Archive for October, 2004

Getting to Know the Radiators

Saturday, October 16th, 2004

When I lived in an apartment that had radiator heat, none of the valves worked very well, so we regulated the temperature by opening windows. Now that I’m paying the heating bill, this method of climate control is much less appealing to me.

As I’ve mentioned before, our radiators are hot water radiators, not the more common steam radiators.

Steam radiators use a single pipe that delivers steam up to the radiators and allows the condensed water to drip downward back to the boiler where it’s heated up again. Steam radiator valves pretty much have to be either all the way open or all the way closed, and the amount of steam allowed into the radiator is controlled by a regulator that’s typically on the top of the radiator opposite to the end where the valve is.

Hot water radiators use a one-pipe closed system, and each radiator taps into one or more main ‘loops’ by means of diverter ‘tees’. These tees are called Monoflo Tees, and they have a mechanism inside that restricts the flow of water, causing some of the water in the main loop to go into the radiator, and the rest of it to continue on in the loop.

There are a few really nice things about a hot water radiator system:

  • It’s exceptionally quiet. There’s no banging and clanging like steam radiators make.
  • The radiators are full of hot water, so even after the system kicks off, the hot water in the radiators keeps giving off heat.

The downside to a hot water system is that if you need to replace a valve or a radiator, you need to turn off the boiler and drain the entire system, make your repairs, the refill the system and bleed all the radiators. As I found out, this is an extremely time-consuming thing to do.


Since a few of the radiator valves are frozen, and one is, ahem, broken, our nephew S., who does HVAC work for a living, came over today to replace the radiator valves that don’t work right.

He started off by hooking a hose to the spigot next to the boiler and opened the spigot, draining the system into one of the basement drains. Then he opened the bleeder valves on two radiators upstairs to allow air into the system so that it could drain fully. To my surprise, this took about an hour–I had really expected it to drain more quickly.

We then went to work removing the broken valves. S. had some pretty big pipe wrenches he used to get the valves off. The first three were pretty easy, but the last radiator’s valve was wedged between the radiator and the wall, so we had to unhook the radiator from both ends and move it aside. I’m really glad that this was the smallest radiator in the house, because it took just about all our strength (and S. is a big guy) to move it. I’d guesstimate it weighed about 200 pounds.

We needed to replace two 3/4″ valves and two 1/2″ valves, so we went to Home Depot where we got the first two valves, plus some “pipe dope” (compound to use when joining steel pipe) and teflon tape. We had to visit two different plumbing supply houses before finding the 1/2″ valves, but S. knew right where to go.

We got the first three valves on without too much trouble, but the other dining room radiator had a slightly offsized nut and a slightly oversized nipple, so instead of heading out to buy a radiator wrench, I cleaned and lubed one of the old 1/2″ valves and just replaced it.

Then S. started refilling the system, and we bled the air from each radiator. Then we turned the system back on, gave it a bit of time to heat up, and bled the remaining air from the radiators.

It was 62 degrees inside when we turned the system back on, and in less than two hours, the house was up to 71 degrees–it felt downright balmy.

M. spent two grueling hours in the basement scrubbing accumulated years of filth and crap out of the radiator covers, and S. and I put them back into place, so we should have a nice warm house this winter.

Bye-bye Peach Tub

Friday, October 15th, 2004

The hall bath on the second floor appears to have been redone in the twenties or thirties, and with the exception of a new toilet, it’s had precious little done to it since then. The walls are covered in green Vitrolite (an art-deco glass panelling), the tub and sink are peach, the toilet is white, and the tiles are different shades of peach.

Well, M. and I decided that the green could stay, but the peach had to go, so today we had the tub re-coated with white porcelain. This is definitely not the kind of work to do yourself, here’s what the recoating guy did:

  • Carefully taped off of the tub’s fixtures and everything around the tub. He taped cups to the tub spigot and shower head to prevent drips
  • Covered most of the bathroom and a fair piece of the hallway in paper.
  • Washed the tub with acid to etch the existing porcelain to allow the new finish to bond tightly with the old one.
  • Sprayed on the new finish.
  • Cleaned up all the mess and left the tape/paper around the edges of the tub for me to take off on Sunday.

Oh, and did I mention how bad it smelled? It’s not quite as bad as the Swedish Finish from when the floors were redone, but it was equally noxious. It looks amazing!

Still Painting

Wednesday, October 13th, 2004

After work today, I put the fourth and final coat on the breakfast room. I don’t care what it looks like when it dries, it’s the last coat I’m putting on.

While waiting for M. to come over I went down into the basement and spent some time ripping nails out of the quarter-round shoe that I pulled out before having the floors redone. The plan is to pull all the nails, sand the back of the shoe, lightly sand the molding in each room, and tack the shoe back into place until we get around to stripping and refinishing the molding. That’s likely to take a few years.

Miscellaneous Finds

Monday, October 11th, 2004

Before putting the fridge back in its place, I tipped it up and vacuumed out about a pound of dirt and pet hair, but only after pitching a dozen or so magnetic letters that had found their way under there.

We went to remove the nest of insulation that some critter had made in the crawl space under the breakfast nook, and I discovered that one wall of the crawl space seemed to be made out of an old hutch of some sort. I ripped the doors off and found a 30 year old can of bug spray, a glass milk bottle full of sand, a coffee can full of rusty nails, and a few jars of an unidentifiable green granular substance. I trashed everything except for the milk bottle and blocked the bottom of the doorway with some bricks and an old limestone lintel in the hopes of keeping out the critter. How many more flammable items will we find in the house? Stay tuned for more exciting flammable finds!

In other boring news, I got the bathroom door back on (with the hinges right-way up), our alarm system was installed today, and M. and I got the first of 5 heavy-duty steel shelves assembled. Woo.

Installing a Fountain in Your Bedroom

Monday, October 11th, 2004

Today was the first day that it felt cool enough to turn on the heat in the house. The thermostat claimed it was 62F, so we set the heater for 68 and turned the system to “run”. I went around and opened the radiators that would open and skipped the ones with frozen valves. The valve on the radiator in the master bedroom just spun around and around without moving, so I left it alone, hoping that it was broken in the “open” position.

I would like to note that our radiator system does not use steam to heat the radiators, but instead uses hot water. This detail is vitally important to the next part of this story.

A few hours later, M. called down to tell me that the radiator in the master bedroom was still ice cold. I went up and fiddled with the valve a bit, and upon noticing that it didn’t seem to be going up or down, which I’ve always assumed is what valves did as they opened or closed. So, feeling clever, I pulled the valve upwards as I turned it up. I then found myself standing straight up with the valve in my left hand, and a lovely seven foot high geyser of water coming straight up out of the radiator, me thinking, “Hmm, that’s just a bit unusual.”

I hurriedly jammed my thumb onto the open hole where the valve recently sat, yelling at M. to run and get some rags. After stopping the flow (the pressure in the system is only about 14PSI), I thought about how to restore valve A to orifice B without flooding the bedroom. I decided that a quick-change maneuver was in order, and held the valve knob and stem near the valve opening. I counted to ten, pulled my thumb off the opening, and jammed the valve stem back in as hard as I could–it stayed in place, but to be safe, I wrapped it down tightly with plastic wrap and tape. I made a mental note not to pull on any more radiator valves.

How many coats???

Monday, October 11th, 2004

So I gathered up my can of deep tint primer and my can of “Autumn Red” and toddled off to Home Depot to, hopefully, find out why three coats of paint plus a coat of primer still isn’t covering the walls.

I talk to “Richie” at Home Depot, and he shakes his head, saying,

“Awww, red is always a difficult color to paint… when you bought it last week, didn’t they tell you that it would take anywhere from two to SEVEN coats?”

“Hell no! If they had told me that, I would have bought a different f*cking color!”

Anyway, I manage to diffuse my rage (there’s never any point at yelling at someone who works at a Big Company, because it’s Not Their Fault in the first place), and he gives me another gallon of paint for a dollar. What a bargain! Good thing that my time is worth nothing. Ugh.

So I went home and put the third coat of paint on the kitchen. I’ll be putting a fourth coat on there and the breakfast room later. *sigh*

Seeing Red

Sunday, October 10th, 2004

We put the second coat on the bathroom today and it looks great. 1 coat of primer, 2 coats of paint, and done.

The kitchen and breakfast room are another story: after putting a second coat of paint, I can still see the primer color and the yellow right through it–it’s almost like we’re painting with Kool-aid.

We took a break to drop D. off at his mom’s, came back and put a third coat on the breakfast room, and it still didn’t cover completely! I’m just about ready to head over to Home Depot and strangle the people in the paint department, but I suspect that I’ll do much better if I get a good night’s sleep and head over there tomorrow morning.

Tool Time

Saturday, October 9th, 2004

J. has a lot of tools, and he brought a few over to help me out a little.

We started off using his Sawzall to cut the uprights on 5 sets of shelves that I got for the basement. The uprights are 7’4″ tall, and while they would fit in the main part of the basement (which is 7′ to the bottoms of the rafters and 7’9″ to the ceiling), the storage room under the front porch is only about 6’8″ high, so I was aiming to cut them to about 6’5″.

With a hand hacksaw, it probably would have taken me a couple of hours. With the Sawzall, it took about 7 minutes. Yay Sawzall. Remind me to get one of those when my hands stop shaking from using this one.

Since I have to replace all the quarter-round that I ripped out, J. brought along his pneumatic nailer to show me just how easy it can be. I pulled the nails out of a piece of the quarter-round from the front foyer, sanded the junk off the back and bottom, and we headed upstairs to tack it into place with a few brads. Needless to say, using the nailer was a) easy, and b) a helluvalot of fun. Only downside: the nailer and tank cost $300 bucks. Remind me to win the lottery some day.