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Big leak with hydronic heating system

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CJA
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Joined: Dec 6 2003

It appears our home has a large leak...we'll know more next week after
leak detector rep tests the property. If anyone has abandoned their
hydronic system in the past, any success stories on what different types
of heating that you used and are happy with???

CJA

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Joined: Apr 2 2003

You don't say if your radiant heating system is copper or steel. If steel, then it does seem inevitable that it will have to be abandoned though I'd still recommend repairing it to buy you time to investigate your heating alternatives.

If it is copper, don't let a simple leak persuade you into abandoning it. These days, leaks are readily found and repaired. And one leak doesn't mean they'll be more soon--even if there is, you can still repair.

My home is a 1960 atrium model in San Jose (Willow Glen, San Jose). When we pulled up the carpet we found previous owners had had almost a dozen leaks repaired. I've been here almost 4 years and had one small leak a couple of years ago. They located it and repaired it the same day--apparently insurance may pay for it though we never enquired.

I think copper radiant heating will last a long time with regular maintenance and the odd repair. The only real investment might be when you have decide to install a new boiler.

Good luck.
Jake

P.S. Apparently it is more common to have domestic water leaks than radiant heating leaks. I'm assuming you've check your pressure gage and that is how you knew which it was.

eichfan at rawbw dot com

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Joined: Jul 1 2003

Jake gave a majority view of radiant heating; there are many postings on this subject including insightful ones from Cathye. To answer your question about a replacement heating system, I think hot-water baseboard is the preferred choice - - there should be a number of people who could expand on this.

Two more points about repairing copper systems - - you should have spare flooring available -- I think the previous owner left 12 sf of tiles for us; they had a leak about 2 years ago with our copper system and kept extra for future repairs.

This leads to homeowners insurance - - the previous owners had a domestic water leak about 3 years ago ($3,800 repairs) and a hydronics leak about 2 years ago. 2 "water claims" made the house uninsurable for us when we bought it in May this year. The large direct writers like State Farm, Allstate, etc. were feuding with the Calif regulators and would not write new policies; other insurers would not write any HOUSE with 2 water claims during a 3-5 year period. I got great quotes over the Internet but when it came to binding coverage, they did a CLUE review (the database of claims on houses, not people) and hung up the phone - - no workaround, just a "sorry, we can't help" then a dial tone. We eventually got coverage through the brokerage market, paying a 50-100% increase over the normal rate.

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Joined: Mar 22 2003

Below are my comments from a previous post about another replacement option that is actually a type of radiant heating and shows promise for being one of the best alternatives to the original hydronic/radiant system. This product has been used in Europe for the past 20 years, but only recently became available in the US. It is a low voltage system the looks like sheets of plastic. My article about this will appear in the next edition of the newsletter (and describes the technology much better than the post below, since that was written prior to interviewing the inventor), but if you cannot wait, I suggest you contact Franz Rogmans (Rogmans Hydronic Heating), who is now distributing this product and has installed it in several homes. You should also visit the website (http://www.warmfloor.com). The company is now headquartered in St. Louis, where it is still run by the original inventor and his wife.

There is another option available today for heating your floors and entire home. It is based on a newly developed technology that uses a thin film, impregnated with electronics (I am not describing it very well) and heats via low voltage. The heat transfer is supposed to be very high, since it has a high surface area, as opposed to traditional radiant systems, which have pipes that are spread wide apart. As a result, efficiently heats your floors without getting hot (thus reducing the concern about laying hardwood over it). It is also designed as a "sole source heating system" - as opposed to some of the other products that are designed for auxillary heat, say in a master bath. Also, with this system, you can do your whole house, or just one room, and adding on is simple. The energy efficiency statistics are astounding. From what I have heard, an entire house can be heated for around $600 per year.

The product is called warm floor and Franz Rogman, an advertiser on this site, has just started using it. So far, he has installed it in several Eichlers. Go to http://www.warmfloor.com and take a look.

I wish I had known about this product BEFORE we tiled our entire house, but it is very new on the market.

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Joined: Dec 26 2003

I know I am in the majority of the people here but I am getting rid of my radian heating and installing forced air, luckily my 2 story eichler allows for the heating to be integrated into the joists thus not affecting the look of the property. Sure copper radiant can be fixed, but in my opinoin radiant is purely a fad in this part of the country and does not make much sense. It takes way too long to heat up and there is really no reason to keep it on all winter , we don't live in canada/the midwest or europe where it indeed might be good for energy savings. Instead I insulated my house and getting double paned windows to save energy. My conventional forced air system cost less than replacing the boiler so I think it was quiet a deal. No more worries about having spare floor or having whole rooms of hardwood floors replaced. I am sorry I just don't think its normal to have leaks every few years, in the floor, no thanks. Not sure what the small duct systems that can be roof installed costs, but I would surely want to try that option instead of repairing pipe.

Just my 2cents.
Happy new year to all.

Alex

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Joined: Mar 20 2003

> I know I am in the majority of the people here

Many Eichler owners (like me) love their radiant heat and have gone to some lengths to keep them going. New technologies for leak detection and better boilers make radiant heating viable. I’m not positive, but I'd say you're espousing a minority viewpoint.

> luckily my 2 story eichler

OK, now I’m positive.

> It takes way too long to heat up

That’s why I use a $25 Lux 500 programmable thermostat. It turns on before I wake up, and in the late afternoon. Mmmmm, warm floors…

> we don't live in canada/the midwest or europe where it indeed might be
> good for energy savings.

I’m confused. Radiant heating saves money in cold climates but wastes money in warmer climates?

>I am sorry I just don't think its normal to have leaks every few years

I’ve only lived in my Eichler for 7 years, but have had no leaks. Admittedly, if I had steel pipes, I’d probably abandon my system for the low profile rooftop system.

> My conventional forced air system cost less than replacing the boiler so
> I think it was quiet a deal.

Are the savings in the bank? Three story Eichler coming soon? A first edition of Strunk and White's Elements of Style? Spell checking software?

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Joined: Mar 22 2003

I suspect that Alex is putting us on. I seriously doubt that anyone that actually put a second story AND forced air heating (how do you spell "dust in the wind"?) in an eichler would lurk, let alone post, on this site. What would be the point, other than to taunt?

Prove me wrong Alex. Post a picture of your home please.

Cathye

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Joined: Mar 23 2011

Radiant heat, far from being a fad, is now considered state of the art. It is used all over the country in high quality construction.

One bit of anecdotal evidence to support this: This Old House (PBS, HGTV) prefers radiant heat regardless of the age of the home or the geographical region.

Forced air results in uncomfortable temperature fluctuations. Electric baseboard heat (popular in the sixties) is extremely expensive to operate, and I'm sure I don't need to comment on the horrible panel-ray units.

Once adjusted properly, the radiant heat is efficiant, stable, benificial for those with allergies, and generally very comfortable. How could anyone NOT love the feeling of getting out of bed and placing one's feet on a nice warm floor? Furthermore, it's invisible. There are no registers and there is no noise.

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Joined: Mar 23 2011

The original question dealt with the replacement of the radiant heating system. Sometimes this is necessary. This posting deals with an option we saw in a San Mateo Eichler.

When shopping for our house, we looked at an Eichler in 19th Avenue Park that had a crack in the slab. This affected all the tubes in that area, rendering the original system useless. The owner solved the problem by placing ceramic radiant units along beams in each room. They fit nicely, so they weren't too obtrusive. The units are controlled individually. One benefit was that she only heated rooms she was using. She seemed to be satisfied with this solution, but we never learned about her utility bills.

By listing the following Web sites, I am not endorsing the products, but merely listing them for research purposes.

The first site features the unit that I'm pretty sure she used, the CeramiCircuit™ Ceiling Cove. (They look better in real life.)

http://www.electricheat.com/radiant/prods.html

The second site has similar items:

http://oikos.com/products/mechanical/sshc/

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Joined: Dec 26 2003

Hi Guys,

sorry I don't have pictures to post, and I didnd't mean to start an arguement. My home is an original 2 sotry Eichler, it's in the Diamond Heights development where the vast majority of the 96 single family homes are 2 stories, with some 3 story (2 levels over garage homes as well). No I would not advocate adding a second story on a single level eichler. And yes I am happy with my choice to replace the radiant with the forced air, those that have no leaks and are happy with radiant, thats great, mine was much more expensive to run then the forced air always, but to each his own. There were some pictures of Diamond Hts Eichelers posted, and when i am done with my remodeling (in good Eichler style (at least in my opinion) I will post some pics. Good luck to everyone who wants to keep radiant, but I do think forced air is a good option for some. Each system has advantages and disadvantages of course.

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Joined: Aug 28 2003

Modern radiant heating has been greatly improved from the days when Eichler was installing it. The new radiant heat pipes (made of plastic) are not buried as deep in the floor and are installed in loops closer together resulting in greater heating efficiency and less wasted energy. I have seen these modern systems installed in some of the remodels on "This Old House".

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Joined: Mar 22 2003

Thanks Alex. Cograts. I am sure your house is beautiful!

Dave, I think I have heard of the system you are referring to, the one that runs along the beams. Below is the text from an interview I recently did with a South Bay HVAC vendor, as part of my research for an article.

Abandoning radiant heat? Some will to put in a Unico system. Some have gone to hydronic heating systems where you run it just under the beams throughout the house. Hydronic is piped hot water with little fans. Similar to the old radiator heat. This goes in the ceiling, but you only get heat. It’s expensive. It does not work as well as something in the floor. It was a solution before mini-splits or Unico were available.

This, as well as several other HVAC vendors that advertise on this site, do think quite highly of some of the newer Euro-style radiators that are available on the market. I have not seen them, but they are reported to look like thin long bars that run down along the baseboards - like baseboard heating but more modern looking and more energy efficient. In my own home, we have the old style of baseboard heating (installed by the previous homeowner to save $$ over the cost of operating the radiant system). The appearance does not bother us (sure, it is not perfect, but nothing Eichler is....just look at all those wires wrapped around the outside of our house!). Our system is clean, quiet, and comfortable. In the cold months, I keep it cranked up to 70+, day and night and our bills for this are around $125. Worth it to me....OK now the Green Police are going to come and take me away...

If you would like some contacts to pursue this further, let me know. Just note that from the comments above regarding the systems that were run along the beams, they are considered expensive and energy inefficient and were done in the days before mini-splits and Unico style systems were available.

Cathye

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Joined: Mar 20 2003

On a separate note;
I originally came from Sweden, and in that cold winter climate, floor radiant heating is the most commonly used type for newer single family homes by reasons of energy efficiency (!), comfort and non-allergenic properities. Popular since the 60's, nowadays the copper tubing has been replaced by plastic. Having said that, the insulation of the Swedish house overall is much better than in Cal homes, and there is generally no air conditioning, but I find the remark about radiant heating being the most efficient method in colder climates interesting.

/GO

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Joined: Mar 22 2003

Gloria makes an important observation. The kind of in-floor heating that I described in my Dec. 18th post is just the same as she describes. The heating capacity is imbedded in plastic sheets which are laid under the floor and connected via low-voltage transformers. It was originally developed for Volvo in Sweden by a Norwegian inventor. In fact, if you go to the warmfloor website, they have some information about their "test house" which was in Sweden. They used this for 5-6 months one winter to test the energy efficiency of their product.

With energy costs in Europe having been so extraordinarily high, it would stand to reason that they would be ahead of us in developing energy efficient products.

Cathye

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Joined: Jan 23 2004

The Step Warmfloor website has alot of info (had to dig for it), but doesn't say much about retrofitting a steel eichler system like the article in the newsletter. The average Eichler has alot more heat loss than the super insulated test house. It also read that the system can be installed while the house is still occupied, but clearly needs the entire floor removed in every room as well as wall panels for running wire. Sounds like a whole remodel. I agree that hot water baseboard is the most common, efficient, and economical solution to abandoning the pipe in the slab. I'm happy to elaborate on this if you like since I'm somewhat knowledgeable in the matter.

Tom :)

Meg
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Joined: Feb 3 2004

We had to abandon our radiant system this weekend, so I'm looking for a new system.

The three options that we are considering are forced air w/ac, warmfloor (we are having this installed in our master bath since we are remodeling it), and hot water/radiant? baseboard.

I don't have much information on the hot water baseboard system, so I would be grateful if someone could educate me on how it is installed/works. Is it comfortable and are the monthly costs higher or lower than the radiant floor?

Thanks!

Meg

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Joined: Mar 22 2003

Hi Meg:

We are on Fairlawn in WG and have a baseboard system. I cannot tell you about installation, as it was installed by the previous homeowner. Hot water runs through the baseboards, much like it does with a radiant system. It also works off of our regular boiler.

The previous HO abandoned the radiant system, though it was in good working order, in an effort to save $$, since the baseboard can be zoned, so you don't have to heat the entire house. Ours is zoned separately for the kitchen/all purpose room, LR/DR, MBR, and back hallway. I like this form of heat (as opposed to forced air) because it is clean, comfortable, and quiet. Hubby and I both have allergies and thus would never consider a forced air system. Some do not like the appearance of baseboards, but it does not bother us. They are painted Navaho White to match our walls and only need to be along 1 or 2 sides of each room.

In terms of cost, I could probably back into it by going over our old utility bills, comparing summer and winter. Just let me say that I am an energy hog, feeling no guilt at all in keeping the house set at 72 in the winter, except at night when we turn it down to 68. If I had to guess, I would say that during the cold weather, the heating portion of our bill is probably in the $150 range. Our house is 1536ft^2, a courtyard model. If you have an atrium model, it would cost more. Also be aware that we have a foam roof and have replaced most of our glass with double pane Millgards.

If there is any chance you will need to reroof in the near future, you should also look at Unico system. It is more costly than some other options and needs to be installed along with a new foam roof, but from what I have heard through various interviews and research, they say that it is more comfortable than a traditional forced air system, since the air is piped in via multiple mini-ducts per room. Installers claim that the result is more even, draft-free heat.

I hope this helps.

Cathye

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Joined: Feb 3 2004

I live in Foster City CA, and I really appreciate any help from my neighbors who have radiant heat. Do you usually experience leaks in the system, and are these leaks because of cracks in the slap ??

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Joined: Jan 23 2004

Meg, The hot water baseboard systems are popular for alot of reasons.
You can use your existing boiler and save quite a bit of money.
It is clean and quite and works off natural convection.
It has a large BTU output and can easily maintain a comfortable temperature without air blowing around every minute or so...

See, the heat loss of an Eichler is far greater than that of an average home. No matter how well designed the forced air system is, the system will cycle very often which will cause the fans to turn on and off every minute or so and cause dust and allergens to fly around whenever your house is heating.

The most comon way to install the baseboard system is to run an enclosure along the base of one wall and once in a while two in each room and run the piping over the roof to the boiler room.

The calculated heat loss of an average 3 bedroom Eichler with an open top atrium under original design conditions is about 55 BTU per square foot. Adding a foam roof or dual payne windows can reduce that loss greatly. Keep in mind the differences between a warm floor system and a space heating system. If the warm floor system can't offset the heat loss of the house, It won't cut it on the coldest days of the year. Some of the new electric warm floor systems only produce about 23-27 BTU per square foot. That would work for space heating in a new home with good insulation, but not your every day Eichler.

Oelklady, If you have a steel tubing system that is leaking the cause is usually a corrosion of the pipe from the outside ground water rusting it away from the outside in. This happen because is some places the pipe was not pulled up whel they poured the concrete slab where it could be protected. Often the vibration of jack hammering in to fix a leak will cause rust to fall off or crack along more of the pipe and make matters worse. Which is why leaking steel system are not normally repairable .

If you have a copper radiant system it should last the life of the house. the only reason your copper would ever leak is stress. When they built our houses they put little or no rebar in the slab to support it. Only a steel wire mesh to hold the tubing in place while they poured the concrete. When the tube crosses a crack that has had alot of movement over the years and is bound by the slab on both sides it gets stretched untill it cracks and leaks. Because it's a stress break and not corrosion it is always repairable. New detection technics developed in the last 10 years have made it possible to correct 100% of the problem in one day without costing a fortune. The most accurate is Helium leak detection. The average number of leaks is between 1 and 5.

I hope this helps,

Tom

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Joined: Jan 4 2004

Oeklady-
As far as I know, typically leaks occur near the cracks, however; I had Anderson Heating perfom repairs on a large addition/remodel on which I am running, at the onset of constuction; they first pressure tested the system, determined that the system was not sealed, then went on with injecting helium in to the existing copper tubing. Most of the leaks were near or around cracks in the slab, but 2 or 3 were not (there were approximately 8 leaks inthe system). I have heard much speculation as to the cause of the leaks from 3 different hydronic repair companies, one common denominator is (in copper systems) as Tom_PA stated above, is the fact that wire mesh was used in the slab portion of the foundation and because it offers minimal reinforcement, the sightest movement can result in tubing failure. Also, I also have heard that the heat transmits up through the slab in a "cone" from the pipe through the concrete, so that placing the lines deeper actually allows heat to be distributed more evenly across the concrete (another theory which makes sense, taking into account the properties of concrete thermodynamics )
but I'm sure another hydronic contractor will raise a point to dispute this theory.
What ultimately will be of most help to you, if you think your heating system is leaking, is have anyone of the hydronic contractors that advertise on this website (or anyone else that you may know, but I can not personally recommend anyone) is able to perform a pressure test at a very minimal cost ($150-$300) and you can go from there. All this information, while interesting, is not going to have much practical use; I've personally seen about 3,000+linear feet of seroius cracking in Eichler slabs, and a very small percentage of those cracks contain leaks. Also, the fact that your home is in Foster City on landfill creates other geotechnical concerns that could result in more slab movement than the Highlands, Marin, SF or other inland areas. I am going to start a new posting for all Eichler owners cautioning anyone who is considering new flooring.

renman

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Joined: Jan 23 2004

renman wrote:
I am going to start a new posting for all Eichler owners cautioning anyone who is considering new flooring.

A good idea. Have soeone come out and perform a good pressure test to determine if your system's leaking or not. This test will not tell you how many leaks there are. But will tell you if the problem exists.

Tom

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Joined: Jan 4 2004

I have Anderson on my project, and they are the most skilled and competent hydronic sub contractor that I have ever had repair leaks (and they have repaired many leaks, due to the additions of spread footings, addition of a gas island cooktop in the kitchen etc.; and the 8+ leaks in the existing system;) and they are fast. Unfortunately, I have not yet worked with Franz Rogman yet; so I'm don't know if he does leak detection, but I would assume that he does repairs as well.
I am very impressed with Glen and his almost intuitive ability to repair these systems. I would Definately recommend them to any one needing this type of service.

renman

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Joined: Mar 22 2003

Hi Renman:

Franz does not do leak detection, due to his concern over potential conflict of interest--either actual temptation, or the appearance of a conflict.

He has several leak detection companies that he works closely with, but will not do it himself. It is kind of like being told by your automobile mechanic that to fix the problem with your car, it is going to cost $500, yet he is going to be the one to benefit from this diagnosis. You get the point...

Cathye

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