Saturday’s DIY: Don’t try this at home

It was such a simple problem: our dining room radiator had scraps of reflective paper, the remnants of a lining on the inside of the radiator cavity, sitting on top of the radiator, clearly visible behind the radiator cover. The plan: unscrew the radiator cover from the wall, remove the loose backing paper, install some reflective insulation, and replace the cover. What could go wrong?

Pretty much everything, as it turned out. The first thing: when I removed the radiator cover, it brought part of the wall along with it—five one inch by several inch by 1/4 inch irregular chunks of plaster, adhered to a wall by a previously unseen caulk line, even after scoring along the edge with a putty knife. Oy. And this a wall we had already painted. I sighed, resigning myself to plaster repair, and started removing the matter inside the cover.

I quickly realized I was going to have problems. The radiator sat hard against the back wall, making removing the flaking reflective material difficult if not impossible. And the radiator was, as all radiators are, heavy. With a little help from staring at it, I realized that it was only attached on a threaded connection to the steam pipe, with other supports just holding the radiator off the floor but not attached to anything. I was eventually able to lift the unattached end of the radiator and pivot the whole thing out. But it was still impossible to get the insulation behind the attached end.

Our final solution: Lisa ran a double thickness of heavy duty aluminum foil behind the trouble spot, and I cut the insulation, installing one strip on the left wall the cavity and the rest overlapping the aluminum foil and wrapping around the back, top and other side. It took the rest of the morning to finish the job, not counting the plaster repair (done, shamefully, with quick-setting spackle. Sigh.) The final result looks nice and is probably a lot more energy efficient than the previous set-up, but I don’t know how well it will stand up to steam coming out of the relief valve (which I think was responsible for the state of the previous material).

The moral: don’t start home improvement repairs in public parts of the house the same day as a dinner party, no matter how easy you think the job is.