Coming back to our house in Argenton-sur-Creuse, France, after an extended period in Australia, I noticed some water spots underneath one of the old cast iron radiators…
part of the central heating system on our “guest floor” which consists of a gas boiler on the wall in the kitchen which heats the water before being electrically pumped through the pipes and radiators. A very effective system, and once the house is warmed up the foot-thick stone walls keep it well insulated.
I shrugged it off, after all it had been a while, maybe those spots had always been there?
We had already replaced one of the radiators which was rusted out prior to purchasing the house, and when we discovered rust spots and cracks in first one, then 2 and 3 more radiators we thought that they had also just rusted out with age.
And so, in amongst other renovations, Tony replaced these cast iron heaters with new lightweight modern versions. Some adjustments to the copper pipework were needed because the units were not exactly the same size as the original ones. Not surprising – who knows how old they were (our house is around 150 years old).
Removing the old heavy ones and getting them downstairs was a feat in itself – rigging up a rope pulley system to help inch them down our wooden semi-spiral staircase.
We took the opportunity to touch up the surrounding paintwork before the new radiators were connected…
as well as where water damage was visible in adjacent rooms.
Job done we thought, until we turned the system back on to check for leaks – and water came gushing out of the boiler! The pump was cracked. Disastrous – especially when we went and priced replacement units. Ouch.
Meanwhile, we were scratching our heads as to how this had happened when we heard that, during the previous winter, temperatures had dropped to a record-breaking minus-20 degrees Celsius (when the average winter low for this area in central France is zero) and not only that, but temperatures didn’t rise above zero degrees for about 2 weeks. Brrr!
At least then we were assured that it was nothing that visitors had inadvertently caused, and even our own oversight of not draining the system the last time we left the house probably wouldn’t have prevented the problem in those extreme conditions (it’s almost impossible to drain it 100% and water expands as it freezes). Not even the addition of anti-freeze would have stopped the water in the system from freezing in this case.
Only if the house had been occupied with the heating running constantly would we have gotten off scott free.
I guess we were in good company, with plumbers run off their feet, and so it was that it was impossible to get the unit replaced before it was time for us to leave France again. (French tradies aren’t the quickest to respond at the best of times.)
To add to the trouble and cost, we noticed that even the huge radiator in the lounge room had cracked underneath and was dripping through the floorboards and into the garage below.
How were we going to get that one out? Definitely a job for the professionals.
We reluctantly left things as they were, and when friends arrived around Christmas that year they told us it took 3 days to warm up the top floor where at least we had 2 electric heaters. Those thick stone walls which keep the house toasty once warm also take a lot of heating up again.
First thing we did when returning to the house ourselves was to invest in a portable gas heater for the guest floor. That gave us time to mull over our options and get quotes – deciding to add an extra radiator downstairs in the entry which can get a little damp over winter.
Thousands of euros later – and only just in time before we had to head back to Australia once more – we got a new boiler installed, replaced the heater in the lounge (they took the old one out in sections)…
and had the extra radiator in the entry installed in front of the newly refurbished stone-look feature wall – a spur-of-the-moment renovation which my brother, visiting from Australia, helped me put up.
A few paint touch-ups here and there and everything was as good as new.
Now we won’t be leaving anyone out in the cold – and we have lined up an English couple to be on hand to drain or re-commission the heating system as and when required in our absence.