The camera itself looks like "one of those big old Polaroids," says Eldon, but that does not mean it is as simple to use. Eldon typically discourages homeowners from purchasing these devices themselves because, he says, "it was much more expensive than I would have liked."
Also, after the readout is recorded, it takes a trained eye to identify what is a leak and what is, say, the sun warming a spot on the floor, or a piece of metal flashing that registers cool under the siding. "All these technologies are only as good as the people who use them," says Eldon.
Both Eldon and American Leak Detection's Macaulay say they recommend having a radiant heating system examined before undertaking any remodeling or renovation that could affect the floor. They recommend that homeowners first determine the health of the pipes inside, and perhaps even under, the radiant heat slab. Also, Macaulay adds with caution, "sometimes those radiant heat coils are close enough to the surface that you could put a carpet nail through one."
With technological advances in leak detection techniques, many companies have begun to specialize. Bay Area Property Inspections focuses on thermal imaging, while American Leak Detection works with a variety of techniques, and even offers repair services. Some radiant heat maintenance companies will only perform repairs to radiant systems after a detection company actually identifies the leak.
"I got out of leak detection because there's too much liability in it,'' says Jerry Rothfeld, whose Jerry Rothfeld Hydronic Heating now specializes primarily in installing and maintaining boilers to provide heat to the radiant systems. Also, costs tied to maintaining detection equipment can be considerable. "If I were to go into leak detection, I'd have to learn how to make that equipment pay," says Rothfeld. The upshot for Eichler homeowners, at least in the Bay Area, is that today they have many companies in the radiant heating arena that do one thing and do it well.
Even though leak detection devices can make the leak repair process a little easier, care and regular maintenance will always be the homeowner's ticket to ensure radiant heat efficiency and comfort. As an early pioneer of radiant heating in the tract home setting, Joe Eichler introduced an innovative technology that, in spite of its flaws, continues to this day to deliver a special homeowner-friendly kind of heat. Today, these modern detection devices, and the 'leak detectives' that administer them, are doing their part to keep radiant alive - leak-free, healthy, and delivering optimal performance.
Photos by David Toerge;
others courtesy American Leak Detection, Bay Area Property Inspections
For your next leak-related project, consider the Eichler Network's team of 'Preferred Service Companies':
• American Leak Detection: americanleakdetection.com
• LaChance Radiant Heating (SF Peninsula): 800-246-5246
• Bay Area Plumbing & Heating (Palo Alto to San Mateo): baph.com
• Jerry Rothfeld Hydronic Heating Service (Marin & East Bay): 800-478-3060
• Lipp Hydronics (San Jose-Sunnyvale): 650-327-1943
• Reid Heating & Energy, Inc. (Marin & SF): reidheatingandenergy.com