Without taking the radiator off the wall

No heating engineer or plumber required

In the current economic climate everyone is on the lookout for ways to save money. Giving your home a makeover instead of employing a contractor is one way of saving money. The work itself is not difficult, saves money on home maintenance and could actually increase the value of your property. To increase chances of selling your property keep to a neutral colour scheme. Buyers do not like garish colours.  Before you get the paint brushes out there is one obstacle standing in the way of decorating the walls with a fresh coat of paint. It is the one attribute guaranteed to turn the stomach of any perspective house buyer. The nemesis of all DIY enthusiasts and home decorators, old wallpaper. It often hides a multitude of sins in the form of cracks, mould, damp, flaking paint and all kinds of previously botched repairs. If you want to sell or decorate your home remove all traces of antiquated wallpaper. An often overlooked problem of wallpaper stripping in the home is radiator removal. It is widely recommended by professional decorators and contractors that you have the radiators removed from the walls. I put forward the argument that removing radiators for decorating is often unnecessary. (not always, depending on the situation).

Work Behind RadiatorCredit: Marvin Africa

Reasons for not Removing a Radiator from the Wall
Removing a radiator for decorating runs the risk of stripping the internal threads, rendering it only fit for scrap, expensive repair or replacement. To remove the radiator on a vented central heating system takes a long time. The entire central heating system needs draining, which begins  with a trek into the loft to prevent the header tank refilling. Then all the water needs draining from the lowest point in the system. When air finds its way into the heating system over the years, it causes rust to form inside the radiators. The water inside a disconnected radiator will probably be black or a dark red/brown colour. Imagine this potent brew of water, sludge and gunk spread liberally on your carpet or flooring. You can take precautions but removing a radiator from a wall always involves some spills. Large radiators are incredibly heavy and cumbersome to carry. Take this into account, unless of course, you want to make a call to a chiropractor or one of those irritating accident hot-lines. A heating engineer or plumber will charge a lot of money to drain a central heating system to remove a radiator for decorating. The job takes several hours and plumbers have expensive hourly rates. If you undertake this work in winter your heating will be off for the entire period of the work. When the decorating work is complete the heating engineer or plumber has to return to replace the radiator. Bleeding the central heating takes a long time, air is let out of each radiator in the system.

How to Avoid Removing Radiators for Decorating
I have developed a simple system that will remove wallpaper from behind a radiator without any need to remove it from the wall. You will need to make some very simple tools to work in the tight space between the wall and radiator.

1) A long-handled scraper with angled blade.
2) A flat abrasive pad on a long handle (not required with non-waterproof wallpapers)
3) A sponge (mini paint roller) on a flexible metal rod
4) A bucket of hot soapy water
5) A general purpose sponge
6) Protective Sheeting (if you want or need to protect the floor)

A mini paint roller will easily fit on a wire bird food stand. Strip back a small amount of the protective plastic coating on the metal rod (where it would normally be pushed into the ground) This is the most important tool out of the lot. Use the tool to soak the difficult to reach area behind the radiator with water.  Modify this tool for abrasion by taping sandpaper over a clean dry mini paint roller. This eliminates the need for making a specific tool for this purpose. It might be possible to make these tools by bending long-handled paint rollers specially designed for decorating behind radiators but I have never tried this method.

Radiator ToolsCredit: Marvin Africa

Getting Started
You can leave the central heating on, but turn the radiator in question off. To do this turn the plus minus valve control or the thermostatic radiator valve  (TRV) to the closed or off position. Strip all the wallpaper from the radiator wall leaving only the area behind the radiator. Scrape as far as you can reach in all directions, from both sides, the top and from underneath. If the radiator has sharp edges apply tape to make it safer. It is extremely important that you try to remove the top layer of wallpaper as far as possible. The lining paper is easy to remove once the top layer is gone. To protect the flooring place protective sheeting down below the radiator. Use the long-handled mini paint roller tool that you have made to soak the area of wallpaper behind the radiator. Sweep across it several times, wetting the roller after each pass. Check that you have scraped as far as possible from each direction? Every millimetre counts. Wet the area of paper behind the radiator continuously throughout the procedure. Progressively work on the remaining area of wallpaper. Abrade the surface with sandpaper if necessary, soak then scrape. Compress the mini paint roller, so that the plastic centre acts as a scraping tool. It is an effective tool because it wets the paper at the same time. In the end you should make some slow progress.

Completing the Job
There comes a point when it seems like you are no longer making any headway. In this situation wet the wallpaper in the hard to reach zone. Take a short break, clean away all the stripped paper from below the radiator. This will allow you to see clearly see that progress is gradually being made. The job takes a long time, it won't get done quickly. Alternate between the mini paint roller and long-handled scraper. It is very satisfying to see the last piece of wallpaper come off the wall. Hold off on the celebration until you have cleaned off all the old wallpaper paste from behind the radiator. This is really easy and the last step to complete the job.

Health and Safety
Radiators can have sharp edges. Do not force your arms behind the radiators because there is a risk to getting them trapped. Use the long-handled tools as described in this article.

I hope it goes smoothly for you. If it goes wrong blame the wallpaper, NOT my article! However, after removing the wallpaper you might find some flaky paint and that is a different story and a different article.