So Your Radiant Won't Heat?

With waits in the weeks at this time of year, breakdown can be a very chilly proposition
So Your Radiant Wont Heat
What's an Eichler owner to do when the radiant heat breaks down in the heart of winter? At their busiest time of year—now—our radiant-heat experts tell the truth: you may have to wait up to three weeks for repairs, resort to space heaters in the meantime, and pray! It could be worse. Like this Eichler above in New York, you
could be covered in snow at 10 degrees below with a radiant repairman nowhere around. Photos: Jonathan Braun, David Toerge
So Your Radiant Wont Heat
Lance Eastman of Bay Area Plumbing & Heating
So Your Radiant Wont Heat
Mike LaChance of LaChance's Radiant Heating

Regular maintenance is often the key to averting major repairs in a system, and radiant-heating systems are no exception. Still, sometimes even diligent homeowners can get an unpleasant surprise as winter approaches: no heat.

The timing could be better, according to a pair of South Bay-based radiant specialists we consulted: Mike LaChance, owner-operator of LaChance's Radiant Heating; and Lance Eastman of Bay Area Plumbing & Heating.

Like all of the radiant-heat maintenance companies found throughout our Network, LaChance and Eastman try to respond to service calls as quickly and noninvasively as possible. But the tail end of autumn is when heating issues begin to amass like falling leaves.

"Heating season, it's really hard to do," LaChance admits. "There are times when people just have to wait."

"This time of year is the busiest," agrees Eastman. He spoke with us initially while enroute to a service call at an Eichler in which the boiler had recently failed.

"Generally, it's about two to three weeks," he said later about the current waiting time for radiant heating service. Noting that the wait in San Francisco is running as high as four weeks, he shook his head. "That's bad."

"Today, our dispatcher is probably tearing their hair out," Eastman predicts.

Well, we sympathize, but what about the frigid homeowners in need of heat? They deserve a little love too. And exactly what is involved when a radiant system fails?

"The obvious solution is to repair a leak or replace a boiler if it's broken," says Eastman, allowing that if a system is developing more than a small handful of leaks a year, more repairs may be "just kicking the can down the road."

"If they're getting seven or eight [leaks] a year, it's really not worth repairing—then you abandon," advises LaChance.

In-slab repairs can take a week or two, even if the problem is deemed by the homeowner to be an emergency, Eastman says, adding, "If they want someone to come out on a weekend, yeah, there's going to be a premium."