If the need to replace a radiator should arise, the simplest thing to do is to find an exact copy. Alternatively, you could use the opportunity to install a heated towel rail. This should be fairly straightforward, although you will have to fix new hanging brackets and extend the pipework, which will involve draining down the central heating system rather than just the radiator.
Replacing a radiator witha towel rail
Most modern towel rails are attached through the wall, rather than the floor, so you’ll more than likely need to adapt the pipework. First, you’ll need to drain down the system (see below), then disconnect and remove the old radiator complete with its valves 1. Clean up the open pipes with steel wool and temporarily cap them off with a fitting to prevent any debris getting in while you work. Remove the old brackets. At this point it’s a good idea to mark a centre line on the wall where the old radiator hung, to act as a guide.
Adapting to a different size
You’ll need to gain access to the floor void to alter the pipework. Remove the skirting and lift the floorboards. For clarity the pipework is shown here in an empty void, but in reality you’ll have to cut away some plasterboard above solid wall. Either way you will have to make good the wall before moving on to fix the towel rail.
Mark positions for the new copper tails (for both the feed and the return pipes) 2, then cut out a section of noggin, or chase into a solid wall, to take the new pipework. Run the new pipework from the old pipes, using either compression or capillary fittings, and add two elbow joints so each pipe can go into the wall and exit higher up 3 ready to connect to the towel rail. Tape over the open ends to keep out any debris while you are restoring the wall, flooring and skirting.
Installing the new heated towel rail
Unpack the towel rail and remove the plastic bungs that protect the threads. Leave on the protective outer coating until the heated towel rail is fixed in place — you are bound to get a few scratches as you install it. Unscrew the two valve adapters from the bottom of the old radiator with an adjustable spanner. Unscrew the bleed valve with a bleed key, then remove both blank plugs from the top of the new towel rail with a radiator spanner 4. Screw the adapters and plugs into the new towel rail. Finally, screw the bleed valve into the blanking plug. The new towel rail is now ready for fixing to the wall.
The heated towel rail is is attached to the wall in a different way to an ordinary radiator. The bottom should be level with the skirting board. Using a spirit level, draw a horizontal guide on the wall for the top brackets 5, and fix them in place 6. Repeat for the bottom brackets. Now you can connect the valves to the supply and return pipes. Check the position of the towel rail on the radiator brackets.
Hold the valve to the pipe, mark the pipe and cut to fit 7. Connect the towel rail and cover the fixings with the clip-on caps. Connect the valves to the adapters and close the drain cock. Restore the water supply to the expansion tank and refill the central heating system (see opposite). Fill the radiator by opening the valves, bleeding any air in the radiator through the bleed valve 8.
Bathroom Tip: Hold a cloth to the bleed valve as you are screwing in, to catch any water that might leak out 9.
Draining and refilling the system
Shut off the boiler, switch off the fuel supply and leave to cool down for a few hours. Once the water in the heating system is cold, cut off the water supply at the expansion tank, either by closing the tank’s gate valve or tying up the float arm. Fit one end of a garden hose over the drain cock, usually on the return pipe at the boiler, with the other end over an external drain gully. Open the drain cock using an Allen key or spanner, and let the system drain down completely. Pack towels or cloths around the valve in case of spillages. To refill the system, close the drain cock and restore the water supply.