Everyone I’ve talked to who has in-floor heat says they love it.
I’ve been told that people will comfortably set their thermostat to a lower temperature in radiantly heated houses.
Concrete floors on both levels of the house seemed a good choice because they are the best home-building material for storing radiant heat. And our research convinced us that concrete was also the most efficient material for transferring that in-floor heat back to us on cold winter evenings after the sun goes down
Still, we were a little concerned — a few years ago we watched Doug’s dad jack hammer up his slab-on-grade concrete floor looking for a sewer leak. Our fear was – WHAT IF WE GET A LEAK IN THE PEX TUBING EMBEDDED IN CONCRETE?
That would be bad, right?
So, guess what happened last week?
The weather was dipping down below freezing at night, and we had temperature-sensitive painting and plastering coming up. It’s still going to be a few weeks before the solar hot water panels get hooked to the system, but the propane back-up was already in place, so it seemed like a good time to get it up and running.
But when Mark O’Neal from Full Spectrum Solar came out to make the final preparations, he discovered a leak in the PEX tubing.
Now here’s where today’s post becomes a detective story.
The upstairs tubing layout, designed by Andy DeRocher, was carefully arranged to keep all of the PEX lines away from points of attachment for wall framing. It consists of six loops (12 tubes) that come up from the basement side-by-side under the threshold to our bedroom doorway and then fan out, traveling throughout the house.
This nice, logical layout was complicated by the nature of a house built of unmilled branching timbers. With a whole tree house, the paper plans have to be adapted to accommodate the actual posts and beams that are used. You don’t come back from the woods with perfectly straight timbers, accurately sized down to the eighth of an inch the way you expect to when you buy dimensional lumber from the lumber yard. Your final house resembles but does not exactly represent the blueprint. Unfortunately, the dimensions of the branching post outside our bedroom doorway required the bedroom door threshold to be moved several inches north along the hallway wall.
The design change seemed fine for handling people moving back and forth into the bedroom, but no one remembered the PEX placed under the originally-planned threshold.
Moving the doorway a few inches to the north put the outer PEX tube into harm’s way. When the bedroom wall was anchored in place, the last PEX line took a direct hit from a powerful concrete screw and was winged by the next screw.
So when Mark filled the PEX tubes with warm water – drip, drip, drip!
It didn’t take long to figure out that the relocated doorway had caused the leak.
Michael, one of our carpenters, spent a day chiseling down to and around the wounded PEX. Watching him work reminded me of an archeologist delicately locating and exposing the tibia of our petrified PEXasarus
Mark came out the next day and brought an assortment of splicing hardware possibilities. At first he thought he would repair it with the kind of brass fitting used to attach the PEX to the boiler. That would have worked well, except it did not extend far enough to also cover that second, worrying nick.
He returned to his PEX repair kit. One really useful feature of PEX tubing is that it is made of a substance called cross-linked polyethylene . Cross linking is a chemical form of reinforcement – a kind of three-dimensional matrix that is used to emulate the fibers in fiberglass or the reinforcement bars in concrete.
Cross linking greatly increases PEX strength.
But it does more. Unlike the static physical three dimensional matrices in concrete and fiberglass, the chemical scaffolding in our PEX tubing can be disconnected and reconnected in new configurations and, then when cooled, return to its original shape with a fresh array of reinforced crosslinks.
You disconnect the original cross linkages with heat and create the new ones as the tubing cools back down.
Mark cut out the section of defective tube, then heated the cut ends and bent them up so he could slip another ring of PEX that has been expanded while it is hot over the break, and bend it back into line. The tubing became translucent after heating, and then as it cooled, it became opaque and solid again in a straight line. The PEX collar pulled into a very tight seal as it returned to its slightly smaller cool shape.
It’s an amazing material that made for an elegant patch!
Good as new!