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Looking at purchasing an Eichler

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Joined: Mar 28 2003

Hi All,

Glad to have found this great resource on Eichlers. We are considering purchasing an Eichler in Northern CA. The expected price is pretty much at the top of our range. In reviewing the disclosures last night I saw an inspection and pressure test of the radiant heat system. It is steel pipes which I understand is not preferred. The boiler is the original one so it is roughly 50 years old.

The pressure test revealed a loss of water in the system. It was tested at 9 lbs. and fell 1.5 lbs after 3 hours. I called the inspection company and they said this would be classified as a small leak. I also asked them about repair possibilities and they made it sound like it would not be a big deal to repair it, they also said putting some sort of sealant into the system was an option.

So basically I would just like a second opinion(s). If the purchase price of a house such as this were at the top of your budget would you a pursue a house with a heating system with these problems/components?

Thanks in advance,
Greg (gmcshea@aol.com)

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Joined: Apr 8 2003

Greg:

If the purchase price=all the money you have and you intend to live there a while, then I would advise that you look elsewhere. My wife and I just bought an Eichler with steel pipes two months ago. Our radiant heating had been abandoned some time ago and there was no boiler. Like yourself, I was told that it's possible to keep the old tubes running with sealants, etc. We ran water through them and though the tubes couldn't hold pressure, the water didn't look rusty coming out. We gambled and bought the house. The more opinions we got, though, the more it became clear that this approach is really a slowly losing battle and only makes sense if you're already living there, with the house full of furniture and a lack of inertia. You can't know how many leaks there are. If sealants don't work, then you're looking at paying for leak detection and jack-hammering the floors to try and patch in new steel pipe, which a lot of folks don't advise, for several hundred dollars a pop at least. And you could end up doing that regularly. I have neighbors who do.

We were going to renovate anyway, so we ended up putting a new radiant system on top of the old slab, poured into 1 1/2" of gyp-crete, with a new boiler. You can figure around $20K for this, plus the cost of a new kitchen, bathrooms and finish flooring materials throughout, as well as reframing all your doors to work with the new floor height. Once you start and your floors are rising, you can't really stop.

Personally I have no regrets about going this route. We're still in the middle of it, but I'm convinced it's the right thing to do. What cinched it for me was when we dug a trench in the slab for a new waste line and unearthed some of those steel tubes. They had a regular pattern of rust and holes, more or less continuously. One look at that made me wonder how we ever considered running them.

Sorry it's a long post (my first! - I've been lurking a while) but I'd like you to give this serious consideration. I'd hate to see you hate living in an Eichler because it turned around and bit you.

Cheers,
-George.

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Joined: Apr 2 2003

Welcome aboard, Greg and George!

I don't live in a house with steel radiant pipes or personally know anyone who does. However, I will say that what I've seen in posts on the subject is that the steel radiant pipe system should be expected to fail and as a potential owner you would need to plan/budget what system with which to replace it. Since radiant heating is one of the great characteristics of Eichlers, if you are already in love with the house and the price takes into account a 20K hit to replace the heating then you would probably do well to consider a modern radiant heat replacement as suggested by George.

Greg, you don't say what your budget or desired home areas are. Perhaps there are alternative locations with intact copper systems that might be a better bet. Would you care to share more about your home search--perhaps we can help point you to other possibiities.

Jake

eichfan at rawbw dot com

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Joined: Mar 20 2003

Will a home warranty cover potential radiant heat problems.. Asuming you have home warranties in CA?

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Joined: Mar 28 2003

George, Jake,

Thanks so much for your candid replies. They are a great help and much appreciated. For a variety of reasons we are committed to Palo Alto, which is very pricey. The house, as it was, without any major repairs was a stretch for us and I'm feeling now that its best to continue to wait for some other properties to come around. This Eichler was very large (2100 SF) and in the desirable Green Meadow development but I think we'll have to let this one go.

Thanks again for the advice.
Greg

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Joined: Mar 20 2003

There are a lot of options as to how to replace the failed radiant heat: New radiant pipes, baseboard, forced air etc. I would not count on being able to salvage the existing steel pipe system. You would have to add the cost of replacing the heating with something else to your purchase price. Whether or not you are able and//or willing to pay that is a different matter.

It is generally a good idea to have some reserve funds when buying a house that is about 50 years old and has not been remodeled (yet). Eichlers are no different in this regard than any other type of house.

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Joined: Mar 20 2003

Hi,
I am actually in the process of finding a replacement for my radiant
heating system because it has developed a leak (or leaks). I was told
that to find the source (or sources) of the leak I would have to rip open
the flooring and could potentially end up finding out that it may not be
worth fixing after all (because the steel pipes degrade over time and
could develop leaks in other places). I looked at various options, but
I finally realized that there was some (enough) space near the roof of
the house (all along the length of the house) where I could fit some duct
work. So, I decided to look into putting forced air heating instead and
not have to worry about the radiant system.
BTW, home warranty covers only fixing the leak itself. They
don't pay for fixing up the floor etc.
Having said that, if it works, radiant heating is very nice!

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Joined: Mar 22 2003

rbnetus:

You might also want to consider alternatives to forced air heating. As you know, with forced air, you will have to install ducting, which could ruin the asthetics of the home. Further, there is nothing dirtier or worse for allergy sufferers than forced air (my personal bias is at work here...). The previous owner of our Eichler installed baseboard heating and we love it. Not the most asthetic, since you can see it running along certain walls, but it does look modern and it is 100% clean and quiet, just like the radiant system was.

Cathye

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Joined: Mar 20 2003

Cathye,
Thanks for your input. Yes, I did like the different warmth and lack of
allergy problems using the radiant heating system, but given the
kinds of problems I've had, I'm tending to shy away from water flowing
through the house. I did look at numerous alternatives and given cost
considerations, I decided to go with forced air. The others either seemed
too expensive to install or too expensive to maintain.
Thanks

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Joined: Mar 22 2003

I can certainly understand your decision...Baseboard heating is quite expensive and needs to be properly done. Our pipes are running inside the walls and across the roof, which led to about $3K in extra expenses when we replaced our roof a few years back. All in all, we love it though.

C

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