Saturday, October 18, 2014
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A Cautionary Tale

A Cautionary Tale

Many moons ago I used to be really keen, and rather less jaded and pissed off than I am now. As such I was always doing something – even if much of it wasn’t really necessary. Tinkering with my motorbikes, greasing the numerous ball joints on the Mini’s suspension, that sort of thing. However times have changed, and these days I can’t be arsed to do anything unless it’s really needed. Which leads me to the point of this story…

You may remember me saying I have not had the best of weeks, with central heating problems being the main issue. I installed the system some 20 years ago, although I had a qualified plumber in to fit and commission the boiler. Since then it has only given a few problems, A new pump and 3 port valve, plus the circuit board in the boiler itself. That has gone wrong twice (as far as I can recall) – the first time I replaced it, but the next fault was just a simple relay, so I got a new one from Maplin and soldered it in place. I have drained and flushed the system when changing a couple of the old radiators I used from the previous rudimentary installation in the house when we moved in. Each time I added some corrosion inhibitor, but probably not as much as I should have.

Like so many things that gradually deteriorate over time, it’s easy to ignore the warning signs – slower response to thermostat changes, the boiler firing more frequently, and the “knocking” it was making. But last week it all came to a head when, by mid afternoon on two consecutive days, there didn’t appear to be any circulation at all. Some frantic turning off and back on, and setting the pump speed to maximum only gave a temporary respite. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I removed the pump and re-fitted it the other way round, in the hope that whatever was causing the blockage might be pushed clear. I wasn’t really concerned if this ended up in one of the radiators – I just wanted SOME heat! It seemed to work, and although the system didn’t get as hot, at least we weren’t left shivering on one of the coldest days of the winter…

 Clearly this was only a stop gap, and I had already suffered sleepless nights thinking of what might be needed to sort the problem, and how much dismantling would be involved. I paid a visit to a friendly local plumbing and electrical shop, and told them of my predicament. Thrusting a litre bottle of flushing agent into my hand, he said “This is what you need”. It claimed to be able to remove build ups of scale or other deposits. I wasn’t entirely convinced, having been horrified by the state of the pipes either side of the pump and valves I had already removed, but it had to be worth a try.

Sentinel X800 Jetflo Ultimate Cleaner - corrosion deposits boiler radiators pipework central heating water meter blockage pump valve system flushing agent

The instructions said to leave it in the system for “At least an hour, or until satisfactory performance is restored”. I figured this wasn’t going to be a quick job…  Anyway, having removed the pump once more, and drained some water off, I poured this horrible looking liquid into the open pipe, and replaced the pump the right way round. I topped up and hit the “On” switch. To my immense relief various gurgling sounds announced that water was flowing again, and the pipes quickly heated up.  To start with I only turned on the radiators in rooms that weren’t essential, figuring that all this crap had to go somewhere…

But after those heated up properly I took the plunge and opened everything up. Within a few minutes the house was almost too hot, and some windows were opened! Even more amazingly, the “knocking” seemed to have stopped. Whether this was just due to clearing a single blockage, or the properties of the flushing agent, I’m not sure about. But I’m mighty glad that less than a hour’s effort had produced the required result.

Working on the principle that this stuff must be pretty obnoxious, I rang the manufacturers and asked how long I could leave it in the system. A very helpful guy assured me that it was perfectly safe and wouldn’t damage any components, adding that it normally took at least a week to do the job. I said in that case I would be inclined to leave it until the weather is better, which he was happy with. Obviously I am going to be faced with a comprehensive flushing and cleaning exercise, but not having to contemplate it with snow outside is a great relief! Since the heating is now working better than it has for years, the magic potion must be doing what it says on the label.

Oh, and by the way, you may also remember me mentioning that I spotted water running out of my neighbours door. As she was at work, I prized up the water meter cover outside and turned off the stop cock. Since the meter was whizzing round at a rate of knots it was clearly pretty serious. I managed to get in touch with her, and she came straight home. Fearing the worst, it turned out to be a lucky escape, and was a burst pipe in the utility room toilet. Thanks to a step between there and the kitchen no water had got into the rest of the house. Rather predictably, the adjacent stop tap was absolutely seized, and I wasn’t prepared to apply too much leverage and risk breaking the spindle. Delving into my box of bits revealed a 15mm compression stop-end, and 5 minutes later I was able to turn the water back on, so the rest of the house was usable.

So the moral of this sorry tale is not to ignore clear warning signs until it’s too late… For many years I’ve operated on the “If it ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it” principle, but our heating system has clearly been on the way out for some time. And if you haven’t tried turning your water off lately (or at all), I strongly recommend you do so before it’s too late…

Microdave

P.S. As I now have several bottles of cider to consume (thanks to a grateful neighbour), you might not hear anything sensible out of me for some time…

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15 comments

  1. Interesting tale, MD. I wish I’d heard of this product before I had some cunt install a new boiler (at a cost of 3.3k) when the old one was making a racket the xmas before last!
    This also gives me the chance to have a rant about a subject close to my heart: costly and unnecessary environmental legislation.
    There was once a time when you could expect a British made boiler to have a life of up to 30 years with minimal and quite inexpensive servicing. Any old wanker could install a boiler just a generation ago; they were so simple in construction and operation back then. Now, however, any poor cunt who needs a new boiler has to employ a flunky who is required to be familiar with a very much more complex beast. Said flunky needs to have attended possibly dozens of courses and read and become familiar with vast volumes of technical information and installation regs. Boilers have become complex beasts with umpteen sensors and control sub-systems to ensure they comply with pollution and ‘efficiency’ standards dreamed up by the eurobastards in Brussels. Whereas once upon a time becoming a plumber/heating engineer was within the grasp of the average half-intelligent artisan, it now seemingly takes a degree in rocket science and higher mathematics to gain the necessary qualifications and the refresher/update courses are frequent and costly, pushing up prices hugely for the consumer and vastly reducing the number of persons capable of carrying out these installations by the (ever thickening) book. Yet to the best of my knowledge there are absolutely NO regs relating to atmospheric pollution and global warming arising from – for example – hippo farts.

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    • Seconded, Earwig.

      Old boilers used to have cast-iron heat exchangers and waterways you could steer a ship through. 10% – 15% less-“efficient” than a modern boiler, but lasted three times as long. [So long-term 'efficiency-in-use' far exceeded today's temperamental & fragile efforts.]

      The reason for “……………vastly reducing the number of persons capable of carrying out these installations by the (ever thickening) book.” is that most extremely competent artisans now make more money setting up training companies to ‘teach’ the compulsory certifications.

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      • You can guess which sort mine is! There must have been a “supertanker” floating around the system, which my reverse flow trick shifted…

        According to the rating plate its thermal efficiency is 77% – so a modern boiler would take at least 8-10 years to pay for itself, by which time it would need replacing anyway!

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        • After you drain off to remove the X800 from the system, refill and add one Sentinel x100 and one Sentinel x200 to the system. They remain in the system no need for another system drain. Well worth the money and they go cheap on ebay sometimes.

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          • Add the x200 first then after around 2 weeks add the x100.

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  2. It’s great when a product & its manufacturer exceeds expectations, leading to a positive “User Review”. Particularly when it was a ‘distress purchase’. Credit too, to the operative at the plumbers’ merchant who diagnosed your problem & recommended a solution which worked.

    PS A timely reminder to any of MD’s / MF’s readers who have a recently-installed super-efficiency “Condensing Boiler” experiencing its first winter of use:

    If it’s just stopped working, the most likely cause could be that if it has any of its Condense Drain Pipe run externally before connecting to the dispersal drain, that external pipe may be blocked because of a frozen slug of ice.

    [The condensate would then back-up to the boiler, causing it to fail-safe switch off.]

    Simply use a hair dryer to melt the blockage; then, wrap foam insulation around the affected external pipe.

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  3. Once upon a time I bought a new house but didn’t move in straight away. I never thought to turn the water off, especially as I wasn’t actually living there.

    One morning I got a call at work saying I needed to go the new house. When I got there, most of the ceilings were down, the kitchen was six inches under water and there was a waterfall coming down the stairs. The mains feed into the cold water tank in the loft had burst overnight.

    It had been running for several hours. A builder on the site was walking past the house and saw water coming out from between the bricks. He walked around the back and looked in the kitchen window. He tried to turn off the outside stop cock but they had dropped a load of cement over it and the stop cock would turn off so he broke the kitchen window and turned off the stop cock under the sink.

    To my amazement, he was given a written warning by the builders. When I found out, I rang the MD of the builders and got the warning retracted, then I went round to the site office, gave the guy a bottle of Scotch to say thanks and gave his site manager a bollocking for being so bloody stupid.

    It could have been worse. We didn’t have much furniture in the place. Now whenever I go away, I turn the water off.

    I advise everyone to do the same.

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    • That’s the sort of story which will give ammunition to the “Smart” meter brigade. They will smugly say “If you had one of them, it would detect abnormal flow rates and shut the supply off”. Yeah, and then anyone with the equipment to hack the telemetry would know you weren’t about, and break in…

      Just make sure your stop tap is in good order, and readily accessible.

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      • Good advice – if you can find it! Most people would expect to find the main stopcock loitering around the kitchen somewhere, often in the dank and musty void under the sink. However, one house I moved into had it 30 feet away under the front living room bay window, under floor level. You had to take up the carpet and the appropriate floorboard to spot it! Not exactly a great idea in case of emergency…

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  4. When we moved into the current Caratacus Towers, there was one of the latest combi boilers installed. The previous owner had junked a perfectly serviceable ten year old Potterton boiler about three years previously after having been convinced by some piece of specious HMG bullshit advice that spending six grand on a new item was the ecologically sound thing to do.

    Needless to say, that first winter saw the combi go tits up as soon as it was called upon to do more than a hint of work and it farted, fainted and fell over. Fortunately, we know a couple of good plumbers (i.e. not rip off merchants and possessed of a healthy disregard for VAT) so called one in. He identified the problem and said that he could get it working again but pointed out that once these start going wrong they don’t stop. The previous owner had stored the old boiler in the garage and the plumber said that he was more than willing to put it back in, so that’s what we did. Bloody marvellous too – the radiators are positively volcanic and while the boiler itself may not be very quiet but at least it’s totally reliable. The one thing that is showing a bit of old age is the PCB card, so I’ve ordered a new one and have it ‘in stock and on the shelf’ pending the day it’s needed; it’s a piece of piss to put in too..

    On the matter of suspicion about whether a product will work: my son-in-law’s car developed cancer of the head gasket in September last year and he bought some of this stuff from Amazon for thirty quid –

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Steel-Seal-Gasket-Cylinder-Repair/dp/B005EQK0YQ/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    Needless to say, I smiled indulgently and said that he was wasting his money. Instead of which, he followed the instructions carefully and put it in and not only did it bloody work, it’s still working now and shows every sign of going on for some time to come..

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  5. Wise words Mr M. Forgive me if I can’t sympathise with your plight as I’m sitting here sweltering in 30 degree heat in my string vest. Now where did I put my ice cold beer. Cheers!

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  6. There’s many a cautionary tale concerning old boilers. Just don’t do what we did, and elect it prime minister.

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    • That would be the two faced, lying cow, who said “There would be NO carbon tax if she was PM”, and then did exactly the opposite…

      Oh, I forgot, she’s a politician, and lying is what they do!

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  7. My brother in law (the pompous cunt) has solved the “heating” problem. He spends the summer in the South of France and the winter in Cape Town. He also takes his “old boiler” with him.

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  8. Privatise the BBBC

    Bloody condensing boilers…..
    What you save in gas costs only heating up water on the fly, you spend water coming out of the tap until the bloody thing modulates.
    It’s all cock.

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