old and failing radiant heat

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series900
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old and failing radiant heat

Post by series900 »

New to the board, and am considering the purchase of a FLW disciple construction. Slab based heat, now 50 years old, and the steeltubing is failing, already had a stroke( one zone bypass with electric),and I suspect this place is ready for a heat heart attack, or could give me one if purchased! What is the group consensus on radiant heat refit? Residential contractors suggest roof top hot air, yuck. New radiant installers(pex) suggest baseboard heat, with granite, glass walls and built ins this seems wrong also. My thoughts lead to wet saws, cut dado slots aplenty and creat a new grid on the floor and lay pex, mortar, then tile. Other than a jackhammer or a bulldozer, has a solution been found to reclaim a radiant heat floor of 4k sq ft? Thanks for the time and space to pose problem and leads to a solution.

jim
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Post by jim »

Google the Stuart Richardson House (FLLW) and also Tarantinostudio.com and you will see photos and explanation of this recent project replacing the radiant floor in a Usonian.
Jim

Mobius
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Post by Mobius »

If you do some digging, you will discover that the Jacobs No.1 house in Madison, Wisconsin has had half the radiant heat system replaced entirely. It involved ripping the floor slab out (with the house still on it) laying proper water piping and pouring the slab over the top/around it. (The original piping was buried in gravel under the slab - a very inefficient heating method, more suited to heating the ground under the house.)



The other main error in that installation was the boiler which used steam to heat the pipes. Amazingly inefficient to do that too (insane in retrospect) and it's funny what was not generally known back then too.... Like the fact that steam follows the hottest pipe, and the Jacobs floor, would take weeks to achieve an even temperature. Parts of the floor would be very hot, and other areas entirely cold.



Some student did his Ph.D. on the house heating system, and comparing the two systems (old vs. new) and there is a very cool PDF floating around somewhere which has more information than you can poke a stick at.



My general feeling for replacing the original system is that it is probably cheaper just to rip the entire floor up and begin again, with proper non-volatile water piping. I most certainly would NEVER install electrical underfloor heating - as this is insanely expensive, ties you to the electric bill massively, and is extremely prone to damage during installation. I have a friend in the elecltrical supply industry, and he screams "NEVER GO 'LECTRIC!" to anyone and everyone.



At least a water based system can have its water heated with anything: old pot-belly wood fired stove, solar, Gas, Oil Furnace, and my personal favourite, the pool-heater/heat exchanger - which can get as high as 4KW output for 1KW input.
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RJH
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Post by RJH »

I can only share my own experiences as owner of Wright

Doug LaBrecque
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Post by Doug LaBrecque »

I really wish that there would be a clear and concise directive to this question and this omnipresent problem with so many Usonians. At The Acres, The Weisblat house and the Pratt house seem to be limping along in their success with radiant heat. The Pratt house in particular is really problematic. The previous owner of the Meyer house threw in the towel and added baseboard heat. I have investigated, with the help of a leak detection company, and determined where the supposed leaks are. I have saw cut the floor, repaired the 2 leaks, but the pipes will still not hold pressure.

I am now in the position of having to decide whether to just patch the floor and maintain the hideous baseboard heat, or to start over. It is my understanding that the cost of the Zimmerman floor repair was well into 6 figures. I cannot help but think there is a more cost effective way to remove the existing floor, install new piping, and re-pour the floor. There seems to be so much mystery and fear associated with this process. I want to get the color right, I desperately want the radiant heat to be restored, but I am not in the position to spend this kind of money.

I believe the plumbing work can be done for less than 10k. Getting the old floor removed, and the new one poured with the proper troweling of color is the mysterious and daunting part. Yes this is a cry for help, and sadly, I think I am not alone.

Doug LaBrecque
Doug LaBrecque

RJH
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Post by RJH »

Once again, with all these houses, it is not so much the problem of

Ed Jarolin
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Jacobs I heating system

Post by Ed Jarolin »

Coincidentally, I just finished rereading Herb Jacob's "Building with Frank Lloyd Wright". He addresses the problems with the steam gravity heat and notes that it was changed to forced hot water in February of 1940.

DRN
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Post by DRN »

Assuming that not all existing systems have been blessed with copper, are there any measures that can be taken to reduce the potential for corrosion in exisitng operable systems with steel piping?



Steel embedded in concrete is typically not prone to corrosion problems. Is the issue that the pipes are not in the slab? Is moisture present under the slab (condensation) in the crushed stone bed attacking the pipes?



Is the culprit the heated water itself? Wet pipe sprinkler systems seem to hold up well. Is the problem the chemical make up of the particular system's water supply? Are there corrosion inhibitors that can be added to the water?



Could the problem be air in the system allowing corrosion from within to take root?



Any thoughts? Any mechanical engineers in our ranks?

MHOLUBAR
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Post by MHOLUBAR »

Floor slab heating (gravity heat) is extremely comfortable and the copper seems to have held up very well. I believe part of the idea in laying the pipe below the slab was to provide frost protection as well as allow for some type of repair service at a later date. The Jacobs House refit is very informative and well done and proves the improvements in this technology. Sadly the Weltzheimer House here has a failed floor system, that has been retrofitted with fan enhanced fin tubes, installed beneath the built in couches and along the back gallery wall under the bookshelves. This works pretty well in all but the worst winter weather when we pull out oil filled electric radiators for freeze prevention.

The 1948 secifications call for 2" wrought iron pipe be laid for the heat and the magazines of the day promote this type of heat for all schools and public buildings. I believe iron was thought to hold and radiate heat better than other materials and it's reactivity would somehow be solved with the proper chemicals The Richardson / Tarantino presentation at the last FLW Building Conservancy Conference was very informative and really worth looking at.
mholubar

DRN
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Post by DRN »

Probably neither are effective, but I have to ask...



Could a breached pipe system be used as a conduit to run/pull pex tubing? There would be heat transfer issues, but if a larger than normal pex pipe is run such that it better fills the existing pipe diameter, would it work?



I saw an episode of This Old House in which a sewer pipe was relined in place using an epoxy injection sysyem. Is this a possibility?

RJH
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Post by RJH »

One interesting thing with Dr. Christian

normallyQuiet
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Post by normallyQuiet »

RJH wrote:Steel pipes have a chemical reaction with concrete over time called electrolysis and the pipes gradually decay over time.


I think you may be mistaken... That is not the definition of electrolysis. (Actually, when referring to metal piping, electrolytic corrosion would be a more correct terminolgy.)



You may be referring to galvanic action of dissimilar metals-- That's corrosion caused by self-induced current created by electrical potential of two dissimilar metals in contact with an electrolyte. It can occur when two dissimilar metals (such as copper tube and steel pipe) are connected in the presence of an electrolyte.



But electrolysis involves an electric current through an electrolyte, and water found in heating pipes is not a good electrolyte.



I am curious as to how it was determined that steel pipes in concrete deteriorate through "electrolysis"?



More than likely a problem develops at the juncture of the steel pipes and the furnace. Or the pipes are not fully coated or encased in the concrete properly and rust becomes the enemy.



For the lay person, think of all the buildings in the world with properly installed steel reinforcing in concrete... If there was a significant chemical reaction between these we surely would have heard about it by now?!



One corrosive chemical reaction we all know about is rusting. But there is no electrical current involved in that process. So please do not misuse the term electrolysis.

pharding
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Post by pharding »

Thanks for the factual post. On this board one always needs to consider the creditability of the source. If one has a musical instrument, that does not make one a musician.
Last edited by pharding on Sun Apr 01, 2007 9:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | www.harding.com | LinkedIn

RJH
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Post by RJH »

For the lay person, think of all the buildings in the world with properly installed steel reinforcing in concrete... If there was a significant chemical reaction between these we surely would have heard about it by now?!


Read:



"Deterioration of reinforced concrete caused by corrosion of the carbon steel reinforcing bars (rebars) is a worldwide problem. The corrosion product occupies a greater volume than the original steel bar and this creates a pressure which causes cracking and subsequent spalling of the surrounding concrete..........."



http://www.che.sc.edu/faculty/popov/drb ... nsors.html



Or Google "rebar corrosion." You will find tons of information on failed rebar caused from corrosion. It is common and a big problem.



Someone trained at Penn Architecture should know this.



I'll comment more on this later since I am busy.

DRN
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Post by DRN »

Not to stick my nose into another's quarrel but....

The quote RJH shared does not give enough of the context of the situations in which the steel reinforcing in the concrete has deteriorated.



Corrosion or rusting is a common and potentially serious problem where the concrete coverage of the steel has been compromised through deflection or shrinkage cracking, spalling due to chemical interaction, damage from impact, etc.



To my knowledge, the steel will not deteriorate if it remains encased and undisturbed, unless there is some contamination in the concrete materials (water, sand, cement, admixtures) by a corrosive material.



My earlier comments relative to the steel pipes were an attempt to explore the possibile causes of the pipe failures and to toss around ideas for less invasive repairs that may not have been suggested.

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