Thursday 16 May 2013

Big Boss

The Big Boss
In the manual I touched briefly on the wonder of “bosses” - no not that annoying dip-stick that keeps on giving you hassle even while he’s paying your salary but the fitting used to connect pipes of different sizes to each other which, in order to encourage confusion, is also called ‘a boss’.

The most common sort of ‘boss’ that you’ll come across is the ‘strap-on-boss’ - which sounds like a sex toy but isn’t. The main problems with these are that the hole you need to cut rarely seems to conform to the standard sizes in most hole cutting kits, the strap itself is awkward to fit at the best of times and nigh on impossible to fit on every other occasion and if everything is less than perfect they have a habit of leaking.

The only reason they have a strap is to draw the boss onto the main pipe whilst the glue dries. So when you think about it there have got to be alternative approaches, yes? Well there are but most use some sort of rubber bung that you expand and they tend to be more expensive and rarely as good.

Fortunately there is now a better alternative, the “Big Boss”.

At first sight this just looks like a strap-on-boss that they’ve forgotten to put the strap on, then you notice the little flexible teeth on the inside. It’s these teeth that perform the job of the now passé ‘strap’.

To fit them just follow these simple steps:
  • Cut the hole, the size of which they have conveniently set to match the holes cut by most hole-cutting kits.
  • Get rid of any swarf and give the hole a little chamfer using either a round file or a utility knife.
  • Add your glue to the boss and the pipe.
  • Push the boss into place. The teeth put up a bit of resistance at first then they slide into the hole and snap open again, holding the boss firmly in place whilst the glue sets.

Not only do they seem easier to fit but they’re less prone to damage when stored in your van and are actually a little cheaper! The only downside I can see is that you might struggle to apply sufficient pressure whilst teetering on a ladder but, so far at least, I haven’t heard a bad word said about them.

You can buy them on EBay or just pop to your local plumbing merchants – PTS definitely sells them. The manufacturer, Rodetal, seems to shun the internet but they do have a blog to keep us all updated on developments as more and more sizes and colours become available.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Sauter Detach Motorised Valves

Detach 3-port valve

In a traditional central heating system - where you have a boiler and a hot water cylinder i.e. not a Combi boiler - the boiler itself has no idea what it is heating. All it knows is that cool water comes into it and - with luck - hot water leaves. Where that hot water goes is none of its concern.

The same cannot be said for the homeowner, who is often very concerned as to where all that fully-paid-for hot water is going, so most CH systems will have within them one or more ‘motorised valves’. These are usually hidden in the airing cupboard next to the hot water cylinder and they control what gets hot; the radiators, the hot water cylinder, or both.

To perform this vital function they contain a number of moving parts and the sad thing about moving parts, especially ones constantly immersed in water, is that sooner or later they give up the ghost and expire, usually in the dead of winter when they are needed most. As such they are one of the most frequently replaced parts of a central heating system.

We went through the process of how to replace these valves within the Haynes Home Plumbing Manual but at the time I had never heard of the “Detach” motorised valves by Sauter, possibly because they weren’t sold in the UK at the time. This was a shame because they seem to be very good valves that offer real benefits to plumbers and DIY enthusiasts alike.

First off they come with a detachable lead. This doesn’t sound like much but it’s the wiring that is often the most daunting aspect of replacing one of these valves. Quite why, in the vast decades that motorised valves have been around, no one else had ever thought of inventing a lead that could just be unplugged is one of life’s great mysteries, but fortunately Sauter did make that breakthrough and life is now just that little bit easier as a result.

Of course this is of little help if you’re putting a Sauter valve in for the first time but at least any subsequent repairs and replacements will be considerably easier.

Another nice point is the easy-to-detach head. This is where the actual motor – often called an actuator – resides and it is often this part that dies well before the main valve. As such it’s very handy if this can be removed quickly and easily. Fortunately most manufacturers offer this feature these days - Honeywell being the notable exception. 

Bizarrely, the Sauter valve doesn’t just rely on a nice simple button to remove the valve but insists that you remove a small screw first. This seems unnecessarily inconvenient bearing in mind that these valves are usually set in fairly cramped conditions, but there you are.

Finally, this is one of the few valves that actually tells you what it’s doing. Rather than listening for the sound of the motor, or trying to catch a glimpse of the lever arm moving this valve has a two lovely little lights, one labelled CH and the other HW. Again, a really simple improvement that was somehow beyond the wit of every other manufacturer.

To put the icing on the cake, they are also pretty well priced and rumour has it that they are looking to develop heads that will fit onto other manufacturers valve bodies, so you can get all the benefits of the Sauter Detach without the hassle of replacing the old valve completely.

All in all a very welcome product.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Magnaclean Professional 2

If you like money and hate a cold house one of the best things you can buy is a Magnaclean. 

It’s just a magnet fitted into the CH system – usually just before the boiler – and it removes all the magnetic debris from the water as it flows around the radiators and pipework. Since almost all of the debris in a central heating system either starts off magnetic or soon becomes mixed in with magnetic ‘stuff’ this means it takes almost all the gunk out of the system. As a result your boiler works better and lasts longer, your radiators generate more heat for less energy and your wallet can relax and take you out to the pub to celebrate.

The magnetic approach to cleaning a central heating system was so efficient and so simple that everyone got in on the act and slowly but surely the Magnaclean lost ground in terms of features, ease of use, ease of fitting etc.

Fortunately Adey are not the sort of company to sit around bemoaning their fate and so was born the Magnaclean Professional 2, which addresses all of the problems of the earlier version:
  • It is a piece of cake to fit, so much easier than the original, with far fewer parts to cause trouble. 

  • It’s got a drain off at the base now so you can drain down the contents, making it much easier to use as a dosing point for Inhibitor chemicals.

  • The older version could only be accessed by taking the lid off, meaning that you had to have quite a bit of clearance above the unit to service it. Bearing in mind that boilers are often crammed into tiny little kitchen cupboards these days, this was not a good idea. The new version solves this problem by using a push-fit mechanism to hold the unit onto its isolation valves. By simply loosening a screw you can now quickly detach the unit altogether, take it out of its tiny cupboard and service it at your leisure. So you now need very little clearance above and below the unit.

All in all it’s a much improved product and we’re fitting loads of them, partly because they are so good and partly because we’re trying to win a new van J

Sunday 24 February 2013


You were the only one!

I’ve just been proofreading the manual – bit late now but what the hell – and noticed that I completely failed to mention macerators.

When you fit a new bathroom getting the hot and cold water into the new room is usually pretty straight forward. What can be far more complicated is getting the waste water out again. This shouldn’t be a surprise but it often is.

The problem of course is straightforward; the hot and cold water comes into the room under pressure, so you can take the pipework pretty much any route you feel like. The waste, on the other hand, leaves the room via the wonder of gravity and as such has pretty limited options, all revolving around the word “downhill”. If you’re trying to convert a basement room into a bathroom this can make the entire project a non starter... or does it?

Well you could opt to pump the waste away via what is generally referred to as a “macerator”. This is effectively a blender linked to a pump. The waste runs down from the toilet, washbasin, shower or kitchen sink into the macerator. Here it is ‘blended’ in a fashion that is best not looked into too closely and then pumped via much smaller pipework (Usually 22mm) up to the main waste system. Most macerators can lift the waste about 5m high, which is usually more than enough to connect to the main waste stack and let gravity take over once again.

So what are the downsides of this? Well the main one is that all macerators rely on everyone in the household being vaguely sensible and as such they don’t work well around children. From the moment they’re born they cause trouble, many mothers can’t fight the urge to dispose of baby wipes down the toilet, an act that will bugger up the best of macerators within a few short weeks, and once the child can walk they find the toilet a magical place where things just disappear in an exciting roar of water; bracelets, scarves, Tigger, Postman Pat, the list is endless. Granted most children can block the most robust of toilets if they set their mind to it but the poor old macerator generally doesn’t stand a chance. This rule, of course, also applies to the kitchen sink; you have to be very carefully with what you flush down the plug hole.

All that said, if you are careful they will work perfectly for years and if your child is hell bent on flushing away the family jewels you can at least retrieve them from a macerator - although they may be a little damaged and you might not be that keen on wearing them around your neck for a while at least.

The only other downsides are that they make a bit of a noise when they operate, although they are getting quieter all the time, and, as you can imagine, they are not the most pleasant things to repair if and when things do go wrong.

A number of different companies do macerators but the leader in the field is Saniflo and you can find out more about them at their website.

Monday 28 January 2013

The Plumb Tub

Plumb Tub

The aptly named Plumb Tub is, in case you hadn’t already guessed, a tub for plumbing. It’s not the sort of product that’s going to revolutionise the plumbing world but it is the sort of cheap, durable and easy to use knick-knack that is well worth having in your arsenal of plumbing tools.

It’s just a nice little bowl of soft, rubberised plastic that can fit neatly under a radiator. At each corner is a hole that is cunning sized to accept the sort of pipework that you’ll normally come across in a domestic plumbing system, namely 10,15 and 22mm. Just ease the appropriate corner of rubberised plastic around the pipe and relax as any wayward drips and leaks are directed into the bowl.

Ok, the bowl isn’t the biggest so you might want to have a water vacuum pump nearby just in case the leak proves to be bigger than expected. It also doesn’t do 8mm pipework, or at least it’s not mentioned in the literature, which is a shame as a worrying amount of CH systems were plumbed in using 8mm pipework. That said, it's a perfectly handy pot for putting all your bits and bobs in after the job and it only costs a few quid, so why not give it a try anyway.

Thursday 3 January 2013


I'm rather hoping that this will be a very short blog posting. Alas, there are bound to be some errors in the manual and as I find those that aren't just grammatical I'll list them here. These will all be fixed in the manual in subsequent editions.

If you find any errors yourself feel free to let me know either by adding a comment to this post or by sending me an email to

Page 20 Thermal store

The diagram on this page shows two cylinders, a standard vented cylinder on the left and a thermal store on the right. Sadly the title of the "Standard Vented cylinder" actual reads "Standard Unvented cylinder". Oops!


There are bound to be things that I either forgot to mention in the manual or just didn’t have the time and space to talk about in any detail. As I spot them I’ll mention them here in this single blog posting. 

If you find any yourself feel free to write a comment here or email me and I’ll write up something to cover that topic.

Page 19 “Unvented hot-water cylinder”

The combination valve
I talk here about finding the tap that turns off just your high pressure hot water. What I didn’t mention is that this tap often turns off some or all your cold water as well.

Why would it do that? Well mixer showers, for example, work best if the hot and cold water enter the shower valve at exactly the same pressure. In a high pressure system this is usually the case anyway but it isn’t guaranteed. For example, the maximum pressure of the hot water is restricted - usually to 3 bar – whilst the cold water is left to roam wide and free to hit whatever pressure it feels like. It's unlikely that your cold water would routinely be over 3 bar, but it’s not unheard of and in this situation your mixer showers would start to act up as they try to deal with hot and cold water at different pressures.

To prevent this happening the cold water for all the showers is often taken off from the combination valve attached to your hot water cylinder. This valve is where the pressure reduction of the hot water takes place and as such now ensures that both hot and cold water are at exactly the same pressure.

From a homeowners point of view this is no big deal but the fact that I didn’t mention this might cause some confusion.

Page 76 "Replacing the washer on the stop tap"
In step 5 you need to be supporting the stop tap with either a set of pump pliers or an adjustable spanner before you start trying to loosen off the head otherwise you risk damaging the pipework entering and leaving the tap. I guess this is common sense really, but worth while mentioning just in case common sense isn't all that common after all :)