateo Highlands.

"There's nothing that will actually stop a large leak from coming out," said the business owner. LaChance said "pinhole" leaks in radiant heating pipes can usually be repaired for between $850 and $1,000 each, but, he adds, "If it's really weak and thin, forget it."

But…what if, like that little Dutch boy, you dearly love your radiant heat and want to preserve and protect it? There is a way, and LaChance executed it in that Highlands Eichler, on Powhatan Place.

"We do all facets of radiant; it's really up to the customer's budget," said LaChance, who frequently works jobs with his brother Dale, a senior technician with the company.

"They put in plastic [PEX] tubing that doesn't leak, so that'll be there for all time," said John Klopf of Klopf Architecture, who designed the 2015 remodel on Powhatan. Other aspects of the project included expanding the bathrooms and entryway and adding an office/guest room.

Klopf, LaChance, Coast to Coast Construction, and Outer Space Landscape Architects all worked on the project, which expanded the house 405 square feet to its current 2,285 square feet (counting garage) and, of course, maintained radiant heating for its young owners.

"The homeowners did a nice, modern, Eichler-appropriate kitchen remodel [a few years before, but] the rest of the house was original," said Klopf, who is so proud of the 2015 remodel that he is featuring it on his website.

An odd, wedge-shaped lot presented "really the only challenge" of the project for Klopf, who notes, "It would have been nice to do an addition at the rear of the house and leave the nice side yard."