Monday, February 20, 2012

When plumbing goes a little bit crappy

Hello and welcome to a new week, here in Blogland.

How many of you home-owners have ever asked yourself “How hard can it be to change a radiator?” This question is generally asked after ringing around a few plumbers and trying to get a quote. 

Plumbers will never give you a quote over the phone, they have to come and have a look and they are prepared to do that in four weeks’ time as long as you promise to make them a cup of tea.

Plumbers are very strict about this.

This is odd because as far as I’m concerned plumbers are just normal people like you and I, the only difference is that they have a good tool kit.

So eventually you get bored of trying, especially when the only quotes you get seem very steep. How dare anybody charge that much, just to come to your house and swap a radiator over?

It was exactly those two questions above that led me to buy a new-fangled, double-barrelled radiator off the Internet this week and decide to fit it myself. I’d finally caved in after three years of being moaned at. Our bedroom needed a new rad. Every single night (even in the hottest part of Summer) my wife runs through the bedroom adding layer upon layer of entirely unsexy thermal pyjama before bouncing about in the bed like an epileptic fly in a desperate attempt to warm up her zone.

These layers would absolutely not come off which makes certain night time manoeuvres a bit of a challenge. I’d had enough, I had to man up and get plumbing. I do, as it happens, have quite a good toolkit myself.

09:00 Saturday 18th February
 I’m at the wholesalers buying the last little piece that I need to fix things into place because the radiator is five centimetres narrower than the old one due to the old one being Imperial - apparently. Everything is going fine until I look quizzically at said extension piece and attempt to ask the man behind the counter how it works. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes. I’m just another numpty who thinks he can plumb. He refuses to divulge his trade’s secrets; he is cross enough that he has to let me buy the parts.

The heating is off and I’ve lugged my toolbox, rags, sheets and new rad up the stairs. The lockshield is uncovered and turned off after carefully marking it and counting the turns (this is apparently important though it has no further bearing in this tale because it seemed to make no difference at all). The other end is turned off manually and with a bowl under the pipe I make my first attempt at unscrewing the nut connecting the radiator to the valve thingy. All that happens is that the pipe starts to bend a bit. This is not necessarily looking good. To rectify this I screw the nut in the other direction to bend the pipe back and the nut starts to loosen. “Interesting” I say to myself, “The screw turns that way does it?”

Water comes into the story about now – lots of it.

I managed to get about a quarter of the water that had been in the radiator into a bowl, I’m not entirely sure where the rest went. Slowly, but surely, the radiator emptied.

I proudly walk through the kitchen and out into the back yard carrying the old radiator. I display my prize like a prehistoric hunter showing his family the Mammoth that he has caught for their lunch. With the radiator deposited outside, I return to the fold to demand my first cup of tea because I’m a plumber now and there are rules.

I give up trying to get the old ‘tail’ out of the radiator in a huff. Kiss clever wife who happens to know where there is a different plumber shop that I can go to in order to buy new ones from, so that I don’t have to face the wholesalers again.

Lunch. Sausage sandwiches. Tea. Nice.

Discover that there was one measurement that I had overlooked.

I finally finish bending and smacking pipes and crack a wry smile as I realise that the big switch-on has arrived at the same time that my In-Laws arrive. What a chance to earn some serious points? Stand by to be impressed folks.

Mother-In-Law shouts up from the lounge below where I am frantically trying to stop the cascading fountain of water – “There seems to be some water coming through the ceiling!”

There was.

But not a lot, thankfully.

I manage to stem the flow and empty out the radiator. Thankfully it was just bad plumbing, the pipes weren’t split. I remake the joints and refill the radiator.
Then I turn the water off and empty the radiator again because the joints are still leaking.

Jo returns home from a Zumbathon (don’t ask) excitedly skipping out of the car at the thought of the lovely house she was about to walk into. She stops. She sighs. Inside the lounge window is an orange bucket and a load of towels. This, she thinks, does not look promising.

We have a bedroom radiator that is hot and, on the whole, not leaking. I start tidying up, tip-toeing carefully past the rad.

I’d spent all day and almost wrecked the lounge ceiling (got away with that one as it was only a small amount of water that had seeped through the very edge by the wall). I was knackered. The kids were at their Grandma’s as she had stepped up and rescued them from boredom.
Suddenly it becomes clear why plumbers charge what they do. At the end of the day they earn their pay.

Maybe plumbers aren’t just like you and I with a toolkit after all.

Plumbers are just people like you and I but with a good toolkit AND they know how to use it. That knowledge is worth paying for.

The bedroom is properly tropical warm though – Jo keeps walking around it in just the two layers, showing off.


Sue H said...

After a crap day this gave me the belly-laughs I really needed!
Following various dramas with our household plumbing I was quickly on first-name terms with our pet plumber - theae creatures must be cosseted and cajoled but are worth their weight in gold!

Well Glen - I've gone to bed with a smile on my face,
thanks to you! (make of that statement what you will!)

Nick Riches said...

That is one job I would look at and say "naa". It is something about radiators. To me they have black and yellow stipes, and I know if I get too close they are going to sting me! It's the water going everywhere that gives me the shivers. Mind you I successfully put a new toilet in once, clean and mucky water there! Electric is better, it doesn't drip but can be a bit like playing Deal or No Deal, you never really know...

Sue H said...

Nick - I'd rather not have a 'wet' heating system, either! When you get problems with rads you invariably get the knock-on effects of water damage (have you ever seen a radiator 'explode'?) But I can't afford to replace the system so I'm stuck with it!

So, Glen - now you've sparked a discussion, what's your next DIY subject? Monkey Wrenches for beginners? ;-p

Glen said...

Sue - always happy to help cheer you up.

Nick - hi - I'm starting to wish I'd said "naa" I'm fairly good with electric too - well, good at getting zapped anyway.

I think I'll be taking a bit of a DIY sabatical tbh - I'm all manned out

Tracy said...

I love how you are able to turn a very frustrating experience for you into a wonderfully entertaining story for us! Thanks, that was great!

Badger said...

You are much braver than I am old chap. Well done.

Glen said...

Tracy - I try

Badger - or stupider?

Beach Bum said...

Damn! Down here in the warm American south we use electric heat so I've never had to play with a radiator but I've had my own plumbing battles.

Namely changing the bathroom faucets putting up new towel racks, and my favorite was changing out a toilet.

Every piece of hardware on the new faucets was different from the old ones I replaced, a fact I did not discover until I had already disassemblied the old ones.

Did two more trips to the hardware store to buy the stuff I did not have.

The mounts for the towel racks were also completely different. Instead of unscrewing the old ones I had to mark and drill new holes. That was a couple of years ago and my wife still swears the new towel racks are uneven.

The toilet? I will not go into that but it was messy. Told my wife next time hire a real plumber.

Glen said...

ha yes - I've fixed a toilet and also replaced the cartridge in a mixer "faucet" as you mistakenly call taps as well - now that was a job and a half - I can't say I'd ever try and do something on show though - a towel rail sounds way out of my depth - there's no way my wife would let me loose on something as important as that

Jan said...

I have experienced similar, yes plumbers do earn their pay. This was funny and entertaining, thank you for sharing.

fallen monkey said...

I don't "LOL," but I WILL take the time to fully type out that I laughed out loud at that second photo. Doh! I give you massive props for taking on the task yourself. And Jo for her evident patience. I think my husband would've been left one less functioning testicle under my supervision...

But it was definitely worth the try, as I've often questioned the point of having the pros come out. There was a time, actually, when we first moved here and our one bum outlet managed to blow our TV within a half hour of finally getting cable hooked up. TV repair picked it up and had it at least a month "waiting for a part to ship from the States," for which they were going to charge us an absurd amount - so my husband went online, found the part himself, ordered it for less than half the cost, received it 3 days later, took it into the shop and said, "Here. Install it and deliver our TV back." So you never know... A radiator, though. That's ambitious. You should definitely be beating your chest in caveman pride for that one. :)

glenslife - the wife. said...

Hmmm. Can we save the chest beating until the old one has actually been removed from my back garden?