1957 Boiler with a radiant heat system...oh my!

House Repair Talk

Help Support House Repair Talk:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.


Well-Known Member
Jun 5, 2009
Reaction score
South Hills, Pittsburgh, PA
This could be an epic tale, but I'll try to keep it short...

We bought this house in July. The Ruud boiler was obviously old, but our home inspector and an additional check by an HVAC guy said it worked. It's connected to a radiant heat system embedded in the basement floor and also in the attic of this ranch house.

First chilly day we turned it on but got very little heat and I couldn't keep pressure in the system. Called in an HVAC guy to bleed it and tune it up. He couldn't get all the air out either. No visible leaks, so it must be under the basement concrete.....

So the options are dig up the basement or upgrade to new equipment. I'd like to hear some opinions on ductless (heat pump) whole house heating/cooling or sticking with a boiler. If we stick with a boiler, we will need to put in baseboard units, b/c I don't want to chase down future leaks from this 66 year old copper tubing.

So what do you think?
I'm into the old stuff and I think radiant heat is the best, so my vote is to keep the boiler.
The problem I'm seeing is that copper in concrete will fail eventually. I don't want to dig up this leak only to have another somewhere in the near future.
I agree that a well built cast iron boiler has some chops that newer boilers just don't live up to. It's working now so I'm not rushing into anything with winter coming.
I don’t have hot water heat but often wish I did. If the boiler is a solid older unit it may be worth keeping.

The problem around here with the copper in concrete installs made in the 60s is they had way too much thermal mass and like you saw in the spring and fall when the outside temp is up and down it takes days not hours or minutes to warm the mass. So you get a cold night and the heat fires up and you freeze all night and the next day it is 75 out and the concrete starts giving off lots of heat. Once mid winter hits they work great.

My friend had a house that was heated that way and after a couple years of that and then one leak that was hard and expensive to find he switched it all out to baseboard units and PEX tubing with more zones.

The only advantage to forced air IMO is if you also need central air also.

We did hot water baseboards in my nephew’s home when we built it and the question of bleeding it came up. I added in a couple of valves where we could flush the system with water from the house water supply and we had a drain valve at the lowest point. We would just fill the lines with water under pressure and blow all the air out the low end. It works great and every couple years he does it again if he gets any air in the system. I don’t know if this is an approved method or not but it got him up and running. Been working for about 20 years now.
Thanks Bud. We just bought the house in July, so this is our first heating season here. I would have liked to enjoy the radiant heat for a while. I had heard about the lag in heating cycles before. This is just a ranch with a basement, so the concrete issue only affects the basement. The piping for the main floor is in the attic so the heat is delivered pretty quickly. But the problem up there is that the heat/cool cycle tends to crack the seams in the ceiling. I have no problem repairing the seams, but one misplaced screw can totally ruin my day.

We had HWBB (hot water baseboard) in our last house and it worked well for us. I'm familiar with the need to bleed every so often. That's a part of maintenance for this system too. Neither my wife nor I are big fans of forced hot air. Dry air leads to dry skin, noses, eyes etc.