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SolaRoll Radiant Heating from 1982 -- possible to repair / maintain and keep reliable? Or abandon?

Hello, I bought a concrete dome home in CO earlier this year which has SolaRoll (or similar) radiant heating in the finished basement floor and the main floor of the house (1650 sq. ft. each). The setup originally had a bunch of solar water heating panels outside which aren't there any longer, and the SolaRoll system hasn't been used in years, as far as I know (the house sat vacant for at least 1 year during this time).

From a cost and comfort perspective, I would love to rehab this system and keep it -- but is that a worthwhile pursuit or am I asking for ongoing reliability issues? I am willing to pressure test each loop, flush the system, etc. to get a better idea of condition if it is a worthwhile endeavor. I see there are a couple tubes that are capped at the manifold and I also found one splice repair under the main floor (as seen from the basement).

Or... is this all futile and I need to bite the bullet and abandoned it and go with something all new? If so, any recommendations on a replacement for this system? Guesses on cost to refurb the existing system vs. cost to install all new? I love the idea of radiant floor heating but I know its not cheap.

Anyone local to the Denver area or any recommendations for someone in the area?
I've tried calling a bunch of plumbing/heating companies and so far none of them are familiar with SolaRoll so its one of those Ron Swanson "I know more than you" situations... this forum seems to be the best resource for info though so thank you for the assistance!

Happy to provide any photos or feedback if it will be helpful.

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,276
    No harm to trying it. If it passes a pressure test, then you can figure out how to power it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    bryantroll
  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,656
    SolaRoll is a non-barrier poly pipe that was the source of problems after corrosion from O2 diffusion. It's reparable with barbed fittings and press clamps. The selection of a new boiler will require a heat exchanger to separate the system water from the boiler water, or the boiler warranty will be compromised.
    If the system won't hold 50PSI for an hr., I'd abandon it unless leak paths were visible.
    bryantroll
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,632
    Is @Mark Eatherton in that area?
  • bryantroll
    bryantroll Member Posts: 36
    Thank you for the replies -- is there any sort of guide on the process to pressure test? I believe I read that disconnecting each loop from the manifold is a bit of a bear and that they need to be reconnected in a different way after that?
    Any other guidance going in is appreciated as well.

    There is a boiler in place but again, it likely sat unused for at least a year so I hope it hasn't been damaged by a hard freeze. It looks like some of the copper tubing has been cut/reworked (and solar water heating panels removed) so I assume the system isn't complete and operable in its current state.

    It sounds like it might be worth some time rolling my sleeves up and inspecting the system before making a decision though, can't ask for more than that!


  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,656
    The loops should not be disconnected prior to testing. The boiler may have to be isolated from the piping system, as the relief valve will blow off at 30psi.
  • bryantroll
    bryantroll Member Posts: 36

    The loops should not be disconnected prior to testing. The boiler may have to be isolated from the piping system, as the relief valve will blow off at 30psi.

    I'm missing something -- can you clarify the test process as you see it?
    I thought I was testing for leaks and also blockages meaning that you'd test each loop individually. I'm guessing you're suggesting an initial test just to test for leaks, and testing the whole system at once without disconnecting anything. (I think I'm caught up now as I type this.)
    However, I had read that because of the nature of these systems to clog up, you also want to check for blockages and make sure each individual loop is clear and flowing which needs to be done by disconnecting and testing one by one, correct?

    In case its important info, this house will eventually be a rental so reliability is important... I would like to do all the work now to get things correct and hopefully keep them working reliably.

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,632
    Are there separate valves on each loop? That would let you test flow without taking everything apart.
    bryantroll
  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,656
    Loop sludge removal can be done later if desired or required. There are several system cleaners that could be used. Make sure the system pressure test is done first, then cleaning and loop integrity can be determined.
    bryantroll
  • bryantroll
    bryantroll Member Posts: 36
    Ok I understand -- and if it passes these tests then its possible it could be reliable for years to come?

    There are 3 manifolds I believe and a variety of valves. I think it was one manifold for the basement and 2 for the main floor. I will get photos tomorrow and try to confirm some of this. I'll also take a photo of the one repaired leak spot that I found that made me a bit worried.
  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,656
    The system may be usable, or not. The manifolds did not come with valves and are not easy to fix because parts are not readily available. It's possible to retrofit new manifolds with balancing flowports, if you have the experience to do so. Spray the manifolds with leak detector fluid, once the system is filled and pressurized.
  • nosirra1Arrison
    nosirra1Arrison Member Posts: 57
    I just replaced a SolarRoll setup. The EDPM tubing was OK (MUST keep out of direct sun). This systems downfall was that the pH of the water was off and the copper pipe developed many pinholes. Do not disconnect the tubes from the copper manifolds. If you need to test individual loops you can cut them off downstream of the manifold and reconnect with hose barbs and clamps. Patch as little as possible. The tubes diameter are fairly small to start with. Add a restrictive barb and you will be pushing the flow limits.
    The tubing should be flushed with a cleaner to get out the inevitable sludge and passivated with an inhibitor . A flat plate heat exchanger is a must. The SolarRoll water can not run through the boiler since the tubing has no oxygen barrier. A stainless circulator is recommended for the SolarRoll side of the heat exchanger.
    This system was replaced with high end floor plates and 1/2" tubing. The comfort difference is minor. The SolarRoll stuff worked. Pioneering stuff for sure.
    bryantroll
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    The tube allows O2 in and that causes the ferrous components to rust and sludge the tube. Each tube would need to be removed and flushed to assure the system would work again, properly.

    Is it holding pressure now? Did it freeze? If it still holds add a cleaner, run to 120f or so, then flush.


    You need to get creative to reconnect the tube to a new manifold if you disconnect the tubes. Brass barb fittings are available from welding suppliers, same barb size as solaroll.

    Automotive vacuum lines are also the same and they are plastic use them for splices.

    The tube tends to get brittle at exposed manifolds and will split the long way, making it hard to rehab

    20 psi is all I would use. I set my air compressor to 20 psi and blow air through to make sure they are not plugged. The tube should be isolated from any ferrous metals, or the entire system piped without steel or iron, pipes, pumps, expansion tanks.

    I’d suggest a plan b, I think you are on borrowed time.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    bryantrollPC7060
  • bryantroll
    bryantroll Member Posts: 36
    edited November 2022
    Here are photos of the system currently -- hopefully it makes a bit of sense.

    A few notes:

    1) the system originally utilized a natural gas boiler, a woodburning stove, AND solar water heating panels all to heat the water for this system. The solar water heating panels are no longer there and plumbing has been removed. The woodburning stove is still there but the plumbing to it has been disconnected. The boiler sits outside and I do not know if it has been damaged by freezing, but its a definite possibility

    2) the tubing runs through the basement slab and in a concrete slab poured on the main floor. There appear to be 2 manifolds for the basement, and possibly 2? more for the main floor -- I'm not sure how to identify the supply and return manifolds 100% at this point.

    3) There are some soft tubes that are folded over and zip tied off one of the return manifolds, and they are weeping. Half assed repair. There is a spot above the main floor sub floor that was also repaired, which can be seen from the basement looking up -- I forgot to get a photo of this but its possible they drilled into it and hopefully is an anomaly. There is some corrosion on a couple fittings on one of the manifolds as well which I'm guessing is another weeping area. 

    4) I see what I believe are separate temp sensors but I don't see any valves -- can anyone determine if there are different zones in this system or how it is set up? If there's anything specific to identify and photograph I'm happy to do so, just let me know. 

    Is there any basic process for the best way to pressure test the system? Can I find a threaded drain valve and adapt to that to be able to connect a compressor and gauge that way? Any other prep needed first or just give it some pressure and see what happens?

    Thanks!




  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    edited November 2022
    Looks like an old Chiles Power System design. A lot of them incorporated wood boilers. Chiles Power became Heatway and the TwinTran was an attempt at an engineered twin radiant tube. About the same ID

    Living in Missouri, the home of Heatway, I worked on a dozen or more of those RadiantRoll systems. Occasionally you could salvage enough to keep the home warm but slab installers ended up with cold sections.

    The lowest basement slabs tend to sludge the worse, that heavy metal settles in the low sections and doesn’t want to move.

    As long as you are not paying someone by the hour, and it’s your own time, nothing to loose by trying

    A garden hose with a mini ball valve to control flow reduce it to a 3” long piece of 1/4” old copper tube. That will slip into the rubber tube snugly to blast out the loops.
    The biggest issue is making a new manifold once you cut them loose

    Use this type of clamp around the tube and 1/4 copper. It won’t damage the tube like small stainless clamps will
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    bryantroll
  • bryantroll
    bryantroll Member Posts: 36

    I just replaced a SolarRoll setup...
    This system was replaced with high end floor plates and 1/2" tubing. The comfort difference is minor. The SolarRoll stuff worked. Pioneering stuff for sure.

    This was another thought I had for the main floor at least since I can access underneath -- did you DIY the install, and do you mind me asking the cost and effort to install, and how many square feet? I may be interested in talking with you about that process, if you're willing.
    While I could do this under the main floor, I would need to find an alternate solution in the basement since its on a slab. Each floor is about 1600 square feet of finished living space.

  • nosirra1Arrison
    nosirra1Arrison Member Posts: 57
    Bryan, my SolaRoll replacement was 50/50 DIY. I did the tare out and assisted with the underfloor plate install. Very labor intensive process. In the basement I used oversized panel radiators with thermostatic radiator valves (TRV’s). These were from Hydronic Alternatives.
    Forum rules prohibit discussing pricing. PM me for more info.
    PC7060
  • bryantroll
    bryantroll Member Posts: 36
    Bumping this up because although I thought I had decided to install an all new system for both heating and cooling, I have run into snags around every corner and each system seems to have its drawbacks and challenges (no real place to run ducting, ductless mini splits not being ideal for a whole home solution, etc).
    A couple of the guys at GreenBuildingAdvisor asked why I wouldn't just reuse the SolaRoll setup and that if the tubing is EPDM then it should likely be in good shape in the concrete so long as I am ok with reworking other components of the system. Coming back and rereading the replies here it does seem like that could be a reasonable possibility.
    Reliability is important to me and thats the part that worries me, but if the SolaRoll setup could be tested/rebuilt and provide a solution then I'm considering it again.
    I do have to decide on and install a system before this winter so the clock is ticking on finding a solution.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,276
    edited July 2023
    Well... have you done step one? Which is to evaluate what you can't get access to -- that is the piping in the slabs. You have three questions. They are easy to answer, but need to be addressed. First: are there any leaks? Take that snakepit of piping apart and test each accessible loop of piping separately (you are going to need it apart for the second and third questions anyway). Do not overpressure the system! It's unlikely that it was meant for more than 15 psi, and that will be ample to evaluate leaks. Even less will do. For the sections that don't leak, the next question is are they clogged? Again, test each section and evaluate the flow rate. And again, don't overpressure. The last question is the hardest -- where to the sections go? For that you will need a source of hot water, an infrared camera (preferable) or IR thermometer (cumbersome), and a pump. Run hot water through each section independently and see where it actually is in the floor -- or at least the general area.

    None of this will take you all that long, and none of it is hard to do -- but some patience is required.

    If you find that the tubing is usable in the slabs then you can set about figuring out what combinations of the various sections you want to control together and how to pipe them together and valve them to do that, and how to provide the hot water...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    bryantroll
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    Then tend to sludge up badly and the manifolds are not so easy to rework 

    Any tube exposed tends to get brittle or crack easily if you remove them to flush or pressures test

    If it is your own time and labor it might be worth some testing time



    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    bryantroll
  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,656
    I did work for Dan Childs and was friends with Morty Schiff, his lead engineer when they were based in Kingston, NY. Because of the O2 diffusion, I'd always recommend to replace the Solaroll plastic piping. If the Solaroll is left in place and not separated from the boiler with a heat exchanger, the radiators will pinhole. Not to mention the sludging which is hard to clear.
    bryantroll
  • Derheatmeister
    Derheatmeister Member Posts: 1,533
    For various reasons and as others have mentioned most of these systems were decommisioned over 20 years ago..
    If we encounter such a system we would recommend a full replacement.
    A Mini split system or Radiant flooring systems such as Viega Climate panel >>>may<<<be the way to go ?
    bryantroll
  • bryantroll
    bryantroll Member Posts: 36
    @Jamie Hall thank you... I could certainly do that -- do you know a method to reconnect or to replace the manifolds once they have been disconnected? I have been warned that reconnecting is not typically possible and before I consider disconnecting the lines I'd like to make sure I have a path forward with it.

    I'm also looking into alternatives, since the majority of opinions are to abandon the system and start new.
    Derheatmeister
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,120
    Do not remove the tube from the manifold! Even if you could pull out that teflon ball inside, I doubt you would ever get it back together.
    Are any of the manifold connections leaking?

    Cut the tube a few inches from the manifold. Build an air tool like this 1/4" copper tube fits inside the solar roll. Then pressure flush each loop. Build a gauge setup for the other end of the loop once you figure out the pairs. This will tell if you have any loops leaking. No more than 30 psi.

    You can water test also but put a pressure regulator on the hose, stay below 30 psi.

    Get brass or plastic barb hose couplings, 1/4" I think, maybe 5/16, to put the tubes back together.
    And plastic grip type hose clamps. Stay away from any metal clamp it may cut the tube.

    Some solar roll history, it was originally designed for building solar collectors like this.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream