Homeowners Guide To Plumbing & Heating

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If you’re not a DIY enthusiast, even very basic plumbing can appear complicated and mysterious. It’s absolutely crucial to many functions of your home, but most of it you can’t see and the bits you can see — like the stop cock — have funny sounding names. In this plumbing how to guide, it’s our aim to demystify the plumbing in your home and get you up to speed with basic plumbing.

Common plumbing terms

Below are some of the basic plumbing terminology you’re likely to hear if you call out a local plumbing service:

  • Stop cock: also known as a stop valve or tap, this is the main on/off switch for your water supply
  • Ball cock: this is in your toilet — when the toilet is flushed, the water level lowers, opening the ball cock to let in more water to restore the level
  • Float ball: connected to the ball cock, as its name suggests this floats on the water and controls the ball cock
  • Overflow: a system preventing tanks from overflowing 
  • Bleed: The process of draining a pipe (e.g. a radiator) of excess air by opening a valve
  • Storage cistern:  this where cold water is stored before it goes into the hot water system
  • Water pressure: the water pressure is indicated on your boiler — if the gauge reads below 1, you have low pressure and this will adversely affect your hot water supply
  • Air lock: an air bubble causing a blockage in the hot water system
  • Indirect water system: most common system in UK homes, it feeds water via a stop cock into your home from outside, supplying drinking water to the kitchen tap whilst the other taps are supplied by the storage cistern
  • Direct water system: more recent system, it sends mains pressured drinking water to every cold tap

Hopefully knowing these terms will help you avoid basic plumbing issues in the future, and allow you to make sense of any free advice you might receive.

Leaks

Everyone knows how disruptive even a small leak like a dripping tap can be to the atmosphere of a home. Over time this dripping can also cost you quite a bit of money, or develop into a more serious problem. As part of this plumbing how to guide, we’re going to tell you how to test for leaks.

If your water bills are suspiciously high, it’s worth checking if you have a problem with leaks before calling out a local plumbing service. To check for leaks:

  1. Take a meter reading. Your water meter is normally located on the public pavement outside the property, but it is sometimes found next to the stop cock.
  2. Now you have your benchmark, disconnect appliances that use water from the mains. Be ready with a bucket for when you disconnect the water hose from the back of the appliance.
  3. Leave it overnight and check your water meter again in the morning. If your water usage has gone up, you most likely have a leak and it’s time to call your local plumbing service.

Drain cleaning

No homeowners plumbing guide would be complete without a section on drain cleaning. Is there anything worse than a sink filled to the brim with dirty brown water, making washing up absolutely impossible? First, let’s explain the difference between drain cleaning and drain clearing.

Drain clearing is the process whereby a specific blockage is removed. In contract, drain cleaning describes a comprehensive service whereby the whole drain is fully flushed clean. If you’ve tried the former and your drain is still blocked, or you have a persistent slow drainage problem, you need drain cleaning.

A local plumbing service as provided by Bicester Property Interiors will be able to provide you with a drain cleaning service.

Basic fixes

We’ve already touched on some basic plumbing fixes for things like leaks, but there’s another basic plumbing fix you need to know about and that’s how to use a plunger.

We guarantee that learning how to unclog a sink will come in handy, and although it seems straightforward, here’s a few tips that will help you along: 

  1. First thing’s first, make sure you’re using the right plunger for the job. A kitchen sink plunger has a plain round cup, whilst a toilet plunger has a higher dome and a section of rubber inside the cup.
  2. Ensure there’s a small amount of water in the sink when plunging — it should be just enough to cover the head of the plunger, helping to create a seal.
  3. If you’re plunging a bathroom sink, you’ll need to block the overflow opening with a damp cloth. Otherwise, there’ll be no seal and therefore no suction.

Another great tip is that you can weaken the clog beforehand by pouring a small amount of water and bicarbonate of soda down the drain.

When to call professionals

We hope that this homeowners plumbing guide saves you the expense of calling out a professional plumber. However, you will need to contact your local plumbing service if you have tried solving your problem with our advice above and it hasn’t worked, or if you have a more serious plumbing issue. 

In the case of installation, you should also always use experienced professionals. Whether it’s an appliance, pipes, or drains, you don’t want your plumbing to be installed incorrectly.

At Bicester Property Interiors, we offer a complete repair and maintenance local plumbing service. We have a team of experienced plumbers who can handle complex plumbing such as the installation of electric and mixer showers. You can read about the full range of our services here.

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6. Radiator Repair: When To Ask for Help

Like everything in life, we take radiators for granted until something goes wrong. Then suddenly you’re shivering, freezing cold and wishing that someone had taught you all about radiators at school! Not to worry — we can talk you through some common radiator issues and whether or not they warrant professional help.

Common radiator issues

If you’re happy getting your hands dirty and doing a bit of DIY, then this guide should save you the expense of calling out a professional plumber.

We receive a number of calls every week about cold radiator, radiator whistling, hissing radiators, radiator clicking, and of course leaking home radiators.

Whilst there are some issues that require professional help, there are plenty of things you as a homeowner can do before you have to call out a plumber.

What should I do if my radiators aren’t working?

In what way is your radiator not working? Turn on the central heating and then carefully feel for the heat — is the radiator cold at the top or at the bottom, or all over?

My radiator is cold at the top but warm at the bottom

If the heat isn’t reaching the top of your radiator, it means there is air trapped inside and the radiator needs bleeding. Thankfully, this is a relatively simple process, so long as you own a radiator key:

  1. Turn off your central heating and wait for the radiator to cool down
  2. Place an old towel on the floor below the ‘bleed screw’ — the valve at the top of the radiator
  3. Use the radiator key to loosen the bleed screw anti-clockwise
  4. You should hear a hissing sound. Keep the valve open until the hissing has stopped
  5. Once the hissing has stopped, retighten the bleed screw and turn the heating back on to make sure the bleeding has worked

My radiator is warm at the top but cold at the bottom

The waterflow is being restricted or redirected at the middle and bottom of the radiator. This means there is rust blocking the pipes. Remember, radiators are made from either steel or iron, so iron oxide (fancy word for rust) will eventually accumulate as water passes through. Having said that, blockage can also be caused or exacerbated by limescale. Most of the time this demands tricky specialist solutions like power flushing or chemical cleaning, so you’re better off calling a professional.

My radiator is cold all over

This could be due to a number of things, including rust blocking the pipes, frozen valves stopping the flow of water, or a problem with your boiler.

What should I do if my radiator’s leaking?

The only way to stop the leaking is to stop the flow of water into the radiator and allow the existing water time to drain out.

  1. Turn off your central heating
  2. Turn off the mains (you can find out how to do this in our plumbing guide — link to guide once live)
  3. Open the radiator valves and put down a bucket or a thick towel to catch the  draining water
  4. Wait for the radiator to drain

Please bear in mind that this is not a long term solution and you will need to call out a plumbing professional if you have a leaking home radiator.

Why is my radiator making a noise?

Radiators make noise for a variety of reasons, and most of the time there’s nothing to be worried about. 

Whistling

Radiator whistling, sometimes also referred to as a hissing radiator, is usually caused by water entering into the radiator either too quickly or too slowly. You can solve radiator whistling yourself by turning the valves fully on. 

Clicking

Although we receive a lot of calls about radiator clicking, this is actually completely normal! This is the sound the radiator makes when it’s heating up and cooling down.

Sometimes, there’s also a clicking sound below the floorboards. We once had a call out from someone who thought this was a sign there was a mouse living below their radiator, but it’s actually just the sound of the pipes expanding and contracting!

Tapping

Tapping is a more serious radiator noise. It could also be described as a gurgling or hammering sound. 

It could be caused by air in the radiator, in which case it just needs bleeding and you can follow the steps provided above. However, it can also mean loose pipes below the floor or be the result of an incorrectly fitted thermostatic valve.

Radiator noise can be perfectly normal but remember, if the sound is a loud and persistent tapping or hammering, it may be a more serious issue that requires professional help.

When to ask a professional

To recap on the advice we’ve provided, you should always call a professional plumber in the event of a leaking home radiator and a tapping or hammering radiator noise. 

However, remember that radiator noise in and of itself is not necessarily a problem! It can just be a natural effect of the radiator and its associated pipes heating up or cooling down. 

You can temporarily stop a leaking home radiator by turning off the mains and draining the radiator, but this is only a temporary solution and a professional will need to be called.

Likewise, a cold radiator may just need bleeding, but it could be indicative of a more serious issue like rust. 

Also please remember that if you aren’t the DIY type because you’re busy or your mind just doesn’t work that way, Bicester Property Services are happy to carry out any kind of radiator repair and maintenance, including bleeding!