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It Might As Well Be Robbery: Radiator Headaches

February 22, 2012

Before we drywalled the basement walls we needed to re-install the radiator. We had the radiator removed in preparation for the professional waterproofing we had done. The floor around the perimeter of the basement was broken up and dug out to install a drainage system, and the radiator was in the way.

Since this radiator is in the basement, the pipes feeding it were not hidden because the walls are cinder block. We didn’t want the exposed pipes in the finished room, so we built a stud wall 1-foot from the cinder block wall. Then we cut into the studs to make an alcove for the radiator to sit in. The pipes can now run behind the stud wall. The advantage to this is that furniture can be pushed flat against the wall in front of the radiator. We will cover the alcove with a screen and trim it out with molding when we are all done.

I completely forgot that we needed to trim out the interior of the alcove before the radiator could be put back! So we scrambled to cut up a piece of plywood, paint and caulk it, in time for the plumber.

I also decided to paint the radiator. Before we had it removed, it had collected 80 years of spider webs and egg sacks – gross! Since I was dealing with metal, I took the following steps to prep it:

  • Vacuumed it well

  • Washed it down and let it dry
  • Scrapped off loose paint with a wire brush

  • Primed it with a metal paint primer

I think (through all the rust) the original color was silver. I have painted the other radiators in the house black, because I like how they stand out as an architectural element. Clearly, this is not a photo from my home, but this gives you the idea.

This radiator will be hidden by a screen in an alcove, so I painted it a medium gray.

Thankfully the plumber who removed the radiator installed valves on the pipes that feed it so we didn’t have to drain the boiler to have it re-installed. Finally a contractor with some forethought! It would have been a very cold day in February if he hadn’t added the valves.

He also informed me that the pipes feeding all the radiators and running to the boiler are not galvanized steel as I thought. They are black iron; the same material used today if hot water radiators are installed. This is good news because the new trend in updating your utilities is to rip out all the galvanized steel because it rusts and breaks down quickly. Iron lasts longer and doesn’t rust as easily….supposedly. We have plenty of rust, so I’m not sure how true this is.

The radiator’s themselves are cast iron and weight hundreds of pounds empty. Imagine moving one full of water! The plumber heating and cooling boiler certified technician, needed another technician to help him move the radiator 1 foot to its final resting place.

Then, the technician discovered that the other valve that feeds the hot water into the radiator was broken and would leak 😦 So a new one had to be ordered at the price of $183!!!!!!!! What the heck. I’m sure I could have researched one online and purchased it for less, but we were in a tight spot with drywall starting, so we just went with it.  I also don’t know how many places stock hot water radiator valves that would fit my 80-year-old model. Bah.

This delayed us five days. When they finally came back and installed it, we were slapped with a $550 bill (including the $183) – not cool. The frustrating thing is, out of all the plumbers in Ann Arbor, only two companies have plumbers certified to work on boilers and hot water/steam systems. All of the other plumbers we call refuse to do the job. So we are stuck paying these OBSCENE prices. It might as well be robbery. When do I get to charge $120/hour for my time? Can I sell parts and mark them up 100%? Must be nice.


Here is the finished product:

I really like the color of…(I’m not sure what it is) that they used to seal the pipes. Can I get that in a paint chip 🙂

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2012 2:41 PM

    I have ripped out and thrown away over the years many of these rads. I recently installed one of these in a customers kitchen, it was cast iron 1200mm x 600mm x 3 columns heavy enough! it loked great after installation. The green gunk on the thread is jointing compound, really it would have been nice to have wiped the joint clean, after all you paid good cash for the job. It might of been cheaper for you to fly me over from the UK to do the job! Only joking…

  2. February 23, 2012 6:44 PM

    man, sorry to hear about the huge bill. 😦 No fun to not have any options.

    I think it’s normal for plumbers to charge around $160/hour in my area.

    • February 23, 2012 9:36 PM

      I know. First it made me sad, and now it makes me angry…..grrrrrrr. To top it off, one of the connections they made is now leaking! SO they have to come back and face my wrath. I may be female and petite, but don’t mess with me 🙂

  3. Craig permalink
    February 23, 2012 9:20 AM

    Yes you are correct about paying WAY too much for those radiator valves. I purchased new ones for all my radiators in my previous house about 8 years ago. They are identical to the valve you illustrate. I purchased them from a local plumbing supply store here in Monroe, MI. I can’t remember how much I paid, but they were in the neighborhood of $50 each. Basement looks great though!

    • February 23, 2012 10:01 AM

      Sooo after reading your comment I googled “hot water radiator value” and the exact valve came up for $25. WTF. They also charged me for 2 hours of work, when they only did 1. Good news is, I haven’t paid them yet. I just called and disputed the bill. They aren’t going to get more than $250 out of me for everything.

  4. February 22, 2012 9:40 PM

    That is BRUTALLY expensive!! I adore the look of radiators, but I’m kind of glad that we don’t have them… I can’t wait to see how you box in and trim out the alcove!


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