Radiant heating involves pipes buried under your floor that circulate hot water from a boiler to keep your rooms pleasantly and evenly warmed throughout the winter. While most modern systems are built with tough PEX pipes that won't develop cracks with age, older systems used copper or steel pipes that were both prone to developing leaks after a few decades of use. If you suspect your radiant heating system might be leaking, do some troubleshooting of your own by looking for these five signs of damage.
Pressure Gauge Changes
Start by visiting the gauge mounted on the manifold that directs the water out of your boiler and into the various loops of buried pipe. If you have a record of the usual pressure of the system, which should have been provided by the installer or the last technician to service the system, you can compare the numbers to see if pressure is down in the system. Most systems are kept at between 10 and 25 PSI, but this varies depending on the design and size of the loops. Low pressure is a clear indicator of a leak, so a system reading 0 PSI definitely needs immediate attention.
Since the pipes of radiant heating systems are embedded in concrete slabs to transfer the heat from the water to the rest of the room, you can often tell there's a leak by looking for damage to the flooring over that slab. This is because concrete is somewhat porous and slowing wicks moisture up to the surface so it can evaporate. Give your floor an in-depth inspection and look for subtle water damage signs like the following:
- Damp or discolored carpeting
- Mold growth on the edges where flooring meets the wall
- Glued vinyl or wood tiles that are coming loose and peeling up
- Stains rising up between the cracks of hardwood flooring planks
- Discoloration and mildew growth on tile grout that is not located in a wet environment like a shower or kitchen.
Since properly installed radiant floor heating is a closed loop system that keeps recycling the same water over and over again, you shouldn't notice any particular water use coming from the boiler. If your water meter is slowly running but you've shut off all the other sources of water in the home, you're likely dealing with a leak in the heating system that is causing new water to fill up the boiler to make up the difference. This is a subtle sign, but it's often the first indicator that causes a homeowner to wonder about the health of their system.
Suspecting that the radiant flooring is using fresh water due to a leak but you can't pinpoint the problem with the water meter alone? Try inspecting the boiler for signs of mineral deposits building up around the safety valves and other connectors on the tank. A white or gray colored powdery build up on or in the boiler indicates that water with a lot of minerals is constantly flowing into the boiler, which shouldn't happen with a properly functioning closed system.
Finally, you may get lucky and actually hear the leak if you make your home quiet enough and spend time with your ear to the floor. Large leaks can cause hissing, bubbling, and rushing noises that are audible through the flooring. Boosting your natural hearing ability with a stethoscope can help, but you'll need a complex and expensive ultrasound amplification device to get the best results with this testing step. If you hear some odd noises but can't tell if it's a heating pipe or something else, hire a technician armed with thermal imaging equipment, ultrasound sensors, and other high-end equipment for pinpointing those leaks.
For more information and assistance with diagnosis and repair of a leak, contact a professional heating company, such as Winters Heating Cooling & Indoor Air Quality.