Plumbing Tips and Heating Tips
Saving Water Outside Taps – No water Filling Loops – How to use Stuck Thermostatic Radiator Valves Stuck Central Heating Pumps Dripping taps Leaking Washing Machine Taps Blocked pipes Burst pipes A word of warning
One easy way to save water if you have an older WC cistern that flushes nine litres or more is to add a brick or half brick, which ever will fit best. The flush will be reduced by the volume of water displaced by the brick. You should place the brick so that it does not impair the movement of the ball valve float. Newer cisterns only flush six litres of water so adding a brick or other water saving device is not worthwhile and may cause you to use even more water, with repeated flushing necessary but many have dual flush buttons ;small button reduced flush; large button full flush.
I don’t recommend the use of plastic bags filled with water as an alternative to a brick as these will leak and you will end up with plastic stuck in the syphon. Plastic bags where used during the drought of 1976, we spent months afterwards extracting them from the innards of WC cisterns.
If you’ve turned on the outside tap after the winter and the water flow is very poor or does not exist it’s most likely that the non-return valves have become jammed. Many outside taps now have two small plastic non-return valves fitted that will become damaged if the water in the tap freezes during cold weather. There’s little you can do with these, you will probably have to replace the tap. The best solution is to fit a non-return valve to the internal pipe work that feeds the tap.
A common problem in the autumn, as heating systems are turned on after the summer, is that of stuck TRV’s resulting in cold radiators.
It is often a simple job to release them and once you know how it is done you’ll have no need to call a plumber. There is no need to turn off the water or drain the heating system. In call cases you will have to remove the thermostatic head from the body of the valve. This may be held on by a threaded ring, grub screw or some other similar method. Once removed you should be able to see a central pin that enters the body of the valve. It is this pin that sticks and very often all that is needed is a gentle tap on top of the pin to release it.
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Stuck Central Heating Pumps
If you find that the radiators will not heat after the summer it might be that the circulating pump has stuck. Most pumps can be released quite easily by turning the shaft which can often be accessed by removing the central cover screw on the pump head and inserting a smaller screwdriver to turn and free the shaft and impeller. Some pumps cannot be released this way but this is the most common method. Tapping the pump with a hammer is not recommended but it might work!
A central heating pump
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It’s a good idea to run your central heating briefly during the summer months just to make sure that everything is working properly, when autumn arrives and plumbers become very busy your pump and you could both find yourselves stuck!Back to Top
Sealed system filling loops - how to use them
Central heating systems that are sealed i.e. combination and other boilers where there is no feed and expansion tank, may require topping up from time to time due to a loss of water. This may be because a radiator has been removed for decorating or perhaps some other work has taken place on the system but what ever the cause the system will need replenishing and this is done via the filling loop. The filling loop is usually a braided flexible hose located adjacent to the boiler. It allows a temporary connection from the cold water supply to the heating system.
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To top up the system connect the loop to the cold supply and the heating system. There will be at least one valve on the cold feed and possibly a second on the heating pipe. Open them slowly and carefully raise the water pressure within the system keeping a close watch on the pressure gauge, do not over fill 1 bar is often enough.
Continued loss of water pressure should be investigated.
Some boilers have integral filling loops- consult the installation instructions.
Disconnect the loop after filling.
If a dripping tap cannot be stopped with a new washer it probably needs reseating. There is a special reseating tool for this job. Sometimes water finds its way behind the washer wearing a groove in the jumper this groove can be removed with a flat file.
Newer taps will jamb altogether if the washer becomes flat and the inner jumper that carries the washer runs out of thread. In this case the tap will need to be dismantled, rewashered and reassembled insuring that the retaining circlip is in place at the top of the spindle (see diagram).
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Ceramic disks in quarter turn taps will have to be replaced if they drip. You’ll need to know the manufacturer as there’s no guarantee that another make of disc will fit your tap. The tap handles of different manufactures have different dimensions, the ceramic disc may fit the tap but the handle won’t fit the disc.Back to Top
Plastic lever washing machine taps that rarely if ever get used can be a problem when you come to have a new washing machine fitted as the taps will not shut off properly. Usually it is the plastic levers that are the trouble as the plastic does not have the strength to turn the tap and becomes damaged in the attempt. The answer is to remove the lever and with an adjustable spanner on the spindle that held the lever carefully close the valve.
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Ball valves are found in roof tanks and w.c cisterns. It is generally as quick and easy to change a roof tank ball valve as it is to re-washer it. The older “part 1” or BS1212 type ball valve should be replaced with “part 2” type ball valve readily available from Plumbers Merchants.
Ball valves found in w.c cisterns are essentially the same as ball valves in roof tanks, although in low level and close-coupled w.c suites they are often of the bottom entry type. These are more difficult to replace so unless they are in poor condition it is probably best to re-washer.
If you leave your house empty for more than a few days, roof tanks and w.c cisterns can start to overflow so it’s worth thinking about turning the water off.
A single w.c can often be unblocked with a 4” drain plunger and rod but if the outside drains are blocked (check the manholes) it will require more rods and more effort.
The good old traditional plunger is still a very useful tool for unblocking sinks and showers etc. but remember to cover overflow holes or your efforts will be wasted.
Washing machine waste pipes can be difficult to unblock and often lengths of pipe will need replacing.
Prevention is better than cure. Check the lagging on all pipes and tanks in unheated spaces.
Know where your main stopcock is located and periodically check that it works.
The most important action to take is to turn off the main stop cock and run the taps allowing the all the water to drain. Be careful of wet electrics and if necessary turn off the power to be safe. While the water in a pipe is frozen there is danger of a flood but it’s when it thaws that the fun really starts, so if you believe a pipe is frozen act straight away turn off the water and check for signs of pipe splits or blown joints, repair if possible or call a plumber.
If during a cold spell the worst happens and you have a burst pipe, you will not be alone and it is at this time that plumbers can be very busy indeed, so if you know how to turn off the incoming water supply and how to drain the roof tanks you will spare yourself a lot of grief!
Double-check the position of pipes before nailing down floorboards!
While all off the above tasks should be within the capability of a competent DIYer things can wrong. Plumbing may seem to be straight forward but the knack is really to know how to solve the unexpected problem. Rewashering a tap may appear to be an easy job but what if the stop cock under the sink won’t turn because its not been touched for years, immediately you’ve another job on your hands.
Remember, plumbers will not want to sort out your DIY disaster!
David Kearns © 2004