Dear PoP – radiator repair?

Photo by PoPville flickr user dullshick

“Dear PoP,

Your post on window replacement companies prompts me want to make another recommendation request — radiator repair. We just bought a house on NH Ave, and we have a few radiators that are leaking and rusty around the valves – there’s no perceptible leak but clearly water has dripped out at some point and corroded the pipes pretty badly. They need to be fixed before they cause further water damage. I think this is a common problem in these radiators, so I thought there might be others who have had this repaired. Curious as to what this costs and who the best folks are to do it.”

Any recs for radiator repair? Would it just be a good plumber? If so, please your plumber recs as well.

17 Comment

  • Additional question:
    Would love to hear any recommendations for radiator restoration – someone who can take an existing radiator, strip off the paint, resurface and repaint it.

    • I did this myself with a random hand sander (Ryobi, about $20 at Home Depot) and a Dremmel for the tight spots with some sanding attachments. Then I used some paint remover to get what was left. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to where I could prime it and have the original detail show. After that, I just used plain latex paint. I know a lot of people recommend rustoleum, but I’d avoid it with hot water radiators. Steam is a different story.

      Cast iron radiators are extremely heavy, and while the above work is time consuming (you’re looking at a full day to do just get it ready for paint), it’s easier than getting a 300 lb. radiator into a rent-a-truck to deliver it somewhere.

      I don’t know any service who’ll do this work, but it’s possible that if you call different painters you’ll find one who’s willing to do it.

    • For Marcus-

      The Stripping Workshop. My neighbor had his ornate radiators done there and they look brand new.

      411 New York Ave NE
      Washington, DC 20002-7025
      (202) 544-1470

      • This is who I’m planning to use. He’s the only guy in DC although I’ve heard of a similar outfit in B’more.

        The actual store is very difficult to find the first time.

  • While I don’t have a specific recommendation, I can tell you that this is a large-scale project that entails draining your system and likely replacing much of your old galvanized piping with copper. Just the angle valves themselves are quite expensive.

    If you call a plumber from the yellow pages, you’re going to pay a small fortune for the work. If possible, your best bet is to try to find someone who will do this work after hours. If you can’t do that, I’d recommend only doing this work when you actually have a leak in order to avoid the high costs associated with plumbers.

    If money isn’t a problem, I’d trust Stevens Plumbing on Quincy to do the work. But they’re pricey.

    • I used John barry Plumbing. Yes, they had to drain out the water, but that was no biggie. They then replaced the valves at the base of the radiator and that stopped the leaking. It was not — or at least not in our case — necessary to replace the existing piping.

      • ah

        Agree. You will need new valves, not not all new piping. I had valves replaced for $150 each (parts/labor), although that was part of a larger job so I’m not sure that’s comparable (they had already drained and were on site). Draining is not a big issue, though.

        BTW, if you can get thermostatic valves, which will allow more accurate temperature adjustments in each room.

  • I had a plumber(Barry) disconnect my radiators, sent a couple out(ChemStrip) and stripped/repainted a couple myself then had the plumbers reinstall with new valves (since the old ones were stuck). Both did a great job and though not cheap were well worth it. The professional stripping was especially with it, they look much better than the ones I did. The strip/paint cost was $25-30 per fin 2 years ago. POP can give my email if you want a reference.

    8157 Penn Randall Place
    Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
    Phone/Fax: 301-420-9112
    email: [email protected]

    John E. Barry Plumbing & Heating
    E-mail: [email protected]

  • When my wife & I renovated our apartment 5 years ago, we had the radiators stripped and restored. The Stripping Workshop noted above was recommended to us. However, I never had any luck getting in touch with them. I heard from another source that they were extremely busy and frequently turned away business. Don’t if that’s true now but I know I never got anyone to pick up the phone or return our calls.

    Eventually we settled on our contractor to do the work. I helped remove the radiators (they are VERY heavy and require a few strong bodies just to maneuver onto a hand cart). He power washed them and dipped them in some sort of solution using a boat-lifting wench and one of those ghetto above-ground pools. Once cleaned we primed them with a flat spray paint and then got a decorative antique bronze spray paint from Home Depot for the final coat. I have to say they look awesome and are one of bright spots of our apartment. In fact, they are the only good thing our contractor did for us, as he turned out to be quite crooked and somewhat incompetent.

    For repairs, just call a plumber. Yes they cost a lot of money but what can you do? I had a leak at the valve last year and called a plumber. He came out, attacked it with a monkey wrench for 5 minutes, fixed it, and charged me a 100 bucks. C’est la vie.

  • We just replaced the boiler in our house in CH and had the radiators serviced and the sysetem rebalanced. I don’t have any comparables, but we used Magnolia Plumbing in NE and were very pleased with the service.

    • Magnolia tried to charge me $5k to replace the lead line in front of the house. The city contractor’s plumber did it for $600.00.

      I’m sure Magnolia does a bang up job, but plumbing is not that hard.

  • Depending on where the valve is leaking from, you may be able to repack the valve stem or re-tape the threads for $10 in parts from HD. Before you call the plumber, buy a pair of plumber’s wrenches, the “yellow” (not white) teflon tape, and the valve packing material.

    Drain the boiler system. If you don’t know how, you open the valves on the radiator and hook a garden hose up to the back of your boiler. Lead the hose to the nearest drain. I’d leave 45min to drain the system. You’ll probably need to open all the radiator valves to get all of the water out.

    Once that’s done, try to unscrew (using both wrenches) the nut on the radiator from the valve. Use one wrench for the valve so that you don’t break it and one for the nut. If you can get the nut off, wrap the teflon tape around the screw threads thickly (maybe 4-5 times) in the same direction the nut screws in on.

    To repack the valve, unscrew the handle, then using both wrenches (one to hold the valve, one to turn the nut) remove the nut that goes over the top of the stem. This is where you put the “packing material”. Packing material is just a thick string that you wrap the stem in a bunch of times then screw the nut down over. The material becomes water tight when compressed down by the nut.

    Reassemble tightly, but don’t force any of the nuts. Refill the system with water and start the boiler. When filling, you’ll need to bleed each radiator as you fill. The internet has tons of information on this.

    If you still have a leak, try tightening the nuts one more time when the system is hot (hot water causes everything to expand), and if that doesn’t work, either call the plumber or call the radiator repair main to remove it for servicing.

  • gotryit

    I second (third?) Chemstrip for stripping down many layers of paint and recoating with a nice clear layer. I paid some friends nearby with beer and pizza to get the 300+ lb radiators up and down stairs (~5 people!).

    The valves can be replaced if you can take them off. If you have to repair a piece of pipe, it’s doable but better left to a plumber if you don’t feel like cutting and rethreading steel pipe. Or don’t happen to have a pipe threader. As if anyone doesn’t.

  • The folks at the Stripping Workshop on NY Ave NE do great work. I highly recommend them.

  • Has anyone repainted with the bronze/goldish finish that was period when most of these systems went in? After stripping, I’m going to need to find someone pronto who can apply a matching finish to the rest of my radiators.

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