Tag Archives: cast iron radiators

Am I a player now?

First there was Tim. He was in the picture for a solid 2 years, and even though I had to put up with a lot of stupid shit I stuck with him. But he left me high and dry when a better option came along. I never gave him his stuff back.

Then there was Ken. The first time he came over was encouraging and I guess that’s why I kept coming back to him after how many times he stood me up. And he never took it upon himself to tell me – I had to sit at home calling him to find out.

So it may have been underhanded of me when I went after Dre, who Ken knows, and got Ken to give me Dre’s number. But, you know, I’m trying to find someone. I took a day off of work partly to meet Dre. We were good to go the night before but then he ghosted on me, just like the others.


And now there’s John. He stopped answering my calls, too, until I called him from the office. He finally did get back to me and we were supposed to meet. Again, nothing.

I haven’t dumped John yet but I’m already after another guy named John. They don’t have to know about each other. At this point I want to get whatever there is to get from whoever will give it to me. My roommate even knows to leave the door unlocked when John is thinking of coming by.

And if all else fails, there’s one more number I can call and I’ve heard good things. But they’ll charge $75 just for someone to come by before even doing anything. The thought of paying for that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but they’re in the back of my mind in case I ever need it bad enough.


But a little good news – I finally found the one! The second John came and got my heat working today!

Yeah, this whole post was about plumbers. What did you think I meant?

But a little bad news. Having given up on professional help, then given up on DIY, then given up on professional help, and so on, my dad and I tried to hook up the thermostats ourselves. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, we fried the boiler control relay, the damper control, the circulating pump, and all 3 zone valves. I was starting to save money again. That was nice while it lasted. So, a little shocked horror there. But at long last, the Crooked House has functioning central heat. And considering that the boiler was exhausting 3000 parts per million carbon monoxide and the chimney was blocked at the top and had a hole halfway up… well, I’m glad that the small child who used to live here is still alive. And I’m thrilled to finally put away that electric radiator at the bottom of the stairs.


I think the boiler hates me

I’ve got a good story today, but first you need a little bit of boring background information. This is an aquastat relay, which controls the boiler, the circulating pump (which moves water through my radiators), and the chimney damper. It also powers and receives a signal from the thermostat. There are 4 screw terminals for the thermostats near the top, but 2 of them have a metal strip factory installed to jump them because most systems only need the other 2. You can see that strip covering up the word thermostat right above the little plastic sheet, and the TV terminal is one of the ones for the thermostats.


The heat wasn’t working after I finally got all the thermostats hooked up right, and first I assumed that the complicated thing I have with 3 thermostats and 3 zone valves (instead of 2 wires on 1 thermostat) was the problem. So I took down the thermostat in the living room and connected it right to the relay with some extra wire. Now with simple wires it should turn on.

But it didn’t.

My dad had been worried that we blew one of the transformers by wiring it wrong, so I thought either it was that or the thermostat was bad. But I waited for my dad to come down with a multimeter so we could test for bad wires and what not. And so he came in and put the multimeter across the thermostat terminals and immediately, click! The relay flipped and the boiler fired up.

I gasped. The thermostat is bad and current is running through the volt meter and turning the boiler on. How is this possible? So I tried just running a wire across. That should be the same as when a thermostat saying “turn on” to the boiler. But it did nothing. Did I have a whole lot of faulty wire? He switched the meter to measure resistance and found that the wire was good.

And then he stuck wires across the terminals and click! Whoosh! On it came. And I did it again, and nothing. We did this a few times and then I asked him to sit there until the house warmed up. He said no. But finally, he pushed the wire against one terminal only and on it went. So we realized that he was flexing the circuit panel and something was connecting that wasn’t connected before.

There must be a bad solder on the back side of the circuit panel. So we disconnected every wire going into that relay, took it off the boiler, and dismantled it. Nothing looked bad. I figured I needed a new relay, which I guessed I could afford at $160, even though I had just said I could not afford $130 for an automatic ice maker in my freezer.

But then, remember those 2 thermostat terminals with the jumper running across them? The ones I don’t actually need? One of them was loose. So we put it all back together and what could have been a 2 second job was accomplished instead in 3 hours.

I went and reinstalled that last thermostat in the living room and we connected it back to the relay. And nothing happened. So remember the wire we used to bypass the thermostat before? I put that back on. Now my heat is on all the time until I get hot and go downstairs and power off the aquastat.

Working out of a rut

I was starting to feel stuck in a rut. Mainly because I can’t handle tons of small jobs. And because I thought I needed way more help from my dad than he had time for. So this weekend I made a new plan. Just do all of them. It meant a lot of jumping around, but I can handle that better than thinking about it all.

So… I finally put blinds up in my bedroom. Not super cheap like I planned. There’s a street light right outside my window so I got room darkening ones.

And the first few door strikes are in. I was scared to do this by myself. And my mortising job isn’t perfect but it’s good enough… I hope. Also, this back bedroom is the only room in the house with super shiny new hardware. I did it because I couldn’t afford solid brass. And the super frustrating thing. I will still be one door short.  because the strike I bought for my bedroom doesn’t fit the latch. Another trip to the salvage yard is in order.


And there’s a pile of drywall scraps left in the basement. I need to finish the stairwell before I make them disappear. Remember that I have a removable panel on this wall so I only need to drywall the ends. The extra elbow room in the middle is nice.


And my dad came down today and got the thermostats wired up. Except we can’t find the tiny screwdriver we need to connect the last thermostat. Oh well.

And I still had a bunch of trash cans full of lathe in the basement. I had ideas for creative ways to reuse it, but then I couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore. So instead I cut it all in half so it will fit into my parents’ incinerator fireplace. My parents had those friends who own the old Suburban over for lobster last night, so that seemed like the perfect time to borrow it again. And so my dad drove it down and we took out all this! (I’m on good terms with those neighbors… for now.)


They’ll be having a lot of fires. Also a third of it is trash. And what does my basement look like now?


Womp. Still pretty terrible, but at least there’s room to turn around. And we brought in the big fancy mirror that goes on my dresser.


But somehow the big fat screws that go to this disappeared so now it’s staying against the wall. Also, can you see that the fancy part at the top is damaged and missing pieces? I may have to leave it off at least for now. But I guess that’s a problem for another day.

I still need a bit more from that Suburban, so it may stick around all week. Up next is getting rid of my parents’ extra set of couches and… drumroll please… a refrigerator!


Heating up

Yep, my radiators are finally working! (Item 1 on the Punchlist.) But this wasn’t quite as easy as 1, 2, 3. First I had to hook up all the radiators. I bought a spud wrench to do this in case the fittings were loose. And it’s a good thing I did because the plumber (or more likely his idiot helper) had one of them cross threaded and it wouldn’t go on. My dad said “I hope it’s the radiator fitting and not the pipe.” And horrible images of re-soldering things flashed before me. Luckily, it was the fitting and he had left an extra one behind.

Then I had to reconnect 4 PEX pipes that the chimney people had cut. And so I joined the West Philly Tool Library and was able to borrow the tools I needed to do the job! This is amazing and I highly recommend the place to anyone in the area.


Then we pressurized the system. But the water seemed to keep flowing in and gurgling up longer than it should have. Turns out one of the radiators wasn’t tight and the water was running down inside a wall. Thankfully, it wasn’t a repeat of Chad’s Tears Falls, but it meant a little bit of screaming, depressurizing the system, and very anxiously refilling it. And tightening up several radiators throughout the house. Big sigh. My bathtub still has a pile of wet blankets in it.

And then we got it on but the radiators weren’t heating up evenly. We decided to flush out the system so we opened the valves to fill the system and just let water flow through. And then I caught 2 valves that hadn’t been opened and finally learned how the control valve works. When it opened like a mini hot water fire hydrant all over my groin. I screamed. But actually the water wasn’t all the way hot yet. Anyways, it’s done!

Then there were some other important things that happened. My dad made this nice cardboard cutout for me.


What’s it for? The sink! We got this hole cut last week. I still need a faucet and I guess a drain, though sometime soon I’m getting a free garbage disposal. Note: this is an undermount sink, so we have to rig it to make it work with a laminate countertop. But they’re temporary anyway.


Speaking of which, remember how they needed to be shimmed up, braced together, and screwed down?


It’s nice to have scrap wood.


And I glued the leftover edge pieces on. So now I think I have the best $50 countertops I could have possibly gotten. They still need almond caulk to hide those seams.


And while I had the Pex tools I took care of some other plumbing things. The terrifying pipe that could have destroyed my kitchen is now gone. And the capped lines for the kitchen sink have shut off valves on them. I’m all set until I decide to live high and get laundry appliances.


All those pipe fittings were in my basement from who knows when. I’m going to use whichever ones work for my sink, and then you see those bar codes? I’m gonna wash them off and just see if I can return them for store credit. Would I call this honest? No. But there might be 15 dollars for me in there!

A slow start to Operation Spraybooth

This past week we got started on the actual job of using my house as a spray booth. Well, the whole first floor and one bedroom. To start, we had to scrub everything down with steel wool, wire brushes, and sandpaper. I stripped parts of the bedroom furniture that peeled and the one piece that I redid with latex paint when I was a teenager. Word to the wise: don’t paint your furniture with latex paint. And then everything got a vigorous cleaning. All the furniture and the whole house (yay). See? Mommy is really going at it.


The armoire got a really neat distressed look at this point. Too bad the colors wouldn’t have worked just like this for my parents. But whatever.


And then I wire brushed, vacuumed, and washed the radiators. This dirt is just from 2 of them. And yes, I’ll never buy buckets again. The joint compound left me a lifetime supply.


And then we got out the electric sprayer and got to priming. The people at the paint store recommended a very high grade acrylic primer. No latex, just acrylic. It worked really well on the furniture. But I guess we were assuming that the old paint on the radiators was fully protecting them. Do you see where this is going?


Gasp! Rust spots everywhere!


Even bigger gasp! This one peeled!

So… we decided to cut the radiators from the job, get the furniture done, and get on with things. I need my floor space back. As if I ever had it. And so Monday came around and my dad and I got started with the spraying. Or I should say I got started with the spraying. Slowly, methodically, carefully, I followed the back and forth and up and down motion the instruction manual said to make.


Do you see where I went wrong? Yes, I moved slowly. And as I was going about with the sprayer, my dad let out a blood curdling scream. There were runs everywhere! And he started running around brushing them out. And hollering that brush strokes are better than runs. And that the plan to get a second coat on the same day was out the window now that the first coat was an eighth of an inch thick. This repeated for a while until I went out to lunch. Alone.

But it’s been resolved. When I got back the muttering was different. “Well this was a learning experience.” We’ve gotten along really well through all this work. Of course I’d better be nice since everything besides this that he did was huge favors that kinda saved my life. We went down Tuesday night to sand and things didn’t look so bad after all. And I got the radiators sprayed with Rustoleum. And yesterday I went back and touched them up again so now I feel confident that there will be no more spots coming through that oil-less oil based paint. And now the plan is to bang out everything tonight and tomorrow. Everything! Do you think it’ll work this time?

Taking one for the team

It’s been a while since I’ve written. But I’m finally done with those doors! They’re now stacked up in a closet upstairs again. For new progress, I’ve moved on to getting ready to spray paint. It might seem like I’m jumping around for no good reason, but (and I’m not going to name names) someone went on a long trip to Ireland and messed up everything. Changing gears isn’t so bad though. It meant that I had to finish that God-forsaken job of stripping the doors and move on to the even worse job of stripping a radiator. But now all that is done! In the end I gave up on the radiator and decided to turn it around and leave the residue of partially stripped paint facing the wall. And just like magic, look how clean it is!


Totally paint grade at least. And. I got 80 bucks for those bricks! Sold them to a guy up in the Northeast who wants to cut them down and use the faces to veneer a wall, and then mix up special mortar with horse hair in it and figure out a technique to make it look like mine. And of course mine looks the way it does just because I didn’t work to hard to get my bricks clean.


I’d love to see how that turns out. Sounds like a fun project So then, I power washed the living daylights out of my back yard and went to a yard sale and bought a whole bunch of flower pots.


This sounds crazy, but it’s not as bad as it sounds because I needed to make it nice before I bring in my grandmother’s wrought iron patio furniture. It’s supposed to go to my sister, but she’s going to have trouble getting it up to Boston. And I love her so much that I said I’ll keep it as long as she needs me to. So tomorrow into the city it comes. Sigh, I guess I can handle it.


And that means that for the time being, that cute oak bench is going back to the attic from whence it came. Much like my house, it needs way more work than I thought it did at first glance. So good riddance. I’ll pull it out in a year or two when I can stand to think about extra projects.

And… my neighbor gave me his vestibule door! I had a kinda decent one, but this one is acutally old, drilled for a mortise lock, and fitted with beveled glass!


But it gives me a dilemma. I have a set of cool art deco hardware that came with my house.


And I have 3 of these, enough for my entire first floor if I use something else in the basement stairwell. But… I could also keep this other knob that came from the house across the street if I want. And I think it’s even nicer. At least quality wise. But I only have 2 of these back plates.


So I should be back with talk of things I can stand soon. Plus some more jobs I can’t. In the meantime, what do you say about my hardware dilemma?

Rounding up paint options for Operation Spray Booth

I said last time that I need a good, durable paint for my radiators, and also for a half dozen pieces of furniture, most of which my dad sprayed about 30 years ago.


You can see that although it was a great paint job, it’s ready for a redo. (Also, you’re welcome, Mom, that I took the random Christmas decorations away before taking this photo.) Trouble is, it may be hard to get an equally great job this time around. Environmental regulations mean that good oil based paint, the kind that kills brain cells, destroys the ozone layer, and creates smog, is no longer available. Some reformulated versions are available by the quart at a much higher cost. Or I could buy spray cans. But I don’t like spending extra money for nothing. So let’s look at my other options.

  • Rustoleum industrial enamel. This is available by the gallon. It’s oil based, so it’s probably the closest you can get to an old fashioned oil based paint. It also contains rust inhibitors, which would be helpful on the radiators. I could use the same paint on the furniture. I could also use the same paint on the woodwork if I wanted to. The downsides? I’ve read that the more environmentally friendly oils used today yellow faster than the older ones. And this might be the most environmentally unfriendly product I could use overall. And spraying this stuff will mean I’ll have to sleep on a nearby friend’s couch since my house will reek of paint fumes and I’ll probably be in no condition to drive to my parents’ place afterwards. On the other hand, being high as a kite might allow me to go dancing.
  • Latex paint. The usual choice for residential painting is easy to get, low odor, relatively good for the environment, and dries fast. This makes it the most convenient option for woodwork, though not necessarily the best. It has latex plant fibers in it, so it isn’t super smooth, and it’s not durable enough for the heat of radiators or to perform properly on furniture. Some people polyurethane over it for furniture projects. Also, cast iron needs to at least be primed with oil or rust spots will bleed through the paint.
  • Waterborne alkyds. A few new paints have been developed that use the same alkyd resin that used to be in oil based paint, but with water instead. They’re supposed to be easier to clean up than latex, very low odor, and as hard as traditional oils. Benjamin Moore makes one that’s pure alkyd; some manufacturers make latex/alkyd hybrids. But I’ve read mixed reviews. Ironically, DIY’er blogs say they’re amazing but professional painters say they’re hard to use. They apparently don’t level out quite as smoothly as traditional oil paints, might require more coats, and take several months to cure to full hardness. This last part isn’t a huge deal since I can be delicate with my woodwork and what not. I thought about getting a dog, but may want a few months of no responsibilities anyway.
  • Pigmented polyurethane. General finishes makes a water based polyurethane that’s very hard and contains pigments to color it black or white (and the white can be tinted to custom colors). This is low odor and cures extremely hard and smooth. It works beautifully with a sprayer. And although it’s not available in the big boxes, I found a place where I can get it. Sadly, it doesn’t look like it will adhere to cast iron or previously painted wood. But I’m glad I read about it because it might be a good choice for my future kitchen cabinets. We’ll see.
  • General Finishes milk paint. I e-mailed for advice about the pigmented poly and they referred me to this. It’s not real milk paint but an acrylic that’s supposed to be very durable. It’s flat but you can coat it with polyurethane (not the poly that’s available pigmented) to make it sturdier and glossier. This is also an extra step, but I could possibly use the same poly on the doors. I’d also still need to use an oil based primer on the radiators. And… it’s a smaller brand and I don’t know that there are equivalents to compare it to.

I just wish I didn’t have to experiment on my own stuff.