Reply To: Temporarily removing 100 yr old cast iron radiators

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I’m assuming steam. If you’re reasonably handy with tools, and possess average physical strength it’s fairly easy. Get a 24″ adjustable wrench (a giant crescent wrench). Be aware that a pipe wrench will gouge the hell out of the brass nut. So use a wrench with smooth jaws. 24″ is plenty big enough for disconnecting and reconnecting (maybe not for replacing the valves though). Get some pipe dope at the hardware store. Make sure it’s the right kind for steam. Get some pieces of plywood (a few feet wide). Get a drop cloth. Turn off the heat. Put a small bowl under the but to collect any drips. Have some towels handy, too. Remember that the nut is threaded on to the valve, not the radiator. So turn it counter clockwise with respect to the valve. The paint chips that fall off will probably contain lead. Don’t eat them.

When it’s fully unthreaded, set the plywood on the dropcloth at the foot of the radiator, then tilt the radiator towards the wall and kick the plywood under it. Now walk the radiator away from the wall on the plywood. Make your repairs, and walk the radiator back. Get it off the plywood, back in its original location. Clean the threads (blow on them or something) and use the pipe dope on the male threads. Start the nut by hand, then use the wrench. Don’t over tighten it. Just get it like it was before. Finally, check the tilt of the radiator. It needs a slight tilt towards the valve so the condesate will drain properly. Use a level.

Risks: you will mar your floor if you don’t use plywood. You will really damage your floor if the radiator tips over. You can also use a hand truck to move the radiator, but I tipped one over using a hand truck.

The main risk is that when you reconnect the radiator it will start dripping. When you break that ancient seal between the radiator and the valve it may reveal damaged and rusted threads that can’t be resealed with pipe dope. Then you may find yourself needing to replace the valve. That is quite a bit more work, and it requires a big pipe wrench (in addition to the wrench above) and a radiator spud wrench. There are videos on YouTube for how to do this. Unless you think you can handle that, don’t disconnect the radiators.