Help me turn on my radiator
December 9, 2009 8:15 PM   Subscribe

My radiator won't turn on.

There are two essentially identical radiators in my apartment. One is working fine. The other won't turn on. The control for the radiator is a simple knob with 6 settings: off and 1-5. Regardless of the setting the radiator stays stone cold and there is no sound of steam. Apart from the control I have access to exactly one thing in the radiator, which you can see in this gallery.

I can turn the blue plastic tube, albeit with some difficulty. I have not tried more than a half turn or so in either direction. The white end piece, which connects by a bare metal wire to the control, is removable, as seen in the second picture. So, that's what I've got. How can I make this puppy go?

(Since this is an apartment I have no control over the boiler, but since my other radiator works I don't think the problem is with the boiler anyway.

I put in a maintenance request earlier today, but they never responded, and it's starting to get very cold in here (~60 degrees) even with the other radiator going full tilt, so I'd very much like to get this one going.)
posted by jedicus to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
I don't know how to get a radiator going, but is there an emergency maintenance number you could call?
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:30 PM on December 9, 2009

If the pipes are exposed try following them and seeing where the hot water stops, it's possible this radiator is on a different loop than the other one, and that loop is off at the boiler. Or that there is a control somewhere else in the line (at a T junction) that has been used to temporarily turn one radiator off.

The other issue is air in the system but I'd be wary of messing with an unfamiliar steam radiator. That thing you took a photo of could be a key for burping air which you don't want to try and do if you've never done it before. Especially on a steam radiator.
posted by fshgrl at 8:52 PM on December 9, 2009

Response by poster: No exposed pipes, so I can't be sure, but this is a 23 story building, so if a loop were off I imagine there would be a mob forming downstairs. I'm fairly confident the issue is particular to this radiator.

The building management here is kind of...callous is too good a word. I suspect they would say that since one radiator works it's not an emergency. Failing that they'd probably try to charge me for the work. We have an electric blanket, so we won't freeze (the non-functional radiator is in the bedroom), but it is mighty uncomfortable.
posted by jedicus at 9:00 PM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: radiators need bleeding. valves fail as well. is there a nut/square bolt/something similar at the top left or right of the radiator? if so, you might try bleeding the air out of the radiator. this is done by untightening that screw. you may need a special key, or you may be able to do it with standard tools. if you do open it, do it slowly, letting it hiss the air out. when liquid starts spewing out, you tighten it back up again.

if that doesn't work, your valve may have gone (the one with 1-5 on it). for that, call a heating engineer as replacement will start to involve professional skills.
i just looked at your pics. that small thin wire is a capillary tube that regulates the valve. as the room gets hotter the capillary tube sends gas to close the valve. if it is kinked somewhere it might not be working correctly. if it IS kinked, it need to be replaced.
posted by Frasermoo at 9:07 PM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: :) oh yeah, that 'simple knob'... they aren't always so simple. the removable piece is probably the thermostatic part of the valve assembly.

try the bleeding, if not replace the valve.
posted by Frasermoo at 9:11 PM on December 9, 2009

Response by poster: Unfortunately there's no way to bleed it that I can find. The tube doesn't look kinked, though it's not completely smooth, either. But if the tube were kinked, wouldn't that prevent the heat from turning off rather than coming on?

Regardless, I'm getting the impression that there's not much I can do.
posted by jedicus at 10:06 PM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: Your photo host appears to be down so I couldn't see the pictures. If your radiator works anything like the ones I'm used to, I recommend the following:

Twist and/or pry the "1-5" knob off of the radiator. Underneath it, you will probably find a metal pin. Strike the metal pin with a hammer. The pin will likely pop out compared to where it was before and the radiator will heat up. Replace the knob and you should be good to go.

Good luck!
posted by Juffo-Wup at 10:08 PM on December 9, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestion. There was indeed a round metal plate with what appeared to be a metal pin in it behind the knob. Unfortunately, a few good raps with a hammer did not dislodge the pin. I noticed that with the knob removed that it was possible to rotate the mechanism considerably further in either direction than with the knob in place. It didn't seem to have an effect other than affecting to what extent the metal plate could be pushed in.
posted by jedicus at 10:44 PM on December 9, 2009

Response by poster: Apparently the valve that controls the return of condensed water to the boiler was broken, so indeed there was nothing I could do to make it work.
posted by jedicus at 12:28 PM on December 10, 2009

Aww drat, I was really hoping the hammer/pin method would work. It's such a satisfying fix :).

Above all, I'm glad you got your heat back.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 2:16 PM on December 10, 2009

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