Question? Just ask us!
Free Encyclopedia of Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, Repair
InspectAPedia ® Home
AIR CONDITIONING & HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS
BACKDRAFTING HEATING EQUIPMENT
BACKUP HEAT for HEAT PUMPS
BANGING HEATING PIPES RADIATORS
BLOWER FAN OPERATION & TESTING
BOOKSTORE - InspectAPedia
BTU USAGE MONITORS
CARBON MONOXIDE - CO
CIRCULATOR PUMPS & RELAYS
DIAGNOSTIC GUIDES A/C / HEAT PUMP
DIAGNOSE & FIX HEATING PROBLEMS-BOILER
DIAGNOSE & FIX HEATING PROBLEMS-FURNACE
DIRECT VENTS / SIDE WALL VENTS
DRAFT REGULATORS, DAMPERS, BOOSTERS
DUCT SYSTEM & DUCT DEFECTS
ELECTRIC MOTOR DIAGNOSTIC GUIDE
FAN, AIR HANDLER BLOWER UNIT
FLOODED HEATING EQUIPMENT REPAIR
FLUE SIZE SPECIFICATIONS
GAS BURNER Flame & Noise Defects
GAS PIPING, VALVES, CONTROLS
GEOTHERMAL HEATING SYSTEMS
HEAT PUMPS, DIAGNOSIS, REPAIR
HEATING COST SAVINGS METHODS
HEATING OIL PIPING TROUBLES
HEATING OIL TANKS
HEATING SYSTEM NOISES
HEATING SYSTEM TYPES
GAS LP & NATURAL GAS SAFETY HAZARDS
MANUALS & PARTS GUIDES - HVAC
MIXING / ANTI-SCALD VALVES
MOTOR OVERLOAD RESET SWITCH
NOISE, HEATING SYSTEMS
ODORS FROM HEATING SYSTEMS
OIL FILTERS on HEATING EQUIPMENT
OIL FILL PIPE LEAKS
OIL SPILL CLEANUP / PREVENTION
PLASTIC Plexvent / Ultravent RECALL
PUFFBACKS, OIL BURNER
RELIEF VALVE LEAKS
Reset Switch - Heater Primary Control
RESET SWITCH - ELECTRIC MOTOR
Reset Switch - Stack Relays
SAFETY, HEATING INSPECTION
SAFETY RECALLS CHIMNEYS VENTS HEATERS
SOLAR HEATING SYSTEM DESIGNS
SOOT on OIL FIRED HEATING EQUIPMENT
STEAM HEATING SYSTEMS
THERMOSTATS, HEATING / COOLING
VIDEO GUIDES: Heating System Videos
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
WOOD, COAL STOVES & FIREPLACES
WOOD STOVE SAFETY
ZONE VALVES, HEATING
Heating radiator leak troubleshooting: This article describes how to find and fix leaks in hot water heating radiators. We describe the types and locations of leaks found on heating radiators: hot water, steam, cast iron, heat convectors, baseboard heat, electric heating convectors.
Our page top photo shows a common point of leakage on cast iron radiators, between abutting radiator sections near the bottom of the unit. This article series answers most questions about all types of heating systems and gives important inspection, safety, and repair advice. In addition to cast iron radiators using hot water or steam as a heat source, we describe two other very common hot water heat distribution methods below.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2014 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
Obviously, first look at the floor around each heating component to see if you see water stains or water damage. (Water damage can occur at steam radiators too, as condensate could be leaking at the condensate return pipe fittings.)
If you don't know what kind of heat your building uses, we explain how to figure out the answer at HEATING SYSTEM TYPES.
On heating systems using hot water baseboards, leaks can occur anywhere in the piping system, including at air bleeders located at the ends of baseboard sections, at couplings or elbows in the piping system, or where freezing has cracked or burst a heating baseboard pipe.
Our photo of a leaky heating baseboard (above left) shows that prolonged leaks may rot carpeting (leaving an obvious leak clue once someone vacuums up the ruined carpet at this spot) and may also cause hidden damage to the subfloor or even the structure. Or perhaps a mold problem may result.
Our baseboard piping leak photo (above right) shows how freezing pipes may cause separation at a solder joint instead of actually bursting the piping. In the case shown, the original solder joint had been poorly made, so this was a weak point that broke first.
Leaks at heating baseboard air bleed valves are shown at AIR BLEEDER VALVES. If your heating baseboards are not in fact getting warm when your thermostat is calling for heat and the boiler is indeed running, see AIRBOUND HEAT SYSTEM REPAIR
Also see WINTERIZE A BUILDING for examples of freeze-burst copper forced hot water heating piping in a baseboard heat system.
Leaks occur between sections of cast iron hot water or steam radiators.
The radiator may leak where sections of cast iron are bolted together, or if the radiator has rusted-through or become cracked, perhaps by freezing, you may see rust and leak stains at splits in the individual radiator sections (photo at above left) .
While an individual, accessible crack in a cast iron radiator might submit to an epoxy repair, extensive damage such as we show above usually means the heating radiator should be replaced.
Sometimes a leak at a steam radiator is not critical - you may at least make it through the heating season, or the leaking may occur only when the radiator is cold (photo, above-right, also shown at page top, of a leaky steam radiator). This is a steam condensate leak.
If you see rust stains and leak indications between radiator sections at the top of the radiator, such as in our photo (above-left), or other rust, splits, or evidence of leakage from the body of the radiator, we recommend that you ask for repair advice from your heating service company.
Leaks also occur at radiator valves, at radiator bleed valves, and at the piping fittings where valves and pipes join the radiator bottom or top.
As Carson Dunlop's sketch (left) warns, watch out for hidden structural damage or damaged ceilings below leaky radiator valves.
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: repair a pinhole leak in copper baseboard
Im a journeyman plumber and I know how to braze but I'm not sure how to go about repairing a pinhole leak in a copper hot water baseboard heater. Obviously it has to be dry before I can braze it but how do I drain it and once repaired how do I properly fill it up with water and bleed the excess air?
Reply: solder repairs of small leaks in copper heating baseboard piping
The proper repair of a pinhole leak in copper piping would be soldering not brazing. But you'll most likely need to remove the water from the baseboard heater first. Or one can cut out a bad section of tubing or piping and solder in a short section with unions and copper piping of the same diameter. Be sure to properly sand and prep the copper pipe surfaces, remove any burs, and use a soldering paste or flux to assure a good solder connection.
Watch out: often the presence of a single pinhole leak is an indicator of more trouble ahead. Corrosion, or too-thin or defective copper piping may be prone to developing multiple leaks. I'd go ahead and patch or repair the present leak, but I'd keep an eye on the building heating distribution piping and baseboards for more leaks down the road.
Also see CHEMICAL TREATMENTS, Boiler where we include a discussion of leak-stop products for hot water heating boilers & steam boilers.
Question: are steam radiator leaks dangerous?
Josh asked: I have an old one pipe steam radiator that has a small crack about 8 inches up. It drips a bit but my concern is the steam. Is this dangerous to have expelled into the air as far as breathing quality. I am not sure If it is a health issue. I have some concerns about having It replaced with a cheap one from china. Thanks so much for your help. - Josh (also by email) J.F. Thank you so much for your help.
R said: Today at work, a few pipes and radiators blew in some of the rooms. The leak and steam got so bad you could hardly see your hand held out in front of your face. I was in there for a while trying to find the shut off for the water and keeping the water from leaking out into the hall. I was breathing all that steam in for quite some time and I was wondering if there is anything I should be worried about. My lungs and eyes were a little irritated, but I am wondering if there could be something more. - R. 1/30/2014
That said, here are some things to consider:
Follow-up comment: Harmful chemicals in steam from steam boilers?
Thanks for the quick reply Daniel. I was unsure if chemicals were commonly used in the w
Reply to R about steam radiator leaks & chemical exposure:
While residential and most commercial steam systems operate at very low pressure - under 1 psi, there are some commercial systems that work at higher numbers - where an actual explosion would be potentially dangerous.
Please see CHEMICAL TREATMENTS, Boiler where we include a discussion of leak-stop products for hot water heating boilers & steam boilers, including boiler treatment products & MSDS information
Try the search box just below or if you prefer, post a question or a comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Search the InspectApedia website
HTML Comment Box is loading comments...
Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.