Tag Archives: plumbing

Fixing the central heating system and plumbing

Fixing the heating system and plumbing of our Edwardian house has been a long-running saga.

When we first moved in in June I opened the airing cupboard to discover pools of water and rotting carpet.  The previous owners had neglected to do any maintenance for several years, so the first thing to address were the numerous leaks.

Learning the basics

I’d never done any plumbing before, so it was time to learn.  YouTube and the forums were a great help.  In particular I used the DIY plumbing forum which was a huge help when I needed advice.

I also bought a plumbing book to have somethign for the basics.  The one I chose was the Haynes Home Plumbing manual and it was perfect.  Plenty of pictures and and easy-going jocular style of writing, without trivialising anything.  Heavily recommended.

Fixing the leaks

Before worrying about fixing the central heating system and plumbing I wanted to fix the leaks.  This was easier than I thought.

Tell tale signs of a leak
Tell tale signs of a leak

I had three main sources of leaks.  Dripping stop cock valves, dripping gate valves and drip

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ping compression joints.

The compression joints were fixed by removing the old one and replacing.  The only problem is the olive won’t come off, so I had to cut some new pipe.

After I did a couple this way I decided to just undo the leaking valve, carefully wrap some PTFE around the olive and redo it using the same nut.  It’s not as elegant, but holds perfectly well, and apparently it’s what most plumbers do – even though strictly speaking an olive should only be used once.

Gate valves are basically the same as normal compression valves.  Cut the pipe, take off the old valve and put in a new one.

After buying parts from Amazon (my usual one-stop shop for everything) I started buying them at Screwfix.  Much better value.  For plumbing parts Screwfix is fantastic.

The third type of leak I had was with stop cock valves.  These seem to develop a slow drip over time where the washer perishes.  The normal adcice is to replace the washer, but don’t bother.  I tried and it is a massive headache.  Getting the old washer off involved much lost skin and swearing, and getting a new one on was no better.

Much easier just to buy a new  part.  The valves are a couple of pounds.  Then just undo the centre spindle of the new valve and replace into the old one.  The main body of the valve was old and discoloured, but the leak will not be there so leave it alone.  By just replacing the centre spindle I got rid of the leaks entirely.

Getting the boiler and heating working again

Once the leaks were fixed the next challenge was to get the heating and hot water working.  This took much longer than expected…

There were multiple problems to fix, including:

  • A weak pump (I dismantled and cleaned it and then eventually replaced with a new one)
  • Silted up radiators.  I fitted a Magnetic filter, flushed the system several times with fresh water and then added a strong magnetite remover from Fernox, before again flushing and replacing inhibitor
  • Powerflush (when above didnt help)
  • Dismantle and clean out diverter valve
  • Clean out header tank
  • Rebalance
  • Replace PCB in the boiler (twice)
  • Attempt to fix explosive ignition in the boiler (in the end this wasn’t necessary as it was exacerbated by PCB problems)

The whole thing was a real pain, and took me every weekend and most evenings from November to end of February.

During this whole time the only heating we had were a couple of small electric heaters and the coal fireplace in the hall.  Waking up and seeing your breath every day was invigorating for me, but Eli wasn’t quite as happy with it.

The system is now properly fixed, thanks to some great help from Mischa Bitter (I built him a website in thanks for his work).

Without a photo I wouldn't have a hope of rewiring this the same way
Without a photo I wouldn’t have a hope of rewiring this the same way

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Five top tips for fixing plumbing problems

These are some things I learned from experience over the last few weeks. My top tips for fixing plumbing problems:

1.  Get advice

Advice from family or a friend is ideal, but a close second is to use forums.  The online forums such as http://www.diynot.com/forums/ and http://www.ukplumbersforums.co.uk/ are full of helpful people that will answer your queries.

When posting on a forum remember to provide as much info as you can.  If you post something that says “my heating is not working.  What’s wrong with it” then don’t expect much help.  At least describe it as much as you can.  Is it just radiators?  Was it working before.  Do you have a combi or conventional boiler.  New or old. etc.

2.  Take photos before you start

Once you’ve taken the pipes apart, or especially if you have done some rewiring, you may think you’ll remember how it goes back together – but don’t risk it.  One of my top tips for fixing plumbing problems is to take a photo on your mobile before you start.

3.  Plan the order

If you need to fix a leak, and repair a valve, and also clean a radiator then those things all need the system to be drained.  So do them all in one go.  There’s nothing worse than refilling the system, bleeding all the radiators, adding in the chemical inhibitors that you’ve just bought, and then you realize there’s a leak and you have to start again.

4.  Use a helper

Any job is easier with a helper.  Plumbing involves holding parts and undoing things often with very little room around you.  Having someone to pass you tools or even just hold the light is a huge help

5.  Plan for future maintenance!

In everything you do, think about the next time.  If you’re adding a valve, angle it so you can reach it easily when other pipes go in.  If you’re cutting a pipe anyway, then add a simple stop valve / isolator valve in.  It will cost you a pound or two more but can be save so much time in future.

Unfortunately in my house the previous plumber didn’t do any of this.  Even the feed tank in the roof was totally boxed in by a new water tank, so a simple job of cleaning it out took over two hours and involved cutting three pipes, lots of muscle power and some extreme contortion.  At one point I was seriously considering knocking down a wall to get to it – though in the end I just about managed to do it without any major damage.