Step by Step Guide to Radiator Balancing in the UK
Where would we be without our central heating and double / triple windows in winter at night? Most likely we would be in the grim days of our grandparents, with window shutters screwed tight, a warming fire in the kitchen, and smog drifting past the glowing streetlights outside.
The central heating systems generally in use in the UK pump hot water from a central boiler through radiators in each room. This heat transfers through the hot radiator casings to the air beyond and warms the room. Finally, thermostats control the temperatures of individual radiators by admitting more or less water to them.
All the radiators in a house usually get their hot water via their thermostats from a single pipe looping through the building from the boiler and back to it again. The heat and pressure of the water drops as it passes through the system. Hence the final radiator in the building has less heat available than the first. Radiator balancing counters this by making a series of adjustments from the beginning to the end of the system.
Radiator balancing should be within the capabilities of a competent DIY person with a good working knowledge of UK plumbing. However, if you attempt this you will need an assistant, and a digital thermometer (or a multi-meter with a thermometer function). Please be aware of the following risks attendant to the task.
• Radiators get hot. You could receive skin burns if you rest your hand on one for more than a few seconds
• Inadvertently loosening the wrong joint could release a blast of scalding water on your chest, face or eyes
• The water will flood the room, damaging your precious possessions. Hence the need for an assistant to turn off the supply
• Resulting injuries and material losses may not be in the remit of your medical and household insurance
Hence we recommend you ask a reputable plumber to do your load balancing. Please ask them to confirm they are on the register of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating. This allows them to work on the radiators and pipes only. They will also need to be on the Gas Safe Register to work on the boiler and gas connections. This may not be essential in the case of a straightforward radiator balancing job but is advisable.
How We Balance Radiators without Mess or Fuss
STEP ONE – Bleed the Radiators
Air can enter a closed radiator system when topping it up, or by spinning action of the heating pump. When air traps in individual radiators they become cooler at the top than the bottom. We fix this problem first by ‘bleeding’ the air out the radiators by opening their bleed valve.
First, we turn the heating system off to allow it to cool. We begin with the radiator at start of the system, and work our way through to the end bleeding as we go. Have a supply of towels handy should you attempt this yourself. An old system especially may contain dirty water, and this is not what you want to find on the carpet after radiator balancing.
STEP TWO – Test the System for Thermal Performance
First we open all the radiator valves fully to allow the maximum amount of water to flow through the pipes. Then we turn the central heating on and carefully note the order in which the individual radiators heat up. This should be along the path of the supply pipe. If not, there may be a blocked radiator or a faulty valve that needs replacing. When we have completed this step we allow the system to cool down again.
STEP THREE – Balance the Radiators
We’ll assume the radiators warmed first at the start of the system, and last where the water re-enters the central boiler. If this is not the case, then start with the radiator that heated up first.
First, we turn the central heating system on again at the control panel. Next, we close the control valve on the designated radiator, and then open it a quarter turn. Once the unit has heated up, we use a digital thermometer to check the differential between the valves at either side of the radiator. Thus should be 12 degrees Celsius. If not, we adjust the control valve to achieve this.
We repeat the process until we get the same performance readings throughout the system. We have to progressively open the individual controls more, because the water is cooling along the line. We now have a finely-balanced central heating system. Why do our clients bother to spend money doing this?
Two Good Reasons why Radiator Balancing is Important in the UK
Moving between varying temperatures in rooms can encourage chest infections in winter. The British Lung Foundation suggests keeping your home warm at a consistent 18°C (64°F) throughout. These fine adjustments are only possible with regular radiator balancing as heating systems age.
Moreover, a home is more welcoming when coming in from the chill on a cold winter’s day. It is such a pleasure being able to move from room to room, and between upstairs and downstairs without wanting to remove, or add an extra layer. However there is an even more important reason why we should have balanced temperature throughout the house.
Save on heating costs
If your radiators are not correctly balanced, then your home will be heated inefficiently. If some rooms are cooler, then they are bleeding heat from the warmer ones, to cover this energy transfer and loss, you might have to have your heating on for longer, or at a higher temperature. This will increase your heating bill.