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Switch from copper fin to cast iron radiators

DynamwebzDynamwebz Member Posts: 13
My house originally had steam radiators. I know this as the old steam pipes were still in the basement and the rad foot prints are still in the oak floors with 1 hole to the basement. Someone ripped them out and replaced with a hot water, copper finned baseboard system. This BB covers a lot of nice wood in the house.
Since I'm not a fan of BB heat and have always had radiators, I am ripping out the copper and installing CI rads.
I did the math and arrived at the size needed for each room. Pricewise the rads are pretty expensive in restored condition. I was able to find 1 restored for a very low price from some going-out-of business house boneyard in Massachusetts. I got it home and air pressure tested for 24 hours. No leaks. But I needed 5 more.
I just found and purchased 2, covered in some type of exterior grade oil paint. Quite the mess. So I disassembled them using a sledge and wood wedge. Came apart rather easily. 20 sections each. Short (20 inches) and thin. I'm removing the push nipples and taking the 40 sections to a local guy for sandblasting. Hoping to reuse all the nipples. Should I apply any sealant to them before re-installation?
Once painted, what's the best way to re-assemble? I hesitate to simply insert the rods and start to tighten the nuts as I feel the tabs could snap. I did see a U-Tube vid where a large press was utilized. Well, I don't have one available.
I was thinking about cutting 4 lengths of 2x4 and drilling holes to match the rod holes in the rads. Then inserting long threaded rods and pressing one section at a time with the nuts and big washers while using the wood as buffers against the cast. Once together, re-insert the original rods. Sound ok? Is there a standard foot pound measurement used with a torque wrench?
I currently have 1 copper loop in the basement feeding 80 feet of copper BB. Should I install 2 loops of copper and feed 3 of the rads from each loop? I read 60 feet is max and darn if the last room on the loop never gets warm. The kitchen. I end up running my oven on low, with the door closed, quite a bit.
I did purchase those diverter valves (cant remember what they are called) to sweat to the copper feed diverting part of the feed water to a rad rather than simply running a continuous loop into and out of the radiators. Is that clear?
Another question, do I install 2 shut off valves to each radiator? I assume the reason is to be able to isolate the rad for repairs?
But, what if my calcs are off and I have 1 room getting too warm due to an oversized radiator. Do I remove a section of the rad or use the incoming valve to throttle down the amount of hot water entering the rad?
Thanks for any advise in advance.


  • SnowmeltSnowmelt Member Posts: 1,194
    I would be getting a manifold in basement next to the boiler and run 3/4 pipe to each baseboard. Also I wouldn't take rads apart, sounds like trouble. I would think of panel rads so there directly on wall and show all of your nice floor.
  • DynamwebzDynamwebz Member Posts: 13
    Yeah, I was thinking about the manifold. Need to read up on that.
    I looked at panel rads. They new panels are much too modern looking. Trying to keep my house looking more classic and true to it's original build. Many things have been modernized in this house. It's painstaking to get it back to what it was and the free standing rads are an original feature.
    And too late for taking them apart. Already done. At 100 bucks each and another 100 for blasting, I'll take the chance. If I get burned and buy reconditioned, I'll end up spending in the neighborhood of 700 each. Doing this myself reduces the cost by up to 2/3. 3500 vs 1000-1500.
  • IronmanIronman Member Posts: 5,677
    I agree with Snow about using a manifold. I also would not have taken them apart, but too late now,

    You MUST use new nipples unless you want to do the rads twice. Don't know why you would, but some folks are gluttons for punishment. Just lube them with some machine oil when assembling the sections.
    Bob Boan

    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • DynamwebzDynamwebz Member Posts: 13
    So, this site is called heating help? That seems to be a stretch.
    This was not my first stop in this project. I have actually received a plethora of information from other boards and blogs as well as speaking to open minded and genuinely helpful individuals. Just thought I'd tap some fresh info since this project has been on hold for a year.
    I assumed the experts on this site actually had experience with this sort of thing and could offer useful advice. I was wrong. (Other than the manifold advice, but that's new technology)
    BTW, plumbers who actually have experience with rebuilding radiators state they always re-use the push nipples unless damaged or leaking. And some actually collect nipples from broken rads for future use as they can be difficult to obtain.
    And imagine how difficult a 5 tube rad would be to refurbish WITHOUT disassembly. Might as well slop on another coat of exterior wood oil paint.
    I'm hanging with the wrong crowd here. I believe in actual restoration of proven technologies over cheap and easy alternatives. Like the fine homebuilding crowd who told me to get new vinyl replacement windows to replace my old leaking vinyl replacement windows when I was actually looking for advice on building new wood double hung windows. I didn't listen and my new wood windows are far superior. Self made, and yeah, 5 prototypes first. I am a glutton...
    I'm actually surprised nobody recommended I replace the old slant fin with new slant fin cuz that's what they would hav dun.
  • SnowmeltSnowmelt Member Posts: 1,194
    I'll speak up, were heating guys dealing with pipes, pumps, heating emmiters, fuel, and of course a boiler, where not really into rebuilding radiators, no one ever approch me to brake a radiator apart. I actuallaly never heard of taking a radiater apart and put it back together, that's just not our thing.
  • FranklinDFranklinD Member Posts: 399
    Yeesh. Sorry, friend, but the last 12 radiators I have refinished I have NEVER split sections apart. Except for making them easier to transport, I've never seen the need. Granted, I'm just a homeowner and tinkerer, not a pro, but it seems like unnecessary work. I beadblasted them all myself at work and then had them powder coated and they look great. My powdercoat guy didn't have any issues with em. I really didn't want to take the risk of taking them apart because they're 108 years old and rare around here.

    Though if I did, I'd replace the push nipples. It's cheap insurance against possible future leaks. And considering how much effort I've put into restoring my hardwood floors and plaster trimwork, dealing with the rads is something I only want to do once.

    Just my $0.02.
    Ford Master Technician, "Tinkerer of Terror"
    Police & Fire Equipment Lead Mechanic, NW WI
    Lover of Old Homes & Gravity Hot Water Systems
    Bob Bona_4RobG
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    "" BTW, plumbers who actually have experience with rebuilding radiators state they always re-use the push nipples unless damaged or leaking. And some actually collect nipples from broken rads for future use as they can be difficult to obtain. ""

    I understand that your smarts far outweighs our experience.

    In my over 40 years at this, I have had quite a few frozen radiators that I had to repair. And was able to replace an end or intermediate section or three. They never were the same (to my satisfaction). Most people that want to use old radiators, or people that recondition old radiators, clean the old paint off and re-paint them. Maybe they know something that your Internet Experts tell you, don't.

    All old push nipples aren't the same. Unless you're seriously experienced with the use of Micrometers, you won't know if your push nipples are correct until you find out that the sections won't go together as they were supposed to.

    A few years ago, a big house froze up with over 15 radiators breaking. All the broken radiators were collected and put on pallets. Put on a big tractor trailer and taken to New Bedford, MA where a Wholesale Supplier had the old equipment from back in the days when you ordered the "standard" radiators that they stocked, and the "Un-Standard" ones were assembled. They had a large hydraulic press to do it. Plus, they water tested them too.

    So, how are you going to put these radiators back together? Like some of us have had to? Put the sections against a solid wall, put the new section and nipples on, put a 2X6 against the end and beat it with a 10# Top Mall/Sledge Hammer? Then, there's the issue of the threaded rod needed to help pull it together and hold it. You going to cut how many separate pieces to hold it? Those people that advised you that this is a good idea, don't have a clue of what your project is like to do. Or else, they are like me. Who enjoys dealing in understatements. And am always up for good entertainment.

    No one here would tell you to not clean up old radiators and use them over. What I personally doubt is that there would be a lot of support for you to do what you did. Take each and every radiator apart so as to clean and paint it. Then, re-assemble it. And not have a leak somewhere.

    You're smart. We're not.
  • DynamwebzDynamwebz Member Posts: 13
    I had a feeling my earlier flame would get some responses.

    Unfortunately I do not own a bead blaster. I did price them. And with the added cost of a 10 cfm air compressor, it's not cost justifiable. And powder coating must look great as well. Although I'm going for the antique look.
    But, as a sanity check as it's been a while since my mind was on radiator refurbishing, I just called the man that performed the refurbish on the below rad. Thought I had lost his number or I would have called sooner.
    That was a complete disassemble, bead blast, sand, prime and paint each section in antique pewter and reassemble with a pressure test. So no, I'm not prematurely loosing it.
    I asked about push nipples. He cleans and re-uses unless they are damaged.
    He stated that most full sized rads are breakdowns but he sometimes does not breakdown the slenderized unless the customer is real picky about the job.

    rad2.jpg 184.9K
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Your sandblasting, radiator dismantling expert is a lucky dude.

    My old dead boss wouldn't have used a old push nipple over if you begged and paid him. He had his reasons. They made sense to me.
  • FranklinDFranklinD Member Posts: 399
    Lord knows I've done many by just hours of sanding, scraping, cleaning (and repeat a few times), then careful painting with small brushes and a hotdog roller. And after the workout that it was to do disconnect, haul up and down stairs, in and out of the house and truck, etc, without spilling the 'leftovers' all over the floors, I'll probably never go that route again.

    My moms house has old rads that she has just painted over the years. She says twice, I believe, in 35 years. I think they look fine. The scrollwork still stands out and they heat perfectly.

    There's nothing wrong , per se, with the way you're going about it, it just isn't (as far as I know) a standard practice. Some houses around here have 15-20 BIG would get pretty pricey and labor intensive. I think most in the industry just let sleeping dogs lie.

    Best of luck.
    Ford Master Technician, "Tinkerer of Terror"
    Police & Fire Equipment Lead Mechanic, NW WI
    Lover of Old Homes & Gravity Hot Water Systems
  • DynamwebzDynamwebz Member Posts: 13
    I'm just stubborn detail oriented. I'm not happy until I'm happy. And around here, if I call and ask to get a rad blasted, I get blasted for even asking. Too heavy.
    And honestly, what's the big deal breaking down 2 rads and getting a flawless paint job? Lazy I'm not. But with a soon to be ex and 3 (semi grown) kids, the term "money is no object" does not apply here.
    So I resort to brute strength to get most of my home work done. I need a new roof? Ok, I'll rip off the old one next weekend.
  • FranklinDFranklinD Member Posts: 399
    I guess I take for granted the area I live in. Shipyards, trucking industries, heavy equipment repair (my employment), and all that jazz...a 600 pound radiator is nothing to most of these places fortunately.

    Our equipment operators are tearing down 3 more vacant houses next week... I'm hoping to score some radiators from the dilapidated Victorian that's on the list. The last bunch they found they scrapped without my knowledge. I told em I'd pay scrap plus 10% to save them, and we have a deal (hoping to find a big'un for my basement).

    Breaking the rad apart isn't a big deal. It's usually the reassembly that doesn't go too well without new nipples. Mostly just hearsay and no real experience on that subject, but Googling the topic brought up a lot of horror stories when I was researching prior to doing mine...I would assume it's dependent on the age of the radiator, as one from the 40's would likely fare better than one from the 00's (which is all we have around here). Probably also depends on how well the system was maintained, steam/hot water, how much oxy corrosion, and so on.

    I know there's at least one company, and now maybe more, machining brand new push nipples. Some of mine are push nipple style, the others are threaded, and if there's a company making replacement threaded nipples for them I haven't found it yet sadly.
    Ford Master Technician, "Tinkerer of Terror"
    Police & Fire Equipment Lead Mechanic, NW WI
    Lover of Old Homes & Gravity Hot Water Systems
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Member Posts: 4,412
    For reassembly (not that I have done it) I wouldn't think it isn't much different from any tapered assembly on any other machine type part. You just need to make sure the force is exerted down the center line of what you are trying to assemble. If it was me I would start with having the plugs pulled from both ends of the radiator. Then use a couple pieces of channel or angle steel across the openings. Then use a piece of all thread right through the radiator and through the steel on either end. A piece of wood between the steel and rad might not be a bad idea either (cushion). Then you should just be able to run a nut down the all thread and pull it all together. I would definitely lube the threads and use a fairly thick all thread size. I think Steamhead has mentioned that he uses high temp silicone on the push nipples to make sure they don't leak, but I think that was for water is a different animal. Just my $.02
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • SnowmeltSnowmelt Member Posts: 1,194
    Your all brave, my cousin just bought her first house, it's a steám home, there were more then a few that the shut off wasn't working ( they were original ). Plus she wanted them painted white from grey which was understandable. Just to get them to the garage was a pain in the butt. Taking out the male nipple with the Union for the new shut off was such a pain in the ****. I actually shaped a few nipples trying to get them out, had to get a saw zaw and cut them in half inside the rad. What a pain in the ****.
  • FranklinDFranklinD Member Posts: 399
    Must depend on a lot of factors...the nipples for the valve unions all came out of mine fairly easily with a pipe wrench. Some did distort but I replaced them anyway (new valve assemblies).

    But yeah, moving them sucks, especially down from a 3rd floor with a VERY steep staircase and a sharp 90* at the bottom. Not doing it again for free ;-)
    Ford Master Technician, "Tinkerer of Terror"
    Police & Fire Equipment Lead Mechanic, NW WI
    Lover of Old Homes & Gravity Hot Water Systems
  • SnowmeltSnowmelt Member Posts: 1,194
    I pretty much have to its a family thing, there always there for me. At first she wanted to take the steám out and convert to baseboard. We had to talk her out of that, baseboard would be a pretty penny and a lot of labor. Not to mention converting the boiler from steám to hotwater.
  • Larry_52Larry_52 Member Posts: 181
    I have split radiators and removed sections and squeezed the back together with old nipples. What I learned is that reusing nipples can be a real crap shoot. Through failures I learned to wire wheel them clean and using loctite #2 or permatex #2 on them prior to assembly. This brought my success rate up significantly. Squeezing them together is best done with a metal jig with two angle plates and a bottle jack. Now that I have my own 30 ton press this got a lot easier. I rarely have luck with radiant convectors as the cast boss that accepts the nipples can crack easily if you are not putting the bottle jack force evenly to the sections.

    You have to realize that if you ask professionals what is the best of wrong ways to do something you are going to be ignored at a minimum.
    Bob Bona_4Ironman
  • RobGRobG Member Posts: 1,850
    Zman said:

    It sounds like you have it all figured out. Yup, just put them back together with the techniques you have see on You-Tube and you should be good to go. Thanks for stopping by.

    And long distance!
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    I've seen old (and young) quality painters, take an old painted radiator, have it removed so they have complete 360 degree access to the radiator, and with long handle narrow paint brushes, completely paint a old radiator to perfection.

    I've seen old and new radiators taken to a body shop to have them professionally spray painted. On close inspection, the guy with the paint brush did a finer job. No inside holidays in the painting. Old 3 column radiators are gravy jobs. A modern radiator with slender tubes, 6 or 8 tubes per section can be difficult. Harder when you spray and not get runners or holidays.

    In the old time world of new radiators, I never saw them dismantled to be painted. Just quality painters putting on a quality paint job.
  • DynamwebzDynamwebz Member Posts: 13
    Allrighty then, the old timer who was going to do my rads has taken ill.
    Found another guy, he wants 600 bills each. Nope. That would get real expensive.
    And yes, I totally understand that asking a bunch of pros how to do something the wrong way will get me ignored.
    But who says knocking down the rads is wrong? Some say it is, others say it isn't.
    And I agree with the youtube statement. A bunch of either no nothings or so little info packed into 20 minutes it's pathetic.
    But zman, I don't have it all figured out, that's why I posted here.
    But zman, I don't have it all figured out, that's why I posted here.
    Oops, did I do that?
    But some here have given some good info or confirmed what I logically concluded was the path to success.
    I'm researching the manifold method and my son in law to be, who is a NE tech HVAC graduate will be installing it with me.
    Since these rads came apart so easily, lucky I'm sure, I decided, against everyone's better judgment on this "discussion" board, to just suck it up and do it myself.
    I didn't need to use a pipe wrench to remove the nipples, just found a bolt with a solid spacer the same diameter as the nipples. A couple hammer raps and out they came.
    So, I got a HD special, 60 gal 3.8 hp upright air compressor. 4 bills. Then off to Harbor Freight to pick up a blast cabinet. 160.
    Still need 3 used rads 20" tall. Anyone in the northeast got any? I live in Cranston RI.
    I'll keep posting if for no other reason than maybe, just maybe, some poor, dumb slob like me may be researching this same subject and may actually learn enough to make an informed decision rather than accepting defeat without even trying.
    Crap, there's 2 1/2 feet of snow to blow out of my drive.
  • Rich_49Rich_49 Member Posts: 2,540
    edited January 2015
    Go rescue a couple rads from the scrap yard . Works with pets . But you can try here ,
    You didn't get what you didn't pay for and it will never be what you thought it would .
    Langans Plumbing & Heating LLC
    Serving most of New Jersey, Eastern Pa .
    Consultation, Design & Installation anywhere
    Rich McGrath 732-581-3833
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