Infrared Detects Ice and Snow Melt Radiant Piping

By
Home Inspector with Massachusetts Home Inspections MA. License#566

Radiant Ice Melt Systems

radiant ice and snow melt pipe detection

Ice and snow melt systems are utilized in many applications throughout the state of Massachusetts. Business owners utilize snow and ice melt systems in outdoor malls, parking lots, car washes, walkways, and loading ramps to eliminate the expense of continuous snowplowing, to avoid skidding of vehicles and to prevent slip-and-fall accidents on their property.

As a convenience, homeowners of upper-end homes install ice and snow melt heating systems in their exterior slabs...including driveways, sidewalks, stairs, and patios to completely eliminate the need for any back breaking shoveling or snow removal.

There are two types of ice and snow melt systems in Massachusetts --- embedded electric heat cables and hydronic piping. In my experience most of the ice and snow melt systems in Massachusetts are predominately hydronic systems. This is basically a closed-loop tubing made of a flexible polymer (typically a cross-linked polyethylene) or a synthetic rubber that circulates a mixture of hot water and propylene glycol (antifreeze), much like the mixture used in an automobile radiator. A boiler will warm the fluid to temperatures of 140 to 180 F. which will provide sufficient heat throughout an exterior surface for melting any snow that may have the ability to accumulate. The concealed ice melt tubing ranges in diameter from 1/2 to 3/4 inch and is flexible enough to bend into various spiral or serpentine patterns (as seen in my infrared images below) to allow for an even heat distribution and warm up any exterior surface.

snow_and_ice_melt_piping

These in-slab snow melt systems are designed to have a long service life, but everyone knows that continuous use of any material will not last forever. When these embedded systems do fail, a plumbing repair is imminent. The problem with repairing this system is that the heating elements are completely embedded, and any repairs that need to take place are very difficult because the concrete around the damaged section of the embedded piping must be removed first. Locating and pinpointing the exact area of a rupture in any large ice and snow melt system is completely impossible with a visual inspection, so detecting the exact trouble spot is where Thermal Imaging comes into play.

A rupture in concealed hydronic tubing can easily be detected with a simple Infrared (Thermal) scan. There’s no guesswork involved. I simply pan the entire snow and ice melt surface with my infrared camera and it enables me to clearly detect every embedded heat pipe within minutes of heating up the system. If there are any ruptures, breaks or leaks in the concealed piping system, it will clearly show up as an anomaly and this defective area can now be marked out with a spray paint or marker with precision. This area of concern can now be carefully excavated (attempting to avoid damaging the existing piping) and properly repaired and then the surface can be re-patched. Infrared detection can keep all of your repair work down to a bare minimum.

 

infrared line

A Massachusetts automobile dealership had a major leak in their ice and snow melt system, but was unable to pinpoint the concealed pipe leak visually.

My infrared scan detects the exact area of the ruptured pipe within minutes.

ice melt pipe detection

 

infrared line

Infrared imaging allows me to detect the exact area of a pipe burst in this radiant ice and snow melt system.

buried pipe leak detection

 

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An automatic car wash (installed right above an ice and snow melt system) had to be replaced without disturbing the concealed radiant heat piping.

radiant piping at car wash

My infrared scan made this heavy duty machinery replacement possible without disturbing the heat pipes embedded in the concrete floor below it.

A temporary orange marking paint was utilized to identify all the concealed pipe locations and used as a guideline to install the new automatic car wash. You can clearly see that embedded ice melt piping will never be straight.

car wash radiant piping

 

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Thermal imaging allows me to easily detect and pinpoint the exact location of the main supply line for this radiant ice and snow melt system.

embedded pipe detection

 

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Another automatic car wash upgrade requires infrared scanning in order to detect the exact location of all embedded piping. You can clearly see how these buried pipes will not remain perfectly straight when contractors pour concrete over them. Note the two foot void on the left.

ice melt pipe detection

 

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This is another car wash with a radiant ice melt system that had failed. You can clearly see the bright yellow area where the embedded piping has failed.

ice melt pipe repair

The concrete floor was then breached and a Plumber successfully repaired the damaged pipe without having to tear up the entire car wash bay.

ice melt pipe detection

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David Valley

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