Temporarily removing 100 yr old cast iron radiators

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Topic: Temporarily removing 100 yr old cast iron radiators

Home and Garden February 19, 2014 at 11:55 am

Temporarily removing 100 yr old cast iron radiators

I need to paint behind my 100 yr old radiators as well as fix some cracking plaster. Is this something i should attempt on my own or would i be better off getting a plumber?

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Do not remove them, period. I had the same issue and managed to scrape/mud/paint well enough with the right tools. No one can see behind there for the most part anyway, it will be a disaster if you do it yourself, and a plumber will be more expensive than it’s worth.

I would be very hesitant to remove them by yourself, if at all. Before moving into my current apartment, the management company decided to remove the radiators temporarily to paint behind them. When they reattached them, something didn’t go right, perhaps something about the radiator not being level when it was reattached and some other issue. A few months later when they turned the heat, my apartment filled with intense steam that damaged the floorboards, baseboards and paint in multiple places. They ultimately had to rip out a section of wall to fix the damage they did to an internal pipe, redo part of the original wood floors, redo part of the bathroom floor, and repaint 3 rooms. Thankfully, I wasn’t responsible for the cost of any of this.

Be warned!


Steam? I have no idea.

Hot water? We’ve done those. It’s a pain in the butt, but it is not that difficult.

If you have hot water rads, it is totally doable, just a pain. You will need to drain your radiators, so it really should wait till the weather is a little warmer. the hardest part is unhooking the radiator and moving it. they are heavy! you might have to really soak the connection with WD-40 or something to be able to unscrew it. When you reconnect everything, you will need to bleed all the radiators to get the air out, starting at the top floor and working your way down. You might have to check them all a couple of times.

We had disintegrating plaster behind one of ours due to a leaky window. we repaired the plaster, repainted, and hooked the radiator back up by ourselves. you can do it!

The pipe threads have likely corroded, and you may damage them during removal or reinstallation. Then you might need a plumber to cut new threads on the existing pipe and/or replace the shutoff valves before you can run the heat again. (If your 100-year-old valve seals are like mine, they are far gone.) much better to leave them alone. If you are really concerned about people inspecting your mud/paint job behind the radiator, buy or make a radiator cover!

If you do it, get a length of pipe that fits on the end of your wrench(es). Leverage is the only way you are going to generate enough torque to uncouple them.

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.

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