Hot-water heating pipes should be in no trouble

Q. My 29-year-old house has a piped hot-water heating system embedded in the slab. I hear stories of people abandoning such radiant systems and having to put air ducts under their beam ceilings. Are there any steps I can take now to forestall problems with the radiant system? What are my alternatives if the pipes do leak?

George Towner, Sunnyvale, Calif.

A. I'd not lose a wink of sleep over a possible leak in a radiant heating system which hasn't leaked in 29 years. True, age and usage can indeed stress piping and connections. But I'd not be concerned about it unless it happens.

Meanwhile, have an experienced heating contractor check the water closed within the piping system. It may or may not need replacement and with proper additive.

Should an embedded copper pipe leak, chip the concrete away from the leak a few inches each way. The pipe may be about halfway through the 4-inch-thick slab. Remove the leaky section and solder in a new piece. Test the system under pressure for no leaks. Then patch the concrete as needed.

An alternative you mentioned is to install another heating system, although it needn't have unsightly encased overhead heating ducts.

You might consider a perimeter baseboard heating system, either electric or hot water. Baseboard heating systems are relatively easy to retrofit in an existing dwelling, and they are rather inconspicuous behind furniture and draperies.

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