Some homebuyers shy away from Eichlers because they don't know what to expect from a radiant panel heating system.
Before you buy an Eichler home, you should request an inspection of the radiant heating from a reputable radiant heating specialist. A company such as Dan Salzberg's Radiant Heating Service, located in Mountain View, charges just $275 to inspect your radiant heating system for the existence of leaks.
The radiant heating company will perform a pressure test on your radiant heating system with a pressure gauge at approximately 25-psi while the system is at cool ambient temperature. (The test would not be reliable if pressure tested at elevated temperature since the change in pressure might be due to a temperature change rather than a true leak.) If the pressure holds steady, then we know the system has no leaks. However, if the pressure drops over time, that indicates a leak somewhere in the system. For example, if the pressure drops 1-psi in 10 minutes, that indicates a slow drip of approximately 3 drops of water per 10 minutes. Somewhere in the system is a small leak. A leak of 1 drop every 3 minutes is on the small side. A leak of 1 cup every 1 minute is major. If the leak is major, then the pressure test will show the system not holding pressure at all.
The most common area for leaks is wherever the pipes cross under cracks in the concrete slab floor. The expansion and contraction of the concrete slab floor can cause a leak.
To pinpoint the exact locations of the leaks, the consumer can ask the radiant heating service to perform a Helium Leak Detection. Dan Salzberg's Radiant Heating Service charges between $500-$800 for this type of test. They might find one leak; they might find 10 leaks. This technique involves detecting and repairing each individual leak. A typical repair bill using leak detection and repair might be from $1,000 - $2,000. Keep in mind though that radiant repair quoted here does not include replacement of the floor covering. The downside of radiant heating in the Eichler slab floor is the flooring needs to be removed in order to access the heating system.
To replace an entire radiant heating system would cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. Normally, homeowners do not go for this extreme. If the house has large leaks in 3 different rooms, then maybe the homeowner should consider a completely new heating system.
Another technique is to use Hydronic System Sealant to try to stop small leaks in the heating system in general. Instead of detecting each individual leak, the radiant heating company puts sealer in the system and then retests later with the whole leak detection process to check whether it worked. Sometimes the sealant stops the leaks; sometimes not. Sometimes corrosion closes the leak again. However, if a heating system has 10 leaks now, there's no guarantee that 6 months from now another pipe that crosses a crack won't start to leak.
Are leaks in radiant heating systems commonplace? When I asked Dan Salzberg, he responded that if they were to test all the Eichler radiant heating systems in the neighborhood block at any given instant, one third (33%) to one fourth (25%) of the houses would have a small leak.
I hoped I helped give you an idea of what to expect from the radiant heating system that is often found in Eichler homes. Now that you know what to expect from radiant heating systems, you do not have to worry about the heating system when buying an Eichler home.