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Water heat using PEX tubing with Governale Recessed Cast Iron Radiators

KMTKMT Member Posts: 4
edited January 2015 in Plumbing
My contractor convinced me to switch from steam heat to hot water. They used pex tubing throughout a 3 family house with 4 zones. Installed recessed cast iron radiators on the outside walls of a brownstone. We have had three leaks in the past year due to the system and now two cracked radiators for freezing up in 30 degees weather last week. (It's not even that cold for NY). A recent leak caused sheet rock damage that will now need repair. The original contractor can't find in the pex tubing where the frozen part is. Blames it on the draft in the wall, and wants to wait until it warms up to thaw out. Is this a common issue for water heat through pex tubing? My tenants are without heat and I am at a loss for how to proceed. Any suggestions or thoughts much appreciated!


  • Steve MinnichSteve Minnich Member Posts: 2,586
    I've done many jobs that feed either cast iron radiators or cast iron baseboard using pex-al-pex for my pipe. I've never had one issue with any of them but I never exposed the pipe to potential freezing conditions.
    Waiting until it's warm doesn't help you or your tenants but, as you know by now, you'll have to insulate the building properly and make sure your pipe is well out of harm's way.
    Author - Hard Knocks: My Life Inside Boiler Rooms
    PHC News Columnist
    Minnich Hydronic Consulting & Design, LLC
  • SnowmeltSnowmelt Member Posts: 1,228
    If he installed it then he should fix it right there. On his dime. Why would you change to hot water rads. You should of kept the steam. Something doesn't seem right that it froze up. Unless he wrote up the contract warning you about frozen pipes. How cold did the rads get that they froze and cracked?

  • bob youngbob young Member Posts: 2,177
    YOU HIRED AN INCOMPETENT contractor.unscrupulous too, if he does not gaurantee & fix job & restore heat. report him to consumer affairs , they will straighten him out.....if they can find him. the story is ridiculious, he must be punished.
  • wcs5050wcs5050 Member Posts: 126
    Anti freeze maybe? Rhoguard is top notch quality. Avoid Hercules, what a mess.
  • KMTKMT Member Posts: 4
    An update, the contractor sent another plumber (which I had to pay) to install 2 new radiators as they both cracked on the same line. When he installed both, he started up the system, and heard water flowing through the wall. He then pulled the pex through the wall and noted a pin hole in the tubing. Which probably came to light when from the tube expands and contracts from ice? Apparently caused by a staple in the molding. $235/ea radiator, and $95 for the new pex tube and we're up and running. I can't make this up. Thank you for your comments I used the experience to challenge the contractor. Now hopefully he'll make good to tape and paint all the sheet rock ruined by water damage.
  • RobGRobG Member Posts: 1,850
    You said it's a three family home? Is the family with the frozen/cracked radiators keeping the heat off to save on fuel costs? Tenants can create difficult situations.
  • SnowmeltSnowmelt Member Posts: 1,228
    I'm wondering same thing. I have a friend that didn't know to change battery on thermostat.
  • SnowmeltSnowmelt Member Posts: 1,228
    When he went away for x-mas he didn't change batteries in thermostat and pipes froze. Pex doesn't freeze to easily, although you also said pin hole from a nail?
  • Mitchel880Mitchel880 Member Posts: 1
    You mentioned it's a several family house? Would be the family members with all the frozen/cracked radiators retaining the warmth off in order to save on gasoline expenses? Tenants can make tough scenarios.

  • KMTKMT Member Posts: 4
    Since my last update, another pipe burst at 230am in the lower level of the same apt. When I ripped the sheet rock open there was absolutely no insulation protecting the pipe from the elements due to the cold winter we're having. They came and fixed it again at no expense and have since made good on the sheetrock repair. My concern going forward is when will the next burst. Should i rip everyones walls open to insulate properly for next season? Sincerely frustrated. Thank you for your thoughts as this was the most helpful resource!
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 13,487
    You have, my friend, a sad story. It's a real shame you took out the steam, but what's done is done.

    With no insulation protecting the piping... there are really only two ways to go. One is to rip out the sheetrock and get things insulated, but that is a real hassle. The other is to run antifreeze in the heating system -- which is also a hassle, but probably much less of a one. That way the system won't freeze up, although the lack of insulation will still harm your efficiency.

    Perhaps more to the point -- although it is almost spring (really, it is! Although it is snowing here as I type) -- you can do the antifreeze addition right away.
    Br. Jamie, osb

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • Larry_52Larry_52 Member Posts: 181
    edited March 2015
    your system Could really suck in the long term. All the heat lost into the dead wall space & brick will be beaucoup money in fuel costs. Would love to know what return water temps you have. My first vote would be back to steam heat and insulation. But I am sure this is less than practical for you. Yes this summer you wil need to insulate, spray foam could be great but don't know impact with brick outside wall. Bricks trying to dry from outside could be long term issue. Standard fiberglass would be minimum or dense pack cellulose better choice. I would also have the contractor remove the recessed rads and put a min of 1/2" polyiso foam behind them.

    Seems to me your contractor missed the "big picture" here. Probably sold you on how much more efficient the boiler was without looking at the heat as a total system.

    Steam heat's minimal freezing potential is inherent, that's why it worked for the last 100 years or so in your dwelling.
  • KMTKMT Member Posts: 4
    I just realized I have another thought to share - we have to bleed the system occasionally. (I thought only when the system is down and then up again or once a year for the season) but not in my case. We have done it a few times but more recently the top floor apt's heat was on, but the radiators warm not hot. We bled air from each radiator to get water circulating - all but one bled the water. It didn't even let air out. But it had in the past. I asked the contractor and he had no answer. I think there is another leak looming if I have to bleed the zones sporadically... Or maybe something clogging the system - in the line?

    Thank you for sharing your insight, experience and candor, it's GREATLY appreciated.
  • jumperjumper Member Posts: 1,513
    Did the original contractor fish the pex to save drywall repairs? Otherwise insulation should have been installed.Hot water units should not be turned off because then an open window can crack them.Most cities require a permit and inspect the job.
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,138
    Did he use the proper PEX? Does it have an oxygen barrier?
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • jonny88jonny88 Member Posts: 1,139
    I am with Jamie here and the following post by Larry is more scary but true.I know of someone in somewhat of a same scenario,contractor ripped out steam and installed High Efficiency unit,but house was unbearably cold all winter.Makes you sick to see a customer who paid their hard earned money using electric space heaters to supplement their new system.If you are new to this site Jamie and Larry are very generous with their knowledge and everything they said is true.You have a nightmare on your hands.Get the contractor back and get answers.He most likely did not do this on purpose but at the same time he should have done his homework before taking on a task like this.Remember what Larry said and re read his post it is so true.
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 7,340
    Do a primary secondary system and pump the radiation continuously. Inject heat into loops with 3 way valves. Set loops to maintain 60 deg min temp.

    Pex should be insulated anyhow.

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