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Thursday, 16 August 2012

Plumbing new depths


Well in the back of a cupboard, that is.

This a tale of skill, strength, despair at times, tenacity, and finally success.

My central heating has servo operated shut of valves for heating of hot water and house heating. I’d noticed over the last two weeks that occasionally the radiators were heating up when hot water was demanded. The obvious culprit would seem to be a leaky servo valve for the radiator network. Rather than replace the entire unit (£60) I hunted around on the interweb and found a supplier that could supply me with internal spares for the valve at £15. (By the way, if you’re looking for similar central heating spares I would direct you to I ordered the parts at 7 PM. They were with me before 8 the following morning).

Now the background has been explained, now the fun begins.

A simple job I thought. Just a case of removing the servo motor from the valve, removing the old parts and replacing with new, replacing the servo motor and job done. Simples. Only tool required, a screwdriver.

Not. The silly fool that had positioned the valve unit (Me), had never thought that he would ever need to overhaul it in situ. I couldn’t get at the fixing screws. Bugger.

Only thing for it was to remove the servo valve in it’s entirety from the pipework. The only problem was that this pipework is 22mm diameter and has work hardened with age. The two connection nuts put up a bit of a struggle but nothing compared to removing the valve from the pipework. Even after slackening every connection in sight it took the combined efforts of a three foot crowbar supplemented by three foot of scaffold pole to enable the valve to be withdrawn. The actual refurbishment of the valve took a matter of minutes and I was thinking that I was on a romp for the home straight.


To get the valve back in place took even more brute force and I was starting to sweat like a rapist before finally the valve popped back in position between the two pipes. Nearly at the last furlong. Just simply screw the connection nuts and tighten. Top nut OK, but when I thought that the bottom nut was seated correctly on the threads and started to tighten, horrifyingly I spied a little sliver of brass sidling it’s way from the nut. Stop stop, you’re cross threading, my brain threw at me. Now your FE, when he does plumbing uses as few compression fittings as possible, and solders everything in sight where possible. The thought of  having to cut and make new soldered connections was a dreadful thought worthy of suicide on the authors part due to the confines.

However casting a glinty eye at the connection I had a feeling that it was slightly out of line and after a little correction tried the connection again. Lo and behold the nut firmly screwed up the thread (No sniggering at the back please), and with a slight squeak was firmly tightened.

And guess what? Everything works as it should, with no leaks.

Morals of the story:

1. I’ll never be a design engineer.

2, Weigh up the task correctly before you begin.

3. Never give up.

4. Employ a plumber and let him bugger it up while you snigger in the background?

5. Expect the worst. And plan for it.


  1. Well done FE. It's a good job you had sufficient space for the long levers!

    You managed the repair without having to resort to that other essential tool of 'technicians' everywhere, the good old Lump Hammer.

  2. Having just rebuilt my en-suite, you have my sympathy Now I've moved onto the kitchen floor. After spending three days digging up 23 sq mtrs of slate with a kango hammer, my arms are shot to hell. Now my knees are going having spent three more days kneeling on a concrete floor putting the new tiles down - and I'm only about a third of the way through.

    Bugger! I'm getting too old for all this...

  3. "Lump Hammer."
    Known in the trade as a "Birmingham screwdriver".

    Never let the wife buy the tiles. Mine chose Vercace at £85 per square metre!

  4. Familiar story FE, I keep a spare synch motor (now £13.50 from Screwfix). In 30 years I've replaced accessible CH unit about 4 times. The HW one was accessible in the loft when I was a 35 year old, 10 stone and fit. Now I'm......not. It's never failed and if it does I'll employ a young, ferret-shaped plumber with a ladder certificate.

  5. A N Other Filthy Engineer17 August 2012 at 12:25

    You got out at the right time FE. Your plumbing problem is like an everyday tale of engineering obstacles in the modern RFA fleet. (I refuse to call it Flotilla as the plastic Rodneys shoreside would prefer). CAD designed ships with no consideration for maintenance access. The number of shipyard/contractor visits required to dismantle half the engine room for what should be straightforward maintenance/repair is getting ridiculous. We are barely self-sufficient engineering-wise these days.

    1. "No consideration for maintenance access"

      The "chippies" in the boat yard I once had the misfortune to work in swore by these:

      I usually swore AT them for building things which involved that sort of buggeration factor.

      It didn't seem to occur to them that 100amp battery chargers, or 2KW inverters get hot, and hiding them behind the seats wasn't the best idea. The engine compartments usually relied on the engines own air consumption for ventilation, also forgetting that hot air reduces the power output...

  6. @ A N Other Filthy Engineer.

    I take it that you are still serving in the RFA? Why not drop me a line via my E mail address. Since I left I've heard little about the inner workings of the RFA. I'm sure my readers would be interested in anything I could dig up with your help.


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