Its not what you know, but what you don’t know that matters
When I am moored up a for a few days in some idyllic location, with the early morning sunrise and ascending larks singing there is one fly in the ointment, one irritation, one bug bear. I have to run the old engine for an hour or so to get some hot water and a bit of electric. That does rather spoil things from a green living, all things bright and beautiful philosophy.
So this year I have decided to do something about that. I have put in a gas heater that will heat water for the shower and taps. Also I have added a solar panel to top up the batteries. I have done low voltage electric before, and plumbing, but never gas, nor flues, nor solar controllers, but hey ho, it’s all on the web isn’t it?
Having discussed the right type of heater and flue with the supplier, no bias there I am sure, they were ordered and delivered. I read all about the correct amount of ventilation required, flue length, insulation, gas and water pressures, installation tests etc. Having packed it all into the car I was about to leave home when, per chance, a gas fitter turned up next door and we had a chat about fitting boilers. His parting comment about getting a professional to do the job keeps going around in my head, “but some people do try to wing it!”.
I had to get new pipe, some solder and flux, that’s the stuff that helps the solder make good contact hence prevents small leaks. All pretty straight forward other than the boat is over thirty years old with at least two types of plastic pipe and three types of fittings. The new pipe has to fit into the old without leaks or blowing off under pressure I had that a couple of years ago. I was the only narrow boat with all its carpet on the roof, trying to dry it out. The salesman said I wanted speedfix, the other customer, a well worn plumber looking sort, said I should have bought the other stuff that was more reliable, the salesman said that was different altogether, and both agreed nothing was likely to fit the old black pipe.
Part of the preparation was to do a little bit of soldering, which I had not done for gas before but what’s the difference, it’s just the same copper pipe. I think I rather over heated it but looked okay.
Feeling cautiously pleased with myself and thankful to the internet and other instructions I chatted to a well respected professional. I seemed to have got all the bases covered, until he said, “you did use the right type of solder didn’t you? There were quite a few fires and explosions when the wrong solder rotted through the gas pipes some years ago.” I scuttled off to the garage to check. I had no idea, no one mentioned that one. What else didn’t I know! As it happens the tin says it is suitable for gas! Relief, but what else lurks!
Well trusting to luck off I went and drilled the hole in the roof, fitted the gas and water and flue, tested it for leaks and fired it up. It works! Easy see!
Well not quite as straight forward as that. The roof is made of 4mm thick steel. I bought a hole saw which was as much use as chocolate muffin would have been, in that both would have made a round mark on the roof. That was all the hole saw could manage. So I drilled more and more small holes around the mark until I had a hold for the chimney. That took all morning. Then the hole in the ceiling was cut by the wonderful multi-tool that the kids got me. A brilliant bit of kit for chopping holes in wood.
The old 8mm gas pipe had to bent, a great tool for that is an external pipe bending spring. Goodness knows what I will ever use that for again but it was a lot better than fitting lots of elbows etc.
It was when I was threading the copper pipe through I noticed that it would be resting on a large red cable. I also noticed that the cable passed just behind a hole I had drilled for the solar panel cables. Was there any chance that I had damaged the insulation when the drill made the hole? Because if it was damaged the wire would short to the gas pipe which could be interesting. I had a closer look, and yes, bare wire resting on bare copper pipe, inside my wardrobe. Not so easy eh?
That fixed and my home made leak testing manometer attached I switched on the gas. Red dyed water blew everywhere! Now the math’s was right but I suppose an experienced gas fitter would know that when you stitch on there is a momentary surge while the regulator settles down. Again, not so easy. That fixed I did actually find a leak on the heater, not my installation, so it was worth doing.
One tip I did pick up from the professional safety tester last year. When the leak test manometer is disconnected which shows there are no leaks, and the test point is blanked off, make sure that you test the blanking off otherwise the gas leaks out, settles in the bottom of the boat until you light the gas oven.
So now I can lie in my cozy bed, gazing at the nice new boiler hanging on the wall, looking at the lovely home made polished flue fitting and wondering, what else don’t I know!