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I am looking to purchase a home built in 1950 that has radiant heat with copper pipes inside the concrete slab foundation. The home has been vacant for a little while now too, not sure if that effects it. I have never had any experience with radiant heat before and am worried that it might fail due to the age of the home. Plus, it seems like it would be incredibly costly to repair... if that's even possible. Any advice would be most appreciated.

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According to the Copper Development Association, it is perfectly fine to embed copper tube in concrete under certain conditions. However, it is unlikely your home met all the conditions like making provision for thermal expansion (especially important with a heating system that will likely cycle on and off many times in one day) Another important requirement is to protect the copper if "it comes in contact with concrete mixtures that contain components high in sulfur, such as cinders and fly-ash, which can create an acid that is highly corrosive to most metals including copper."

In the early 80s I lived in a house that had plumbing in the concrete slab floor. Not heat, just domestic water. It was much younger at the time than your house is now. There was a leak and the only way to find and fix it was to jack-hammer the living room floor. Because the water followed existing cracks in the concrete, a lot of concrete had to be removed to find the actual location of the leak.

My recommendation: write off the radiant heat system and budget for a forced air heat replacement. You can upgrade the house to have air conditioning for the summer at the same time.

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Unless its in a mostly warm climate, which doesn't require much heating, Installing new pex radiant piping would be comparable in cost to forced air but will provide much more comfortable heat. –  Vitaliy Dec 10 '12 at 4:28
    
But you'd have to raise all your floors to install the pex which could be cumbersome. –  DA01 Dec 10 '12 at 5:19
    
Radiant heat using hot water in pex in concrete is likely to be a lot more expensive than forced air heat, plus what are you going to do for air-conditioning? I'm assuming that one does not reuse the old equipment as it is likely to be very inefficient compared to modern condensing gas fired boilers. –  Philip Ngai Dec 11 '12 at 0:13

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