Heaters have become the staple necessity of every household sheltered under the wings of four-seasoned climates.
It has become crucial to keep homes or office buildings warm and toasty to fend off the icy drafts rattling our glass windows from the outside world, and as such, many have resorted to installing some form of heating device to retain a semblance of warmth.
There are various kind of heaters that have been designed with a miscellany of shapes, sizes and specifications in mind, but perhaps one of the more commonly installed heating units is the baseboard heater.
What Is A Baseboard Heater?
A baseboard heater is a type of heating device that generates heat and provides warmth to a specific room or area that has been noted for its extreme coldness.
Baseboard heaters often come in various lengths and are positioned easily a foot above floor-level, and run longitudinally around the room.
They are often mounted along the coldest section of the room and propped against the wall. There are generally two types of baseboard heaters that remain highly popular in terms of usage, such as the:
- Electric baseboard heater
- Hydronic baseboard heater
Electric baseboard heaters consist of individual units that provide thermal energy in each room they have been affixed in.
As such, they require no central heating and therefore also nullify the usage of any pricey airducts or vents to provide or transfer heat.
Hydronic baseboard heaters are more commonly dubbed as hot water baseboard heaters in some social circles.
Unlike their electric counterpart, hydronic baseboard heaters will utilize a form of centralized heating by channelling incredibly hot water through a series of pipes to each baseboard heater unit located in individual rooms.
Hydronic baseboard heaters are often used in conjunction with radiant heating units, and most of the heating pipes run in a complex underground network under the flooring of a house or building.
Although this method of heating is extremely efficient in terms of radiating heat in a room or enclosed area, the initial cost of installing a hydronic baseboard heater can put a severe dent in your wallet if you are not too careful.
Despite this, it is important to take note that the pipes that supply your baseboard heater in a hydronic system is subject to leaks and damages, or in some major cases, splits and bursts.
In this case, you must determine the cause of the leak before attempting to fix it yourself.
What Are the Causes of a Baseboard Heater Leak?
The most notorious cause of leaks in your baseboard heater can be attributed to failure to winterize the plumbing pipes that feed the heating unit.
During cold or winter months, the water flowing through your pipes will usually freeze due to the drop in temperature. When water molecules freeze, they solidify and become ice.
The conversion of water to ice triggers an expansion of sorts that elevates the pressure within the pipes, thus causing the metal to crack and break, especially along the joints and valves.
Sometimes, a building or house that has remained vacant for a long period of time is subject to leakage due to neglect.
Thus, winterizing your plumbing is highly recommended, especially when you intend to leave your home or office building unoccupied for a long period of time. Winterizing the plumbing is actually simple.
The whole process involves the drainage of your baseboard water heater for several long minutes, shutting off all main valves to drain all traces of water and moisture from the network of pipes that supply the heater, and then slowly refilling the pipes with antifreeze solution.
You may have to flush out and drain any excess water from your pipes several times in order to get rid of any ice crystals that may have developed within the piping system.
Be sure to wear the necessary protective gear when handling any equipment or substances, especially the antifreeze solution.
How Can I Identify a Leak in My Baseboard Heater?
A baseboard heater that exhibits any form of leakage is dangerous and needs to be fixed as soon as possible.
Besides creating a lack of efficient heating within your heater itself, a leak may also damage the flooring underneath and prompt the growth of unwanted problems such as mold and mildew, which can double up as a health risk.
Any affected flooring might also begin to rot under the continuous exposure of water from a leaky pipe.
It is actually incredibly easy to detect a leak in your baseboard heater.
For starters, your heater will not be able to produce the same amount of heat as it had been originally generating from the moment you first purchased and installed it in your home.
This alone will be the first sign that you might have a leak somewhere in your plumbing system.
If there are any tell tale sounds of dripping as well, which could be obscure under multiple layers of flooring but not entirely impossible to detect, then you will need to check your pipes with immediate effect.
Locating the exact source of the leak can be a little bit tricky though. But you can do it simply by tracing the trail of water along your system with your fingers to see if you can detect the exact location of the leak.
Keep your eyes peeled for any traces of moisture or water droplets on the radiator or even water stains or damp patches on a particular section of flooring.
Then, you may begin searching for any cracks, fractures or even minute pinholes for any signs of leakage.
If you manage to trace the source of the leak to an elbow joint or even valve, you might have to replace the necessary piece and contact an experienced plumber to do it for you.
Sometimes, you will need to remove the radiator covers in order to pinpoint the source of the leak.
Be warned that these covers might be either brittle or tough to remove due to years of accumulated rust and thick coats of paint on its surface, and you may need some tools to pry it open.
If you are having a lot of difficulty removing the covers, use a little bit of elbow grease to lubricate the sides and joints so that it may be detached with more ease.
Once the cover has been removed, you will most likely come face to face with a small copper pipe with tin squarish ridges lining the length of it.
This section is known as ‘finned tubing’. Check the finned tubing to see if there are any leaks along the length of it and trace your fingers gently along the ridges to detect any source of dampness or moisture.
What Do I Need to Fix a Baseboard Heater Leak?
Now that you have identified the source of your baseboard heater leak, the next step would be to gather the appropriate set of tools and equipment to repair the aforementioned leak.
Before you get ahead of yourself, you will need proper protective gear as well.
This includes a proper pair of thick, heat-resistant gloves such as welding gloves or even leather gloves that provide enough insulation against the heat as well as either a pair of safety glasses or a solder mask to prevent any metal shrapnel or sparks from hitting your eye by accident.
As for handy tools, you will need:
- A small handheld blowtorch
- A fire extinguisher
- Sand Paper
- Steel Wool
- Channel-lock pliers
- Tin Snips
- Measuring tape
The fire extinguisher is mandatory in the event that something catches on fire while you are busy soldering the area of the leak.
You might also need to make provisions for getting a new piece of copper piping, joints or valves, or even a new length of finned tubing if these were the leaky areas you have identified earlier.
How Do I Fix My Baseboard Heater Leak?
Now that you have amassed the necessary equipment and paraphernalia yourself, your next step would be to don your protective gear and get started on repairing the source of the leak.
Repairing a leak is a fairly simple process that does not require the assistance or expertise of a professional if the leak is small.
Your first step would be to clean and drain out the radiator.
You will also need to drain the finned tubing or damaged section of the pipe from any water or moisture.
In order to make sure all the water is completely drained, you will need to locate the mechanical joint that holds the pipes together.
You can loosen this joint with your pliers, or simply cut off the line with your tin snips.
If you are unable to get the water out, the task of soldering any new joints would prove to be a difficult, if not an impossible one.
If the leak is located near an existing soldered joint or coupling, you can easily slice through the pipe there.
You may even use your handheld blowtorch to heat the joint to detach it, especially if you are having trouble separating the pieces using your hands or pliers.
Your next step would be to clean out any grease adhering to the surface of the radiator, pipe or finned tubing using a small piece of cloth and some acetone.
Once you have cleaned the area, firmly file the surface until it is smooth and level using a scrap of sand paper and some steel wool.
This will then serve as the location of where your ‘patch’ will be placed.
Take a measurement of your damaged finned tubing or leaky pipe section using a roll of measuring tape.
Using these measurements, take a trip to your local hardware store and select a brand new piece of finned tube or pipe with the exact same length.
If you are unsure how to pick out a specific piece of pipe, you can always request the aid of the shop assistant.
Do not forget to also select a coupling or any other joints, valves or fittings that you might have pulled open from the plumbing back at home.
Make sure each fitting is the correct size, and if possible, made from the same type of metal used for your plumbing system.
Usually, there will be a coupling located at one end of the finned tube you have chosen.
Therefore, when you begin cutting your tubing according to the size you need, you can cut off the end which does not have the coupling since this would present one less joint for you to solder into place later.
Once you have made the necessary cuts, use either the steel wool or sand paper to smoothen the ends of your pipe and fittings.
Using some flux and your blowtorch, slowly began soldering your joints together.
Once everything has been soldered into place, leave the metal to cool completely and then switch on the main valve that allows water to filter back into the piping system.
Observe the piping for any further leaks that you might have missed earlier.
Once the system is fully operational, start the circulating pumps and let a few minutes drift by.
If nothing appears out of place and all the leaks have been successfully patched, your baseboard heater should kick back into gear and your house will begin to warm up once more.
In the event that there are still some leaks that have escaped your notice, and you are not confident to tackle them, then you may use some epoxy to temporarily patch up the holes or damages before getting hold of someone to help you repair the pipes.
What Can I Do to Prevent Future Leaks in My Baseboard Heater?
Of course, preventing a leak is always better than mending one. Here are some quick tips you can take note of to prevent any future leaks from springing up in your baseboard heater:
- Winterize your home. This means adding antifreeze solution to the pipes and plumbing network that flows in, out and under your house.
- Antifreeze will prevent the water from freezing in the pipes when the temperature plummets during wintry months, thus reducing the chances of a pipe cracking or bursting apart from any internal pressure.
- Employ an insulation system for your plumbing system in your home. This means using slip-on foam, insulation sleeves or even wrapping up your pipes with insulation blankets the traditional way to prevent it from freezing and breaking.
- Although PVC pipes are more resistant towards the cold, the same cannot be said for metal pipes made out of copper or steel.
- Maintain a constant, warm temperature inside your home to prevent any pipes from freezing.
- This includes closing up all windows and sealing all cracks in the property to ensure that the cold air does not seep in, and maintaining a proper heat source such as a furnace to keep the central area warm.
- Insulate any crawlspaces including your attic and your basement. Seal all vents or airducts that lead outside or bring in external air using either wooden boards or cardboard sheets.
Thus, if you take the necessary precautions such as winterizing your home appropriately, you will be able to prevent your pipes from cracking and breaking, which leads to leakage.
Remember, if you are unsure about fixing any of the leaks yourself or come across a burst pipe which is too damaged to repair on your own, you could always consult a plumber or a more experienced professional for help.