Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

The ethics of radiator valves

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 1 Nov 06, 02:42 PM

cooper203.jpgWhen is it ethical to change your radiator valves? That was the big question that was perplexing the Newsnight team after our broadcast last night.

The housing minister, Yvette Cooper, invited me to have the first of the new Energy Performance Certificates on my home and even did me the honour of popping round to my house for a cup of tea to see how I got on.

It should have been a pretty straightforward report. Trials of the certificates begin around the country next week. They'll be introduced nationwide in June next year.

The idea is pretty simple. When houses are sold the seller will pay for the house to be energy rated, just like a fridge, and they'll offer suggestions for how energy efficiency could be improved. Sounds pretty sensible doesn't it?

My house scored a D just below average but not bad for an older building. (Read the certificate for yourself.) It said I could boost that to a respectable C with a few relatively cheap improvements.

The big one was filling the cavity in my walls - my certificate claims that'll save £56 a year. The only reason I haven't already done this is that I¹d been told I didn¹t have a cavity to fill.

The other home improvement is the one that proved controversial. Apparently I'd be able to save £21 a year by improving the programmer on my boiler and putting in something called thermostatic valves on my radiators.

radiator203.jpgI asked my friend Laurence, who's a plumber, to come round and give me an estimate. He was very sceptical that the switch was worthwhile.

I've already got valves on my radiators and Laurence's view was that I'd be replacing a perfectly good valve he'd have to charge me 300 notes for the service.

Of course there would be a small carbon saving because the thermostatic valves are easier to use but there'd be a carbon cost too - all the energy and materials needed to make the things.

It didn't sound like a good deal to me.

But not everyone agrees. After the programme was broadcast a colleague, Neal, told me he'd switched all his radiators to thermostatic valves and says they work a treat. He can regulate the temperature of each room much more easily and thereby reckons he saves a fair bit of energy.

So here's your ethical brainteaser for the week: should I change my valves?

The world of ethical living is not glamorous is it?

Comments  Post your comment

Doesn't this question illustrate the problem of turning potentially every decision into an ethical conundrum. Should I have ketchup or mayonnaise on my chips? How much energy does each use in production?

If we had the correct eco taxes, couldn't we all just do what seems best value, or spend more if we really wanted to, and keep our moral sensibilities honed for situations where they are really more suited, such as how we relate to other people.

I have discussed this question on my blog here:

  • 2.
  • At 02:01 AM on 02 Nov 2006,
  • Liam Coughlan wrote:

Ethical man is a great feature on Newsnight. He exposes the practical issues involved for householders who wish to do their part and hopefully save this God forlorn planet. He travelled to Kingston Jamaica on business. Many people are required to travel on business, and as such, cannot reduce the cost of that flight by bringing a few lightbulbs. Talk of carbon emissions trading is frightening. We are creting a product for trading the delivery of which is unclear as to timimg, volume and quality, and the price is variable. In the end, we will be asking the poor to give up this intangible asset (option to emit carbon) in exchange for money to help them feed themselves. A similar economic model was tried at EU level. It was called the common agricultural policy and it was a disaster. The parallels were the concept of variable subsidies to inhibit production of some farm outputs in some places to facilitate larger scale production in others.

  • 3.
  • At 09:07 AM on 02 Nov 2006,
  • Robert wrote:

Look lets get this straight we all save money, we all use less power saving the country billions and the environment, yet the energy companies will put the price up because we are saving so much they are making less profits.

I already save on everything because I get a disability benefit of £115 a week to pay for everything power rent you name it, so I do not put on my heating, yet my actual bill has gone up, because I went from a rate which was given for using power to a rate for not using power.

You cannot win no matter what we do the companies will still charge to make the profits and we will pay and I am getting sick and tired of stealth taxes and silly stupid idea from this government.

  • 4.
  • At 07:27 PM on 02 Nov 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Good question about the valves. The answer has to be it depends on whether your central heating controls as they are keep the spaces at the temperature you want. Most homes have a single thermostat on the wall of one room, and the fairly inaccurately determined set-temperature of that room switches off the heating for the whole home when it is exceeded. That can easily still have heat being pumped out of the radiator in another room when the sun or cooking or some other appliance is heating it too. Thermostatic valves individually switch off each radiator to which they are fitted when the desired temperature has been reached in its vicinity. But they are rather crude, and go by the temperature where they are located, inches from the radiator.

Most of this central heating stuff is way behind the times, and over-priced. We should by now have electronic sensors and electric valves worked by simple computers that control the heating (and increasngly likely cooling too) in each room according to the time of day and whether it is in use of not, and remotely controllable for when one will be late or early returning. The parts are cheap and it's not rocket science. But such installations are still as rare as a rocket scientist.

You are so right to keep mentioning the carbon cost of manufacturing. The government seems to have been advised by the makers of all the new materials and ignore the multiple carbon costs of other parts of the equation. Those already caused by the creation of the existing situation, that of disposing of it, the carbon in doing the replacement. It's a big economic opportunity for the promoters of the new gear, but there is very likely often a net damage as far as carbon emissions are concerned. Whether it be replacing radiator valves or replacing cars.

I imagine the windows of your home are already double-glazed, or else they would probably have shown up on your "audit". But the government is presently causing hundreds of millions to be spent replacing windows in "social housing" with plastic ones in order to improve their insulation. It ignores that the plastic will only last about 25 years when the previous ones, especially if wood, would have lasted hundreds if painted regularly. The plastic is very emission-creating in manufacture, and even more so when eventually disposed of. Installation is energy intensive, and the replaced wooden frames will yeild up their carbon decades earlier than would otherwise have happened, The plastic is not easily repaired and whole frames often need replacing. The windows are often more difficult to use for escape in case of fire, since the frames fuse, and the glass will not break. The government seems to have utterly ignored that rising temperatures are the growing danger. So ventilation area is often drastically reduced in these new windows, and the glass beng used is virtually never coated to reflect some of the sun's heating. But it's a huge boom for the replacement windows industry, all in supposedly the cause of saving carbon emissions.

  • 5.
  • At 05:54 PM on 04 Nov 2006,
  • Diana Miller wrote:

Yvette Cooper is insisting that this information be provided in a Home Buyers Information Pack due to be introduced in June 2007. It was to have had a mandatory Home Buyers Condition report but this has now been dropped as a mandatory requirement.

The Government has already spent 3.5 milllion pounds on trialing Home Information packs which was a complete flop in 1999 but has just announced another 4 million pounds is to be spent trialling them again!!

Is this really a sensible us of tax payers money as it will only increase the costs of buying and selling property?? Unless there is a public outcry about this appalling waste of money these plans are likely to become law. Please contact your MP to campaign against such a waste of money.

  • 6.
  • At 02:51 PM on 07 Nov 2006,
  • Anthony Allcock wrote:

Obviously there are some dinosaurs who have decided against moving with the times. The government are committed to this legislation and it will happen like it or not. Those in the market who have not taken steps to prepare themselves will be sorry come June 07. The Energy reports are designed so that major improvements that will save serious money for a modest outlay, such as loft insulation can take place almost immediatly where as items like TRV's can be replaced when updating your heating system. Its all about providing good information to the home owner. As for the paltry amounts invested in trials it really is pin money when you consider £1m a day is wasted by 1st time & chain buyers having to pull out of home buying because a mine shaft or plans for a new road is discovered near the home during the conveyancers search.The conveyancers then charge the next prospective buyer again for the same information all courtesy of Cretaceous Conveyancers Ltd Gloucester.

  • 7.
  • At 10:50 PM on 07 Nov 2006,
  • Borge wrote:

The question about the true cost of the TRVs themselves is one about the efficacy of free market economics. Most of the product that we consume (stuff we buy) has not been priced correctly for many years – it is often produced at some cost to the environment but this cost is not billed to the producer at the time (if ever). It has been ignored for many years and others 'clean things up' much later.

The right solution is to ensure that the TRV producers (or any producers) are charged a fee that covers cleaning up their environmental damage. This will raise prices accordingly and then assuming the price of your electricity supply is also accurate, you're simple savings calculation is all you need to worry about.

The biggest price increase that any product would show, if the cost of fixing its environmental damage was built in, would be oil. If oil was priced at a rate that more nearly reflected the damage it does then our willingness to buy it would drop off sharply. Consumption habits would change dramatically and for the better. No ones got the balls to price oil correctly.

I think the cost of changing your TRVs is much less then you think. You need some PTFE tape, possibly a big bendy Allen key thing, two plumber's spanners and some 'have-a-go' daring – and imagine how impressed your wife would be?

I completed mine today. They cost me five pounds each (from a plumbers merchant based in Cornwall) and took an average of one hour each (for a first timer). There are many websites showing you how to safely remove a radiator from its pipes and fit a TRV.

(Martha's red tunic - awesome!)

  • 8.
  • At 06:54 AM on 10 Nov 2006,
  • Will wrote:

Plumbing is easy. Replacing radiators is simple - just get a bit of advice for the first one.

I'd also advise inline isolator valves and flexible hoses. Maybe $20 per rad.

Even plumbing jobs that used to be hard are easy if you use bendy plastic piping - go to a plumbing suppliers and have a look. I plumbed an underfloor heating system into a main bedroom using plastic piping, a TRV, and a drill. Worked wonders, very low energy use, very even heating. Underfloor beats rads every time.

  • 9.
  • At 03:47 PM on 08 Dec 2006,
  • john jevetts wrote:

Items not suggested as needed when changing TRV's/radiators are, a sou'wester, a good pair of wellies a dry/wet suit. Usually send the wife to the shops or cinema, whichever keeps her out of the way longest!!!

  • 10.
  • At 10:34 PM on 08 Jul 2007,
  • Stewart Hall wrote:

The previous poster who said, the energy companies will charge more if we save more, is right. This happened in the late 1970's and during the mid nineteen eighties.

The questions posed are in a way trivial, as they preclude the fact that there is only one ethical issue and that is whatever costs less in carbon emissions. Why bring in the fact that to save £21 you would pay £300?

The whole tone of the article was typical of many in the media, they think in the same terms as their pals up in parliament. MONEY TALKS ! forget the principle that people and the environment should come first.

What about whether to put ketchup or mayonnaise on your chips, the answer is simple, let all processes have a carbon footprint number. let all products carry a number that is the average footprint of all its manufacturing processes plus its emmision value when working.

time for stiff regulations AT ANY FINANCIAL COST !!!!

  • 11.
  • At 12:39 AM on 15 Aug 2007,
  • Tim Stevens wrote:

Replacing parts on a rad can be easy; however, if the rad is old many things can happen. You can deform a tap if the pipe is frozen into the tap and you apply to much pressure to get it out. You can strip a thread, along with other things. You have to be ready for this stuff. Do you know how to bleed it or your whole system after? If you are not a pro, let Laurence handle it. Also, TRV's near the rad are fine. Its all relative to the room temp.

  • 12.
  • At 03:15 PM on 17 Aug 2007,
  • julian davies wrote:

This page says why we are doomed. We have a journalist, who knows nothing about engineering or climate change, being grossly overcharged by a plumber, and then consulting a colleague, who also knows nothing about engineering, and then writing his "ballanced" piece for the article. The payback period for TRVs depends not only on how much your plumber charges to fit them, but on the severity of the weather, the insulation in your home, and of course, the price of your heating fuel. The energy saving trust quotes savings of 18% of energy expenditure.
Fit TRVs once and your savings will be for ever.

  • 13.
  • At 08:07 PM on 17 Aug 2007,
  • Barry8 wrote:

There is a lot of nonsense spun about the efficiency of a house heating system. I have radiators in all bedrooms - never use them as it is not healthy for sleeping in. I have a thermostat of course. I use a gas fire in my lounge living area and only use the central heating in the very coldest of weather. I have a lot of loft insulation and walls were cavity foam filled long before New Labour inflicted themselves on us. Low energy lighting has been in use for years.(say over 30). All my windows are now double glazed and done as affordable over several years. In some cases I have plastered using lightweight aggregate insulating plaster; thermally more efficient. Plastic windows (in lieu glass) not a practical idea at all. Unless one reads comic strips! TRV's might be
helpful but in hard water areas may foul up and not be all that effective long term. Permanent magnet devices for use on water pipes
are not much use, the low frequency oscillator type seem to have a performance that is OK. Cheap to buy and easy to install. Salt based water softeners may be helpful for washing etc but not for drinking.
Energy efficient appliances are preferable and now quite available.
I have a solar panel hot water system that is OK although it is only viable for a long term use.
A SOLAR assisted central heating system has not yet proved to be functional to my consternation and the suppliers confusion. Insulated curtains or blinds at windows are a good idea; helps to keep the house warm in winter (may also keep temeperature down in hot weather).
Naturally floor covering needs to be considered and there are various ways in which to deal with that.
The economics of energy type in use has become somewhat variable since we have so many different suppliers.
Can't think why.

  • 14.
  • At 07:02 PM on 20 Aug 2007,
  • hillsideboy wrote:

Fitting thermostatic radiator valves is the wrong answer. What is needed are time-switched radiator valves:it is wasteful to have any constant temperature in bedrooms or living rooms. On a very cold morning some warmth in the bedroom is desirable upon rising and dressing, after which the radiator should turn completely off. At that point, the bathroom heating should come on just long enough for after-showering, followed by the living room radiator, set for a period based on how long the house will be used before departure for work and/or school, etc.
With the deregulation of gas and electricity supply and the subsequent dual supply by many companies, I thought that an electrically time-controlled radiator valve might now become a viable object to design and patent. Alas, the economic consumption of gas or electricity is not a priority for the suppliers! The government should get commission a radiator time-switch and make the fitting manditory in all new homes, with grants for conversion of existing homes.

  • 15.
  • At 04:31 PM on 18 Oct 2007,
  • James McConnachie wrote:

Timed thermostatic radiator valves is the only thing that makes sense! Bedrooms only need heat first thing in the morning. At night, they're heated - to an appropriately relatively cool temperature - by the living rooms below. Where can they be found?

  • 16.
  • At 04:52 PM on 02 Dec 2007,
  • R Gledhill wrote:

Twentyfive years ago I decided that the central heating system in my newly built house was a disaster. I fitted a roomstat in each room operating a motorised valve for the rads. in that room. As each room demanded heat the valve opened and switched on the boiler and pump When all roomstats switched off so did the boiler and pump . I could set a temperature for each room and not waste heat where it was not required .This system worked up to the time I sold the property . Once again I am in a newer house with the same stupid system that has one stat. in the hall . So much for progress . When will house builders put in decent heating systems and not something from the nineteenforties.

  • 17.
  • At 11:14 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • Ben1275 wrote:

I have recently fitted thermostatic radiator valves to my radiators, and it took a little while to get them all set correctly but now I have the house is a more comfortable place to be. The bedrooms keep cool but are never allowed to become uncomfortably cold, where as before I installed the thermostatic radiator valves they were always really hot or really cold. The living areas are kept a few degrees higher. It was recommended that I move the system thermostat to the hallway where the radiators were left without thermostatic valves. If the system thermostat and a set of thermostatic radiator valves are located together they would end up fighting each other. Also to ensure that the bedrooms stay at the required temperature it is important that the doors to the rooms are kept shut otherwise the adjoining area radiators will be trying to heat the bedrooms.

One problem I did face was finding the right style of radiator valves, in the bedroom where there is standard panel radiator I fitted these run of the mill white radiator valves by Pegler, but in the main living areas we have installed traditional cast iron radiators which these valve wouldn't look right on, in the end I found and fitted these traditional thermostatic radiator valves, they're are not cheap but look the part in a period property.

If not for the finance benefits but for your own comfort I would strongly recommend fitting thermostatic radiator valves.

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