Plumbers in London

Plumbers in London

Dealing with hard water

• The difference between hard and soft water
• The problems of scale and scum
• The benefits of hard water
• Testing for water hardness
• The various treatments for hard water
• Installing a plumbed-in water softener

limescale hardwater shower head

Water supplied for domestic use is purified to make it bacteria-free—and therefore fit for human consumption— by efficient filtration and storage, as well as by additives and treatments introduced by the water authorities. But even this water contains impurities, in the form of certain amounts of dissolved mineral salts that are referred to when we talk of the hardness or softness of water. The concentration of these mineral salts depends largely on the type of rocks and terrain through which the water passes before entering the supply system itself.

What is hard water?

Rainwater which falls in open country and on to insoluble rock such as slate or granite remains more or less mineral-free. Surface water may, however, pick up organic waste products— notably peat which tends to acidify water. This water is usually soft. Conversely, rainwater which falls on to sedimentary rocks tends to permeate through these to emerge as ground water which has a high dissolved mineral content. This water is relatively hard. But there is another side to consider. As rainwater falls to earth it picks up quantities of gases and pollutants which acidify it slightly. The most significant of these acids generally is carbonic acid (soda water), produced by the solution of atmospheric carbon dioxide; but in heavily industrialized areas, with a far greater proportion of sulphur dioxide in the immediate atmosphere, rain can actually fall as a very dilute form of sulphuric acid. The mildly acid rainwater falls on, and is absorbed by, different rock strata during which time it reacts with minerals in the rocks themselves. It then either disgorges into rivers, lakes and reservoirs or collects underground and is pumped to the surface.

In regions where there is a high proportion of calcium and magnesium carbonate in the rock—found in limestone and chalky soil, and dolomites respectively—the carbonic acid in the rainwater reacts with the carbonates to produce bicarbonates. It is these that make the water obviously ‘hard’ and pose the greatest threat to domestic water systems. At low temperatures, the bicarbonates are readily soluble in water and remain so until they reach your system. But when this water is heated, they begin to decompose into insoluble carbonates which are deposited on any surface at a temperature past the critical point.

This is most readily noticeable as ‘fur’ in a kettle. Because it can be removed by boiling, such hardness is referred to as temporary hardness or alkaline hardness and causes the greatest majority of problems associated with water quality—heating elements lose their efficiency, and pipes become blocked. Some of the other more stable metal salts which become dissolved in water do increase its corrosive properties and have to be removed for specialist industrial processes. But in domestic installations non-alkaline hardness, or permanent hardness (which cannot be removed by boiling) is not normally much of a problem.

However, sulphate hardness can affect the performance of soaps and detergents—even in areas that do not suffer from carbonate hard water. The addition of a small amount of washing soda reduces this. Also, all types of water produce a certain amount of corrosion in contact with, for example, the metal of a central heating system. The black sludge you may have noticed after bleeding your radiators is, in fact, the black oxide of iron. Problems of this nature—not directly attributable to water hardness or softness—can usually be cured by adding a corrosion inhibitor to the system.

The problem of scale and scum

Scale is the build-up of particles of the bicarbonates released from hard water when it is heated. This precipitation begins at around 60°C and accelerates as the temperature is raised. It is for this reason that the first signs of scale are usually found in the kettle, which quickly becomes furred up; Unimportant scale of this sort can usually be removed by boiling up a dilute acid like vinegar or lemon juice together with water. And it can be prevented from gathering on the heating element by placing a few pebbles in the kettle. Much more serious is the effect of scale on hot water pipes and central heating systems: pipes become clogged, valves and pumps can jam, and boiler efficiency and life may be drastically reduced. And, as these effects are concentrated at the hottest parts of the system, this is where they can do the most damage.

Washing machines and dishwashers, too, have heating elements which can get covered with scale; this reduces their efficiency because the scale has to be heated before—and in addition to—the surrounding water. And of course, electric water heaters are particularly vulnerable to the effects of scale build-up. It has been calculated that boilers having a scale deposit of just 3mm require 15 percent more fuel than scale-free boilers. This figure can rise to a dramatic 70 percent when the scale layer reaches a thickness of 12mm. Scale formations can cause an objectionable amount of boiler noise— not unlike the creaks, groans and muffled ‘explosions’ that a furred-up electric kettle makes when heating. But more importantly, unless prevented (or removed, if possible) the scale build-up means a comparatively short life for the appliance and its related pipework.

Scum—insoluble soap curds formed when hard water reacts with, soap—is another common problem associated with water containing a high proportion of bicarbonates. It causes unsightly ‘tide marks’ around baths and sinks, can irritate the skin, and leaves clothes feeling rough to the touch. In fact, twice as much wash powder may be needed for a wash in hard water—and even then, the wash may not be as clean as it would be in soft water areas. These effects are also seen to a lesser extent with detergents—where china and glassware exhibit faint, but opaque, ‘drying marks’ for example.

Benefits of hard water

Pure water is tasteless. Hard water, on the other hand, contains dissolved are a clear sign. But i f your soap lathers easily and the water feels soft to the touch, you have soft water. Your water supply authority should be able to tell you a great deal about the water you receive, and may be able to test any water that comes from a private source not under their specific control. Plumbing companies who install water softeners may also be able to test the water for you.

water cleaner

Low cost, easy-to-use water hardness test kits are readily available from aquarist supply shops. These employ indicator chemicals and you simply count the number of drops needed to effect a colour change in order to obtain a very accurate hardness reading. Water hardness is measured in several different ways and three systems are in common use.

In scientific circles the measurement is based on parts per million (ppm) calcium carbonate—that is, the number of parts of calcium carbonate (Ca03) present in a million parts of water. The alternative two methods employ a degree system that is indirectly related to the ppm system, where hardness is based on parts per million calcium oxide (CaO). One of these systems originated in Germany and is referred to by the symbols DH or °dH. The other is the English system, referred to simply by the degree symbol (°), whose value differs from the DH system.

power flush cleaning

Confusing as this may seem, the relationship is in fact fairly straight-traces of many’ minerals which not only give it flavour but also supply tiny amounts of nutritional elements. Hard water is sometimes recommended for drinking, even though softened water tends to make better coffee and tea. Slight traces of common salt from the softening process (not necessarily detectable by taste) are not tolerated well by most types of garden plant and in any case it is not economical to soften water for this use. Most domestic water softeners are fitted in such a way as to allow drinking and garden water to bypass the softening system.

Testing your water

The DH degree is equivalent to approximately 18ppm (CaC03), the English degree to approximately 14ppm (CaC03). Treatments of hard water A number of possible options exist for the treatment of hard water. Some merely condition it, others actually soften it. The latest development is specifically intended to combat the scale caused by heating. Chemical scale inhibitors do not actually soften water, but instead stabilize the bicarbonates so that they do not form carbonate scale. Crystals of this type are encased in a plastics container and simply suspended inside the cold water tank which feeds the water heating system. This method is cheap but the crystals do need periodic replacement.

The same principle is applied in descaling units—small containers of crystals which are actually plumbed into the rising main piping. Versions of this device are available for use with chemicals specifically intended to counteract water containing too much iron or acid. Corrosion inhibiting solutions can be added directly to indirect heating systems. Use of these low-cost, non-toxic solutions prevents blockage caused by iron oxide sediment and inhibits the formation of scale. It also prevents the build-up of hydrogen (a by-product of the corrosion process) which is often mistaken for air when bleeding a radiator. Certain special additives help to prevent electrolytic corrosion— often an acute problem in central heating systems.

Most recent of the developments is the magnetic conditioner which does not actually change any of the chemical properties of the water, and therefore does not influence its taste and nutritional properties. The conditioner works by passing the water close to strong magnets. These are thought to alter the magnetic properties of the micro-particles enough to dissuade both scale and scum from forming in subsequent pipework and appliances. Magnetic conditioners have to be matched closely to expected flow rates and require quick maintenance by the householder perhaps twice a year, but are otherwise simply plumbed into a convenient section of the rising main using just two compression fittings. A particular benefit is the small size of the appliance.

Conditioners do not actually soften the water—for this you need a proper water softener. These work by actually removing bicarbonate salts from the water in a process known as ion exchange—the most thorough solution to the problems caused by hard water. Very simply, ion exchange in a water softener takes place when the electrically-charged bicarbonate ions in the water pass over a catalyst known as the resin bed.

Here, they change places with ions of sodium and thereafter remain attached to the resin bed while the sodium ions pass harmlessly into the water. Eventually the resin attracts enough bicarbonate ions to become clogged and it must then be flushed clear with brine solution—which is powerful enough to overwhelm and displace the bicarbonate ions. In all makes of modern water softener this recharging takes place automatically, using salt from a built-in reservoir. Water softeners are available with different capacities, suited to the amount of water consumed and the hardness locally. There is even a portable model available from one manufacturer.

Current advanced models are fairly compact and incorporate automatic timers which open and close valves to control the ‘flushing’ process or resin regeneration programme. They can be timed to do this during the night—when there is no call for water—as two hours or so are required for the regeneration cycle when only hard water is available. A typical domestic installation requires resin regeneration about twice weekly, using between 1kg and 3kg of salt for the purpose depending on the unit’s capacity.

The salt reservoir needs topping up every month or two and, apart from occasional servicing, this is the only attention the softener needs. Latest models employ a microchip console to control the valve working the regeneration cycle.

Installing a water softener

water filter water softener plumbing

The best place to instal a water softener is in a kitchen or laundry room—-or wherever the rising main first emerges—but leaving enough pipework for the installation of branch pipes to supply a tap or two for drinking and garden use. The supply will have to be disconnected for at least two or three hours, so lay on supplies of drinking and cooking water before commencing and avoid using any taps in the house except sparingly if there is a water storage tank in the loft.

Water bills of £74,000

A tenant has had water bills of £74,000 because of a leak outside his home.

Ryan Bishop, of Peacehaven, Sussex, ended up in a wrangle with two water firms and the developer of his rented home over bills of £33,000 and £41,000.

South East Water and Southern Water have since said Mr Bishop will only pay for normal usage and the developers were being contacted about the leak.

Bovis Homes, which built the house, said it heard about the issue on Monday and was working to find out the facts.

Scaffolder Mr Bishop said the leak was suspected six months ago when his meter showed he was using 50 times more water than he should.

He said the house was still under guarantee and he reported the issue to Bovis Homes and his landlord.

“Six months later, I got the first bill for £33,000. And they said I owned it and I had to pay it,” he said.

“I’d like to earn that in a year, let alone have the bill for it”

Ryan Bishop

He said he reached an agreement with supplier South East Water over that bill, only to receive another from waste water company Southern Water for £41,000.

Blocked drains and Manhole

Having a blocked manhole, sewers or drains – stinks. We are often called when there is a lot of damage, when the smell is becoming insupportable or the raw sewage overflowing.

Blocked sewage manhole

If you have an internal manhole and wooden or timber floor, all the sewage will collect under the floor. This is a health risk, having human excrement and waste floating under the flooring is not healthy or pleasant. Airborne germs, especially in the kitchens or kitchen extensions, where the food is prepared, puts you and your family at risk.

Blocked manholes, drains, sewers pipes happens when there is a something blocking the pipes or because of a collapsed clay pipe. In London, most sewage is very old , made of clay pipes and prone to collapsing pipes.

If you had to unblock the drains for the same property twice, this means that the drainage and pipes are not laid correctly, the pipes are not getting blocked by accident. Having a Double Seal Manhole Cover is a popular choice when having an house extension done,but you should get the drains checked first.

There are few options available :

If the manhole is inside your property, it can be moved in the garden.
Replace the drains.
Remove the timber floor and have a concrete floor put in.

Installing a heated towel rail radiator in the bathroom

Once a luxury in its own right, the bathroom is now an area in which many householders indulge their taste for the luxurious. Yet, when they contemplate refitting the bathroom, surprisingly few people think of the one fixture that makes a really tangible contribution to bathing comfort: a heated towel rail. As well as providing warm, dry towels at all times, a towel rail is among the most convenient ways of drying and airing washing. It is also an excellent means of fighting that familiar bathroom problem, condensation. A heated rail warms the atmosphere in the room and raises the temperature of wall and ceiling surfaces above dew-point (the temperature at which water condenses).

towel rail radiator

Types of heated towel rail radiators

Heated towel rails come in all shapes and sizes, and vary widely in their complexity. If your bathroom already contains a radiator, all you need do is measure it and then buy one of the clip, clamp or hang-on rails that are available. Though not heated directly, these enable you to dry and warm towels in front of the radiator without impeding its main function. Next on the list are electric towel rails-self contained units (generally oil-filled). These come into their own where it is either difficult or impossible to plumb in a hot water rail. Installing the supply for an electric towel rail is done in the same way as a bathroom wall heater, but you will need a qualified electrician to wire the electrical power point.

Hot water towel rails are by far the most popular type. The plain tubular sort offer plenty of towel hanging space and generally produce enough heat to keep the average sized bathroom at a constantly comfortable temperature. They are plumbed in to the house hot water system rather than the radiator circuit, so that they remain hot even when the heating is switched off. And, as most bathrooms have a hot water cylinder close at hand, this makes installation straightforward.

Some hot water rails include a radiator panel to provide extra heating facilities, but these can be fitted only to indirect type heating systems where there is no risk of them becoming clogged with scale. Tubular rails, on the other hand, can be installed in an hot water system-direct or indirect, which incorporates a storage tank/ boiler/hot water cylinder arrangement.

Identifying your water system – Central Heating

Before you plumb in a hot water towel rail, it is obviously important to know what type of hot water system you have and to identify the pipes. In the older, direct system, water heated by the boiler rises by thermal convection to the hot water cylinder. Here, it continues to rise until it passes out of the top (crown) to the hot taps, via the hot water supply pipe. Fresh water is fed to the system from the cold storage tank and enters via the base of the cylinder.

From here, it sinks to the boiler under force of gravity. If no water is drawn off the hot taps, the water in the system continues to circulate between the cylinder and the boiler. When hot water is used, fresh water is taken in and heated to the desired temperature. Although simple, the main drawback of the direct system is scale. This is released every time fresh water is heated above about 60°C and clogs cylinder and boiler pipework alike. In the indirect system—most often found with central heating—the problem of scale is avoided by having two separate circuits. The first—known as the primary circuit—runs continuously between the boiler and cylinder. The water in it is always hot, but because it is never drawn off it needs to be heated only once.

Consequently, it releases its scale the first time it is heated and from then onwards it is relatively scale-free. The hot water cylinder in an indirect system contains a loop,the heat exchanger, through which the hot primary circuit water passes. As it does so, it transfers its heat to fresh water fed to the base of the cylinder from the cold storage tank. This fresh water then becomes hot—but not hot enough to release scale—and rises out of the crown of the cylinder to feed the hot taps in the normal way. The cold feed, the outer part of the cylinder and the pipework supplying the hot taps comprise what is known as the secondary circuit.

Both direct and indirect systems contain vent pipes to guard against the build-up of excessive pressure. The direct system has a single vent pipe, rising from the crown of the cylinder, or the hot tap supply pipe, to above the cold storage tank. The indirect system has this pipe too, plus another rising from the primary circuit flow pipe to above the expansion tank. The function of the expansion tank in an indirect system is to top up the water in the primary circuit, should some be lost by leakage or evaporation, and to allow for the slight expansion of the water as it is heated. The flow in the primary circuit may be by gravity—as in the direct system or included in the radiator circuit and under pump pressure. In the latter case, a motorized valve distributes water from the boiler between the cylinder heat exchanger and the radiators as and where it is required.

Connecting the towel rail radiator

Hot water towel rails work on the same principle as radiators, with two connection points for flow and return pipes. In both direct and indirect systems, pipes can run from these to intercept the hot water flow pipe between the boiler and the hot water cylinder. This pipe is cut, and T shaped connectors inserted to make the final connections.

Obviously, it is absolutely essential to know which pipes are which before you connect to them. This may call for a bit of detective work particularly in the case of an indirect system, before you go any further. But in any case you should aim to make the connections somewhere around the hot water cylinder. Here, the pipes are easier to identify.

Direct systems:
Most direct cylinders have four pipes running from them. Of the two near the crown, the lower is the flow pipe from the boiler which supplies the cylinder with hot water. The other is the hot water supply pipe, which supplies the hot taps and generally also holds the vent pipe. In some cases, the vent rises directly from the cylinder (in which case there will be a total of five pipe connections). Of the two near the base, one is the cold feed from the cold storage tank and the other is the return taking back cooled water to the boiler.

Indirect system:
Indirect cylinders have the same hot supply vent pipe at the crown and cold feed at the base as direct ones. But the primary flow and return pipes to and from the boiler generally run into the side of the cylinder and stand out from the rest of the pipework. An additional complication is the primary circuit vent pipe. This may pass near the water cylinder, or it may be connected to the flow pipe.

About the only safe way to identify the pipes is to trace each one in turn and then lable it clearly somewhere near the connection point. Once you have the found the flow and return to the boiler, search for a suitable interception point on the flow pipe. This should preferably be on a straight, horizontal run. Make sure, too, that there will be room to work and that the pipe route to the rail will not be too tortuous.

Once you have decided on a site for the rail and identified the connection points, you are ready to begin installation. On all types of hot water system, the first job is to turn off the boiler and allow both pipes and cylinder to cool down. What you do next depends on the type of system.

Direct system:
In this case it is preferable to turn off the cold water supply at the cold storage tank— rather than at the rising main so that you will still have use of the kitchen cold tap. If there is no stop valve, tie up the ball valve in the closed position. Drain the cold tank by opening all taps fed from it, then drain down the hot water system. Attach a hose to the drain cock, which should be located adjacent to the boiler in the return pipe, and having placed the other end of the hose at a suitable drainage point, open the cock. With the cylinder empty, the hot water flow pipes can be cut using a fine toothed hacksaw and the T-shaped fittings connected.

Since only one radiator/rail is to be served, the pipe runs from the teeing points to the site of the unit can be safely made in 15mm copper tube. Assuming that the bathroom is on the first floor, and the floor itself is a conventional joist and board structure, the pipes should run by the shortest possible route under the floorboards. If they must run across joists, notch them into the tops of the wood joist. Where changes of direction are necessary, use elbow compression fittings or bend the pipe with a bending spring. If running the pipes under the floor is not feasible, soldered capillary fittings are less obtrusive and cheaper than the compression type.

Where changes of direction are necessary in surface piping, bend the pipe in preference to using bulky ready-made fittings for a neater finish. If the bathroom is on a solid ground floor, it may be possible to run the pipes in the ceiling void, then down to connect to the towel rail. The connections to the rail are made with normal radiator valve fittings, a wheel valve with a turntable head on the flow (hot supply) side, and a lockshield valve with a screw-fixed cap on the return side. These compression joint to the pipes, which must be cut to length once the rail is in place. Unlike radiators, which are usually hung on brackets fixed to the wall, towel rails—including those incorporating radiator panels are fixed to the floor by screws passing through their flanged feet. Some also have flanges at the top so that you can fix them to the wall for added stability.

With the unit fixed and the connections made, check that all taps and drain cocks are closed, open the air vent normally located under the top rail of a towel rail—and restore the water supply. As the system fills, watch for water appearing at the rail vent. When it does so, close the vent, restart the boiler and run it for about half an hour. Then re-open the vent to release any trapped air in the towel rail itself, with a small pot under the valve to catch any water.

Indirect systems:
Here, there is no need to shut off the water at the main cold storage tank or drain the hot water cylinder. Instead, cut off the supply to the expansion tank, attach a hose to the central heating system drain cock which should be located on the boiler return pipe at its lowest point and open the cock. The water in the system should contain rust-inhibiting chemicals, and you may feel it worth collecting the drained water in containers to be put back into the system when you refill it rather than buy a new supply. Having drained the system completely, proceed as for a direct hot water system. When the installation is complete, refill the system by restoring the cold supply at the expansion tank. After filling, turn all your radiator valves to the fully open position and bleed the radiators in turn to remove airlocks. When you are opening lockshield valves, count how many turns it takes, and afterwards close them by the same number.

You may find that the system needs further bleeding after several days, but this is perfectly normal.

Kensington and Chelsea plumbers

We have many customers in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. No parking spaces, we can’t get even a parking permit for our tradesmen, but we always find a way to do our job. Sometimes our plumbers will book in jobs on Sundays.

As a plumber, you need a very large tool box, most of the time – about 6 to 7 tool boxes, having the van parked in front of the property, saves time and monies.

robuild plumbers van

Fire Sprinkler Systems

A fire sprinkler system is an active fire protection measure, consisting of a water supply system, providing adequate pressure and flow rate to a water distribution network. Fire Sprinkler Systems can be used in Domestic, Residential & Commercial properties.

Fire Sprinkler Systems

Fire safety regulations requires that most Commercial properties to have a Fire Sprinkler System in place, to protect the property against fires.

The plumbing system requires a different water supply pipe.