Friday, 24 April 2015

Radiator and Valve replacement

So the valves on our radiators are a bit past it.  This was meant to be a small project as a means of facilitating the hallway update.  All the plasterers that we had quote for the hallway said that they wouldn't touch the radiator (to take it off temporarily so they could plaster behind) as the valves were so old they thought they would almost definitely leak.  Marvelous.

Our bedroom radiator - looking a little yellow

And it's ancient valves...

More ancient valves...

The bathroom radiator - not too bad from a distance (it did have a spruce a year ago with a good paint job)

But up close - urgh that's nasty!

Pretty sure this valve was leaking as there was often brown water marks on the wall around here

The hall radiator - the one the plasterers wouldn't touch

And this is why - these valves

Grim right?

They are also a number of other issues with our heating system, which with the excitement of buying our first house we failed to notice at the time.  The heating is either on or off.  That's it.  We have a timer on the boiler, but whilst on a Wednesday you might want the heating on at 5.30am, you certainly don't want that on a Sunday!  And the other major flaw, is that we have no radiator in the living room - just a rather naff gas fire, of which most of the heat goes straight up the chimney.

The long term (very long term) plan is to get the Honeywell EvoHome installed as the solution to most of our problems.  Each room can be it's own zone, with it's own programme - so in the morning if you want the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen warmed but not the rest of the house, no problem. And you can set different temperatures for each room, and for each time of day you want it to come on.  Basically, its a very personalised solution, that should not only hopefully save us a bit on our energy bills, but should also massively increase our comfort levels.
As I said, this is a long way a way, but the first step is to get Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs) installed, as this is what the system is based on - you just have to change the heads on them.

So we started with a plan to replace all of our valves.  As we would be draining the system anyway, it made sense to do them all at the same time rather than just the ones in the hallway.  Then while the system is drained, should we get a radiator put in the living room?  And the radiator in the bathroom is starting to get really tired - despite it's spruce just a year ago - so maybe we should replace that too? And all of the rads need painting...

Therefore we quickly we went from getting the valves replaced and a radiator installed in the living room, all done by a plumber - to THIS: all new radiators (bar the kitchen one, for many reasons), all new valves and TRVs, and a radiator installed in the living, installed by US!! Arghh!  What did we sign ourselves up for?  Well, I'm about to tell you...

So I watched just about every plumbing video on YouTube going, and got a bag full of plumbing books from the library for good measure.  We already had a fair few plumbing tools from the bathroom reno, but we needed a few more heating specific ones, for example, a radiator spanner (a really large allen key).

All our supplies

We bought our radiators from Screwfix, mostly because they were pretty reasonable, and they came with free TRVs and valves (worth £20), which made them even more reasonable.  They had very good reviews on the website so I thought they couldn't be horrendous quality.  They also delivered free of charge on a Saturday (at 7.30am!) so good customer service. As soon as they arrived we unpacked them and checked them over, as we didn't want to uncover a fault half way through through the job.  One of the radiators was marked on the front, luckily one of the smaller ones so it fitted in the car, so we just took it back to our local store where they gave us a replacement on the spot.

We started by draining the system.  We switched off the boiler, attached a hose to the drain point (ours is actually outside, although usually it's on one of the radiators) using a jubilee clip.  We then turned the valve on the drain point and watched the water gush out.  As it slowed pace, we went upstairs and opened the valves on the radiators up there, and then as it slowed again, we opened the valves downstairs.

The drain valve - all ready for draining the system

Before starting, I laid out all the tools we would need, and put all the room specific valves and gubbins in separate tupperware boxes so we wouldn't get confused.

We decided to start with the bathroom radiator as it was the smallest, and of all the radiators, one of the most 'straight forward'.  It took us almost a whole day!  The first problem was trying to work out which way was tightening the nuts, and which way was loosening them. I know you are probably exclaiming 'lefty loosey, righty tighty!' but in the situation your mind starts to play tricks on you!  We got there in the end.  The next issue was trying to get the old olive off.  I had read and watched in all my research about a magic olive puller, which I had dutifully bought.  Well my review of it, is it's rubbish!  We tried and tried but it just wasn't coming off - so we had to get the hacksaw out, and gently saw the olive at 45 degrees, taking care not to cut into the pipe itself.  So now we had two pipes sticking out the floor.

We then attached the new valves so we could work out where the radiator brackets had to go.  We used Fernox LS-X External Leak Sealer around the olives as an additional measure to prevent any leaks, and 15 turns of PTFE (in a clockwise direction) around any threads which would form a seal (i.e. not on compression joints as in this case its the olive that forms the seal).

As we got more and more confident, we didn't need to do this step, but we attached the radiator to the valves and marked on the bottom and the sides of the radiator on the wall so we could work out where the brackets had to be.  When we got onto the radiators with three brackets, there was the added confusion that the middle bracket wasn't always exactly in the middle, which caused me a great deal of confusion for 5 mins.

In some cases we had to alter the pipework a little as the old radiators were odd sizes.  In other cases if it was just a small amount, we used these radiator valve extenders from Toolstation.  For the pipework adjustments we used copper push fit fittings which were very easy to use, in combination with a pipe cutter, and a deburring tool.

Extending the pipe work in the spare bedroom using copper push fit fittings.  The old radiator was 1310mm so we either had the option of a 1200mm or 1400mm replacement.  Because of where the joist is, we went for a 1400mm radiator, and extended the pipework by 90mm.

The radiators needed preparing before hanging, including putting all the correct inserts into all the openings in the radiator.  But first, we had to remove the temporary plugs which are in place while they paint the radiator.  Easier said than done!  The instructions said use a flathead screwdriver, which was ridiculous, because you would have needed a massive one!  Instead I implemented with the handle of a knife and a pair of pliers gripping the knife - which turned out to be quite effective.

Removing the temp inserts in the radiators
Whilst we had all the radiators off, we used this opportunity to paint behind them all, which was such a nice feeling.  I have spent the last year looking at the peeling wallpaper behind the radiators with disgust, so it's nice to know its all clean and tidy behind there now.  I doubt anyone else will know, but I feel better anyway :)  Some of the wallpaper behind the brackets was quite frankly hideous, and almost definitely the original wallpaper from the 60's!

Some vintage wallpaper! Very calming for a bedroom :)

The kitchen radiator

The kitchen radiator was staying, and will eventually be replaced when we one day (some day far in the future) remodel the kitchen.  But we wanted to change the valves.  This meant getting the existing valves out of the radiator, which was a right pain!  The radiator spanner didn't fit - I have no idea why.  So we ended up using two tap box spanners joined together, with a ratchet on the end.

This worked well on one side, but the metal was so soft on the other side we were just rounding it.  So we had to think again.  We decided to leave this old part on the radiator, and buy a new lockshield valve which took this size of nut.  As the other side had come off, we put the TRV on that side.  It's not quite perfect as you can still see the old nut, but it most definitely does the job - and I really don't think there was any alternative.

You can see the old nut attached to the radiator, connecting to the new lockshield valve.

The living room radiator

There was much debate about where this radiator would go as we had two possible solutions - have it back to back with the kitchen radiator, or back to back with the hallway radiator.  There was also the option of going through the wall, or under the floorboards. Decisions, decisions...

In the end, we went through the wall (to save lifting all the laminate up, which I'm pretty sure wouldn't go back down as well), and tee'd off the hallway radiator as we were changing that piepweork anyway, and they were both 1800mm long radiators so the pipework could just go straight through with no amendments.  Cue the worlds biggest drill bit and one very excited hubby...

The first hole, the hubby did perfectly, but he fluffed up the second hole and ended up going through the skirting board.   There really was no recovery from it - I hadn't showered in three days (I should point out now we have a combi boiler), it was late at night, and we were so tired.  So we let it slide. Honestly, it doesn't look great.  But right now it's hidden behind the sofa so you can't really see it anyway.  I berated the previous owners for doing bodge jobs all over, but I totally see how they come about now - you haven't got enough money to pay for someone to do it properly, you are too tired, so you start compromising.  It happens.  And it did happen.

The first hole (living room side)

The first hole (with clingfilm over the pipe to stop dust going down it!)

The first hole all ready with a T joint and the body of the valve (on the hallway side)
The second hole - oops! Not so good! 

The second hole (hallway side) with the new connections set up

The radiator location also took some very careful planning.  If you remember from our re-wire, we put stacks of sockets in the living room, which didn't leave huge amounts of space for the radiator.  The wiring also went along the wall to get to said sockets, but luckily we knew exactly where it was.

Planning exactly where all the holes would be

The bracket supports had to straddle this run of electric cables - eek!

All in all it worked out well, and it pumps out stacks of heat!

The new living room radiator - narrowly missing the electric socket on the left!

Placed behind the sofa with a bit of space for air to circulate

The replacement hallway radiator with T's off to the living room


Overall I think the project cost us about £500, three days, three emergency trips to get more supplies, four ruined hands and stacks of feelings of achievement!

We refilled the system by closing all the radiator valves and slowly opening them all starting with the downstairs radiators, then moving upstairs, repressurising the system each time.

We had one teeny tiny leak in the hallway, where we saw two droplets of water, so we just nipped that up with the spanner.  After we turned the system on, we noticed a slightly more substantial leak in our master bedroom, although still not major.  It was coming from the radiator valve insert so we had to drain the system, put some new PTFE tape on it, and some silicone sealant, but it seems to be ok.  Luckily I had rigged a very substantial floor covering in our bedroom (due to my gorgeous carpet which I'm very precious about) so the carpet wasn't stained at all.

Our new bedroom radiator

Epic floor covering to protect carpet!

Absolutely chuffed with the result, FINALLY we can get on with the plastering of the hallway!  Woohoo!

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