Sunday, 4 March 2012

Tonight my hands are sore.

My weekend was not meant to be defined by fitting a radiator, but that's the way it seems to have been.

Our central heating was fitted about 15 years ago by a local man called Bob McGarry, and he did a great job. However 15 years is quite a long time, and it seems that no-one makes radiators 1280mm long any more. So after literally weeks of hunting for one the right size (not helped by some sites publishing odd sizes) I finally bought a 1200mm unit (actual size, 1210mm).

Problem 1 - how to make up for the missing 70mm?

Plan A was to buy an angled fitting (direct swap) with a special bleed valve on the body for draining the rad. However that proved too short, so was replaced with a straight (cheap!) connector and a 90 degree elbow fitting.

Problem 2 - this rad is HEAVY and needs manly fittings.

The last one was quite light by comparison, even with water in the bottom. Now the wall this is fixed to is made of lathe and plaster, and is just one step up from wattle & daub in terms of strength. Previously one end was screwed to a wall stud and the other to a thin piece of wood screwed in multiple places to the wall to spread the load. Wanting to do a good job, I made up some bearers which were screwed to studs, then the bracket was attached to these. Strong, neat, great.

Except all this is behind wall panelling, which means it has to be removed (with damage) and replaced. Eventually done, and the rad looks great, except:

Problem 3 - the pipes no longer line up.

I'd been at great pains to make sure the brackets were the right height to align with the existing pipes, and I got that bit spot on. However my nice timber bearers had moved the rad out about 1/2" from the previous position, and it no longer lined up. Now, normally copper piping has some give to it, but not this one. No way, no how - discovered after drilling a deeper slot in the trunking for it to have space!

So I dug around in the shed found some 15mm copper pipe, started trying to make a small bend that would allow the 2 to work together. To add to the fun, that pipe emerged from the trunking at about 20 degrees off vertical. However with my new, longer connector there is no longer sufficient space to make the adjustment required. A cut appeared on my right hand from the scalpel-sharp edge of freshly cut copper pipe - I didn't even notice it happen, and wondered initially where the rusty material on my hand had come from.

The solution, of course is to mount the radiator on the (mud & sticks) wall.

Problem 4 - how to mount a radiator on a wall made of mud & sticks.

If you're from building regs or CORGI registered then you can stop reading here, OK?

So off with all the panelling again, breaking more bits off the tongue and groove, then off with the bracket and carriers. I ended up drilling a bunch of additional holes all over the (wide) section of the bracket before gently screwing it to the wall with about 10 plasterboard screws. Underneath went a timber batten, screwed to the studding, to support the weight if it started to drop, another above to help hold it in place and a 3rd piece clamping the wall side of the L bracket against the wall.

Panelling back on, mount rad, everything lines up. Whoo hoo.

Make up fitting with 90 degree elbow connected to straight rad valve. cool, a plan is coming together. Shut off water, check pressure is off (hot water tank and CH share a tank supply) by turning a tap. Bingo.

Problem 5 - Central Heating water is still under pressure.

I had expected some weeping as I unscrewed the rad valve that was to be replaced by the elbow, and wasn't disappointed. However I was a little surprised at the vertical jet of black water that shot from the bare end of the pipe, covering a substantial part of the bathroom and it's occupant in wet black droplets. A 50th birthday may have come and gone, but I'm pleased that my reactions still seem pretty quick when push comes to shove, and I did both of those, popping the new elbow and the (closed - I had thought this far ahead) rad valve smartly into place.

Things nearly came unstuck when trying to tighten the new rad valve to the fitting in the radiator, and because of slight angle and distance mis-matching initially a thread actually tore out in a fine, sharp sliver of brass. I then got Ben to help lift & push with me, and the extra few mm was just enough to get everything home and snug.

Problem 6 - everything home & snug?

Almost everything.

I happily turned on the valve where I'd been working and removed one of the plugs at the top of the rad to let air out while it filled. Chris then came to talk to me while I was struggling to re-apply PTFE tape, and I got the plug back in JUST before water come out of the port. However I was blissfully unaware that I'd only done the other valve seat up hand tight, and this was happily weeping away, with enough water to run into the kitchen. Ho hum - at least it drained properly & won't be hanging around under the floor.

So here we are, Sunday night, warm bathroom radiator (been a while since we had one of those!) and me with various aches and pains as a reminder. Yesterday I actually bruised my soft, girly hands doing up a screw (mind you, it was a big, meaty screw at 5.5mm dia and I did snap one off). Knees especially have developed an allergy to being knelt with and my back has a place of ache to tell me I was daft lifting that rad about all the time.

But everything seems to be working, and I'm not permanently damaged, so that's fine then.

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