The Heating Element

By
Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

A working radiator in a Connecticut home

Heat is not a luxury for homeowners in Connecticut. Air conditioning on the other hand is not really a necessity. While it does at times get very hot in the summer, intense heat is not usually around for long.Heating systems here typically can be run from as early as October to as late as April. Therefore a properly working heating system is a must.

When performing a home inspection testing the heating system can be said to be a major part of the process. This includes the distribution system. Some systems are forced warm air, blowing heat from supply registers in each room. Others are hydronic, circulating hot water through pipes to radiators.

Personally I like hydronic heat. The radiators give a warmer feeling to the room. Forced air doesn't seem to have the same feeling, probably due to the lack of a heat sink. Air doesn't hold heat long.

Both types of systems have gone through changes over the years. Older houses with forced air systems are usually installed "backwards". The supply registers being at the back of the room, while the return air ducts are opposite, along the exterior wall.

Dead radiator in a bathroom in a Connecticut houseHydronic heat is distributed by pipes to the radiators or is the pipes in the case of a radiant floor. There are basically three types of hydronic systems, gravity feed, forced hot water and steam.

Gravity feed is antiquated and extremely inefficient. I almost never find this type of system. Steam is still quite common. Gravity feed and steam systems are predecessors to the forced water systems of today.

The big difference between the first two systems and the latter, is of course the pump. Not as well know and very important is the piping configuration. Steam and gravity fed systems have a different distribution pipe configuration than a force water system. The differences are necessary in order for each system to operate properly and more importantly, efficiently.

Checking the radiators in an older home not long ago, I found two "dead" radiators and a third one appeared to need life support. Further the kitchen did not have a radiator at all, instead there was what looked to be an electric heater that when tested produced zero heat. Slightly more than half the radiators were functioning, with the dead zone following a distinct pattern. Interestingly in the living room of this ranch style home was a wood stove, begging the question, was it an accessory or a necessity.

Pipes for a radiator that was found to not be functioning as expectedIn the basement I found what I have come to know is often the piping configuration in a house of this age with this particular distribution issue. The pipes are configured in what I call a steam system pattern (Mono flow). This is where there is a single main pipe loop to and from the boiler. Each radiator is looped off this main pipe. This works for steam, not well for forced water. What effectively occurs is the water attempts to push into both ends of the loop. This problem is solved usually by installing different diameter pipes at each end of the radiator or a kind of valve on the feed side. In this instances I saw none of these solutions.

Because of the poor flow characteristics, the pipes at or in the radiators are likely clogged with sediments. This combination has render the heat distribution at the lower portion of loop just about completely dead.  

A poorly operating heating system is an undesirable element.

 

 

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

To find out more about our other high tech services we offer in Connecticut click on the links below:

Learn more about our Infrared Thermal Imaging & Diagnostics services.

Serving the Connecticut Counties of Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, New Haven, Southern Litchfield and Western New London.

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Rainmaker
694,665
Clint Mckie
Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections - Carlsbad, NM
Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586

Hi James,

This is one good reason to get a home inspection. You found things I probably would have missed. I have very, very little experience with Boilers. Here we generally have just forced air units and some space/ wall heaters.

Have a great day and a very good post.

Best, Clint McKie

Jan 29, 2013 09:17 PM #1
Rainer
284,418
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

James -- that is a well written explanation of the differences between the various types of heating systems.  I wonder if the seller had listed that lack of heating in his disclosures? 

Jan 30, 2013 05:43 AM #2
Rainmaker
490,619
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Jim, I am with you, love hydronic systems. If done correctly and working correctly. Always good to check all the heat points.

Jan 30, 2013 07:59 AM #3
Rainmaker
686,484
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Clint, Makes sense. I bet you use A/C a lot more than heat.

Steven, Didn't see a word mentioned.

Don, You who gave up the radiant floor. :( Bet you miss it. 

Jan 30, 2013 09:00 AM #4
Rainmaker
1,846,440
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

I like the feel of hot water heating too.  But Babe Ruth never batted .500, so this heating system is fine, right?

Jan 30, 2013 08:44 PM #5
Rainmaker
686,484
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Jay, Sure, as long as that wood stove is working. 

Jan 30, 2013 09:10 PM #6
Rainmaker
840,514
David Popoff
DMK Real Estate - Darien, CT
Realtor®,SRS, Green ~ Fairfield County, Ct

James great report on heating systems and the basics, I am going to pass this on to my buyers along with your Home Inspection Company.

Jan 31, 2013 01:13 AM #7
Rainmaker
686,484
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

David, Thanks. Glad you found the post informative. 

Jan 31, 2013 08:13 PM #8
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James Quarello

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