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Common household remedies request

I'm getting tired of waiting for my furnace guy. Any of you with old houses and single pipe steam systems know if this is true?

A representative of the company told me that old-house owners have reported great success with his company's product, J-B Weld on old cast-iron radiators.

But to fix a leak, you first have to be able to get at it, right? So consider this. Before using J-B Weld, you have to drain the radiator and remove any paint, primer, or rust. Next, you have to thoroughly clean the surface with a non-petroleum-based cleaner such as acetone or lacquer thinner, removing all dirt, grease and oil. Then you have to rough up the surface with a file, mix the two elements of the product in 50/50 proportions, and apply it to a thickness of no less than 1/32-inch. Don't get any on your skin or in your eyes. Finally, you let it dry for at least 15 hours, and see what you've got.

Can you do that?

I asked if the product could take the temperature along with the expansion and contraction common in cast-iron radiators. They told me the product actually "softens" when heated and will move with the metal. It's not the sort of 'softening' you'll notice, though. You’d have to get the temperature up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, to see that (the product is good up to 600 degrees.) Typically, a radiator in a steam-heating system will get up to about 229 degrees tops. So if you can get at the leak, it sounds like this stuff will work.

The challenge, of course, is that an antique radiator can have more nooks and crannies than a Thomas' English muffin, and a good leak knows where to hide. But if you're in love with that old radiator, it's certainly worth a try.

The company sells only to wholesalers, and only in quantity, but you can buy J-B Weld for about five bucks at most automotive and hardware retail stores.

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Submitted by hipparchia on

i don't know anything at all about j-b weld, or any other such products, but i can tell you a couple of things about cast iron.

first, it's fairly brittle as metals go, and prone to cracking at points of stress. if this is what's caused your leak, and there's only been one or two stress points, you may have some luck fixing it, whatever materials you end up using.

otherwise, given the right conditions, cast iron [like other metals] can have more or less widespread corrosion, and all the corroded areas will be weak, with some weaker than others. the oft-replayed scenario here is that the weakest spot gives way, thus relieving pressure on all the other weak spots. fix one weak spot and the next blows [though not necessarily right away, so you can perhaps get off reasonably scot-free in this situation too].

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

Lambert- the link you gave lists a place in MA that deals in antique/ old radiators:

A-1 New and Used Plumbing & Heating Supplies
http://www.antiqueplumbingandradiators.c...

They have a lot of radiator pix, but no prices. They also repair radiators. Maybe some kind person there would give you general info about radiator repair, and whether the J-B Weld process would likely work. I've had some really good luck with helpful people at these kind of specialty places, or rather individual outfits, owner run. (I'm thinking of all the time I spent at Larry and Joe's Plumbing in "the valley".)

Sounds like, assuming the info in the post is correct, you could spend a good deal on materials to strip paint, clean rust and so forth, and maybe you can fix the leak (or leaks as Hipp points out).

Any chance you could put a pic of the radiator in question? Are you totally attached to it, or just trying to get through the season? Are you into the do-it-yourself thing, or would you consider replacing it? I guess I'm thinking of a cost/ benefit analysis here. ;)

Submitted by lambert on

It's solely a question of money. If I don't have to pay a guy to haul the new one upstairs and install it, I'm a happy camper.

Andre's picture
Submitted by Andre on

a radiator, but if you insist on radiators, you might just want to replace it with one of these. But here's a question for you, after hearing about your steam system: doesn't it strike you as being a bit much to raise water to 212 degrees to heat a room to 70 degrees. A bit wasteful of energy I've said in the past. I used to have steam and in 1998 changed over to hot water with circulators. The water is heated to 120 degrees and is ciuculated thru the system. I kept the original radiators which were 62 years old, needed no repairs on them and had no leaks. It was just a matter of connections from the system to the radiators, both ends, due to the circulation. In the very small bathroom I wanted to get the radiator off the floor so I could replace the floor and I used a brand new Runtal, hung on the wall, which works perfectly except it cools down faster than the original radiators. They're made right outside Haverhill MA. While I was at it, I changed to five zones (this is a six room house), but eventually gave the Runtal a separate zone, due to its difference (I heat the bathroom to 73 for one hour in the morning to take a shower). Every zone has a programmable thermostat. You keep the original radiators and it cuts down on cost in replacing the system considerably. IMO, radiators are the best heating element you can use. This was a very cheap installation and ongoing operation. Thought I'd share this with you.

Submitted by lambert on

.... and I'll replace that steam system toot sweet! And great link on radiators, but I'm going to buy a reconditioned Victorian for $30 bucks that I do have, and not a keen modern one for $545 bucks that I don't have.

Seriously, I like single pipe steam. It's simple, rugged, and robust. What I don't like is the oil furnace, which is what I'd replace first.

And I don't know that I accept the argument on 212 vs. 70 [are you demented? 65, max]. The water is heated to that temperature only at the boiler, and the steam expands almost instantly through the system. It's not like I'm filling the pipe up with water that needs to circulate. Got a link that shows why a hot water system is more efficient than single pipe steam?

Andre's picture
Submitted by Andre on

that heating water to 120 is cheaper than heating water to 212, then I can't convince you of anything. But seriously, it's a slower process but you have thermostats that have 'recovery modes' which will get you to 70 (or 65 if you wish, which you could probably raise to 70 if you didn't have to boil all the water that heats your house!) at the appropriate time. I'll see if I can get you a link on a comparison. Just out of curiosity, are you French? You have that particular French hardheadedness which I know so well, since I also have it.

Andre's picture
Submitted by Andre on

that heating water to 120 is cheaper than heating water to 212, then I can't convince you of anything. But seriously, it's a slower process but you have thermostats that have 'recovery modes' which will get you to 70 (or 65 if you wish, which you could probably raise to 70 if you didn't have to boil all the water that heats your house!) at the appropriate time. I'll see if I can get you a link on a comparison. Just out of curiosity, are you French? You have that particular French hardheadedness which I know so well, since I also have it.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

it's always warm in France, right? /scampers/

are you trying to heat a room cheaply? if that's your goal, i have one word for you: electric blanket. ok, that's two. but if penny pinching is your goal in winter, you can't beat it.

i'm with andre: i don't think radiator heat is the way to go. i had that when i lived in chicago, and while i loved it (the moisture they put in the air keeps the skin so soft in winter), i also didn't have to pay for it (university student housing benefits). as a heating system it seems inefficient and antiquated. but i know nothing about heating technology, so i'll shut up now. except to say a heating pad on the back of your office chair and a heated blanket on your bed make it possible to take the house thermostat down to 50 in the wintertime.

poverty: i know all the tricks.

Valley Girl's picture
Submitted by Valley Girl on

Just wear wear while you are sleeping under the electric blanket. I have several available. I started buying cashmere sweaters ages ago at a great local thrift store- average price $4.29. I bought them to take apart for knitting, but many have escaped that fate. I have special ones for sleeping in, but others are still available. I go with CD's suggestion for heating pads too. My heating/ AC system packed up a few years ago. So...

Submitted by lambert on

... but the radiator is in another part of the house that I can't leave unheated. I really do need to fix the damn radiator, since that is the absolutely cheapest course, and since it also doesn't impact my electricity bill at all. (I'd rather take a one-time hit.)

Right now, the room is directly above the wood stove (which hurts my own) so I'm in no emergency, but if we do get cold weather, I could end up in trouble. Pipes in the walls freezing, and so forth.

Sounds to me like I could get a solvent and a file, then add the JB Weld.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Single (or double) pipe steam actually is a quite energy efficient heat system since you don't need to spend the electricy for a pump. Most large heating systems are steam because it is more efficient rather than less. I've got the same system Lambert does (with natural gas rather than oil). It was installed in the early 1900's and still going strong (although converted from coal to NG).

I wish I knew where the leaks were, in the past I recommended over-drilling the hole and tapping/screwing something like a bolt or screw into the drilled hole. I've also heard JB weld can work.

If you don't care what it looks like the other thing you can do is take some stainless steel hose clamps, cover the holes with thick rubber gasket material and tighten the hose clamps directly over the leak area to force the rubber into the crack. With careful application this can work even over irregular surfaces.