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Old 23.01.2016, 18:44
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Do I have a problem with my underfloor heating?

Before I call in some guildsmen who might leave me with an unnecessarily large bill, I wonder if anyone has any advice to help me narrow down this problem.

I have a ground floor apartment that is just over two years old.

It has a Zehnder heat exchange system coupled to eight water loops. The loops go down through a hole in the concrete flooring and provide under floor heating.

The whole system is in a recess like a small room and we store the vacuum cleaner, a toolbox and a shopping trolley in there.

Starting recently, when we open the door to access it, there is a bad smell. The smell lingers even if the access door is left open. It reminds me of the smell you get when you take apart the pipes under the kitchen sink to unblock it.

Below my apartment are the keller and hobby rooms, and access to the tiefgarage. By chance, my hobby room is below my apartment. Sometimes I catch the same smell in the corridor, but not in the hobby room.

In the main bedroom, I am not sure if the heating loop works. Just now I turned it up from 20C to max, but 20 minutes later I don't feel any warmth through the wooden floor as I would expect.

So I wonder if there is a leak unrelated to the heating system, that I can smell because I am on the ground floor. Or is there a problem with the heating system that is causing this smell?

Any comments are most welcome.
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Old 23.01.2016, 18:47
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Re: Do I have a problem with my underfloor heating?

Can´t help you with the smell, but my underfloor heating works well and takes a lot more than 20 minutes to heat up. It takes a long long time
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Old 23.01.2016, 19:15
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Re: Do I have a problem with my underfloor heating?

Check in the basement of your unit. Somewhere you would probably have a drain for the laundry or the furnace.. Pour a bucket of COLD water into it and the smell should disappear in a few minutes,
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Old 23.01.2016, 19:16
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Re: Do I have a problem with my underfloor heating?

roegner's right, it can take ~24 hours for a change in temperature to be noticeable. Even longer starting from cold If it's a tiled floor.

As for the smell; first things first. Do you own, or rent? If the apartment is rented than speak to your concierge and then the owner/rental agency... faults such as something wrong with the underfloor heating system is their responsibility.

If you're an owner then you might have a bigger problem, and possibly an expensive one.
If you can't trace any obvious leak and the smell persists it really does need looking at by an expert. Water leeching into the fabric of a building is going to cause long-term damage if left too long and could be very, very expensive to fix.
Presumably there are other owner/occupiers in the building and it's quite possible that the cost of any repairs would be shared amongst you, that will probably depend on exactly where the leak is. If the building is fairly new then check if you're still covered by the building insurance (ten years I think), you might also be covered by your household insurance so check your policies!

Oh, if you think that a particular heating circuit isn't working then it might need purging. Again, that's really a job for an expert as the liquid in that particular loop will need draining out and replacing; the water used contains special additives to prevent it turning 'bad'.
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Old 23.01.2016, 19:21
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Re: Do I have a problem with my underfloor heating?

If the apartment is over 2 years old, are you not covered by the company's/heating installers warranty? I take it you have gone through the house purchase contracts?

Also, if there's a leak somewhere, and it sounds like there is, you should be also be covered by your house insurance to do repairs.

Might be worth giving them a ring and finding out if you are covered and what they recommend.

Have you asked anyone else in your building if they have had similar problems?
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Old 23.01.2016, 23:34
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Re: Do I have a problem with my underfloor heating?

The smell, as mentioned above, sounds like a drain smell. You need to hunt out all the floor drains and sinks, pour a bucket of cold water into each one.

The 's' or 'u' bend which is a curve in the pipe under the drain, is designed to hold water in it, when you pour more water down, the water flows through and balances again with a bit of water left behind. It is this water that stops the smell of the drain coming back up...

When the drains are left dry for a while, and especially in this dry weather, the water level in the 's' or 'u' bend lowers, and the smell comes up - put water down and flush things out and the smell will go away.

If it's a mouldy smell, that's different, but your heating system has clean/fresh water going through it, not dirty water, so even if there was a leak, it might make mould but it won't smell like sewage...

The other option is that you've got something wet/mouldy in the vacuum cleaner - when was the last time you cleared it out ?
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Old 24.01.2016, 11:46
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Re: Do I have a problem with my underfloor heating?

Thanks for all the helpful advice.

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As for the smell; first things first. Do you own, or rent? If the apartment is rented than speak to your concierge and then the owner/rental agency... faults such as something wrong with the underfloor heating system is their responsibility.
I own, and we have several levels of insurance. And one of the Miteigentümers works fomr one of the larger Swiss insurance companies.

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If the apartment is over 2 years old, are you not covered by the company's/heating installers warranty? I take it you have gone through the house purchase contracts?
Even if the docs were in English I would likely not understand them. As mentioned above, we have insurance, and I have a maintenance contract fo the heating system. Though that probably just covers providing replacement filters, and giving it a thorough cleaning once every year or so.

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The smell, as mentioned above, sounds like a drain smell. You need to hunt out all the floor drains and sinks, pour a bucket of cold water into each one.
I just did that where I could. I have no access to the drain from the washing machine. And at the moment there is no smell in the basement as confirmed by my wife, whose nose works much better than mine does.

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The other option is that you've got something wet/mouldy in the vacuum cleaner - when was the last time you cleared it out ?
I got a strange look when I was caught holding up the vacuum cleaner and giving it a good hard sniff. But I am confident I can rule that one out as a cause of the smell.

E-mailed the builder/ architect company - annoyingly, the 2 year guarantee period of the builder expired late last year.

So I'll talk to my neighbour, talk to to my household or building insurer (same company, different policy) and wait for a response from the builder.
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Old 24.01.2016, 13:33
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Re: Do I have a problem with my underfloor heating?

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Check in the basement of your unit. Somewhere you would probably have a drain for the laundry or the furnace.. Pour a bucket of COLD water into it and the smell should disappear in a few minutes,
Coolio is correct and this is most likely the cause. A drain has a kind of gooseneck (do not know the exact word in english) to prevent smells to enter the room. If it is not used for quite a while and the room is heated the water that fills the gooseneck will evaporate and let the smell out. Put some water in the drain and it fills up again and the smell is gone.

You may put a little oil in the drain that creates a thin film over the water preventing it from evaporating.
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Old 24.01.2016, 14:18
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Re: Do I have a problem with my underfloor heating?

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E-mailed the builder/ architect company - annoyingly, the 2 year guarantee period of the builder expired late last year.

So I'll talk to my neighbour, talk to to my household or building insurer (same company, different policy) and wait for a response from the builder.
Depending on what the cause of the problem turns out to be you may still be covered by the builder's guarantee. Any 'défaut caché' (don't know the term in German) is covered for 5 years. These are essentially things which do not immediately manifest themselves but can appear later as a result of a fault at the time if construction, a leak in the underfloor heating system would almost certainly fall into this category.
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Old 24.01.2016, 16:32
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Re: Do I have a problem with my underfloor heating?

Did this smell start when the floor heating turned itself on?
You live on the ground floor, with cold rooms underneath.
Your smell could be coming from dampness in the underfloor construction. Your heating system runs on a very low temperature and because of this, the 15cm concrete building frame and 15cm cement underfloor, are after 2 years still not dry. (Cement dampness smells foul)
In the summer you will not have this drying process, the floor is not heated.
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