Given that it’s -4F outside right now, it seemed like a post about the heating system we use in the house – and some repairs I had to do to it – was appropriate. This is the (somewhat long) story of repairing one of the signature features in our house: the in-floor radiant heat on the lower level.
As a split-level house, we have one floor (family room level) that is concrete slab-on-grade. There is one problem with slab-on-grade construction in the Northeast: the concrete gets painfully cold in the winter. When designing the house, my grandfather was aware of this fact and had installed – in 1959 – radiant heat tubing embedded in the concrete. With the radiant heat, warm water is pumped through the piping and keeps the floor (and the room) warm.
Because of the radiant heat, the house was also outfitted with hot water baseboard heat on all levels, separated into three zones (one for each level – no heat in the basement.)
There was, however, a problem with the radiant heat in winter 2009. My grandmother had called and indicated that the family room with the radiant heat was very cold and that she had called a local plumber to take a look. This plumbing outfit took a look at the radiant configuration – copper tubing embedded in concrete dating to 1959 – and told her that it was broken beyond repair. They really didn’t do any testing or anything, they just assumed it was bad and told her the best option was to install some (very ugly) hot water baseboard radiators in that level of the house.
I kind of forgot to post these previously – but back in March I had a “home energy audit” done. I had done this once before in 2011 with Grandma so I knew what to expect and this was more of a follow-up to analyze some more changes I had made.
Since I know the guys who do the audit (and they did awesome work here previously) – at Foam-It Insulation – I asked if they could also bring over the thermal camera. If you aren’t sure what that means – a thermal camera is a special digital camera that reads infrared (heat)…so if you point it at your outside wall and there is no insulation, you can basically “see” it. I happen to have radiant floor heat in the downstairs space of the house…so if I point the camera at the floor, I can see exactly where the tubing is buried in the floor, and if there is a leak it will show up as well.
There is a bigger story here, as it was believed when we moved in that the radiant heat was broken (50 years on, it had served it’s time.) But after Mary and I moved in I did some testing and figured out that it wasn’t – I’ll save that story for another post, but needless to say it saved us at least $10,000.
So, of course they hand me the camera and let me wander around and take pictures of things. So for those who are nerdy, here is what embedded radiant heat in your floor looks like – the bright spots are the tubes of hot water running in the floor. These shots are of the downstairs bathroom and laundry room floors. For fun I threw in a shot of the boiler, and some upstairs shots where you can see exactly where insulation is still missing from some walls: