March 01, 2021
If you find your radiator cold at the bottom, it could mean that there is an issue with your central heating system.
This is not necessarily a serious issue, but you will still want to make sure that you can find, and fix, it before it causes bigger, more expensive problems further down the line. Here are some tips for what the causes might be, and how to avoid making them worse.
Due to the way that most radiators work, heat is not spread evenly throughout one radiator. Radiators might have one side that is slightly warmer than the other, but this is not usual if it is noticeable. In cases where a radiator is cooler at the bottom and hot at the top (or hot at the bottom of the radiator and cold at the top), there is some problem with the way that the hot water is flowing through it.
In almost all cases, the reason behind a drop in temperature is because of a blockage. Various things can 'clog' the pipes in your radiators and stop them from working correctly, and may even fill pipes in the heating system itself. If you fill a pipe with something and it gets wedged, then there is less room for it to fill with hot water, meaning that it can reduce the flow, or potentially even cut it off entirely.
One of the most common reasons is central heating sludge, which is made from the various particles that gather inside radiators while they operate.
Your central heating system has a constant flow of hot water, and that hot water can carry particles gathered while inside the heating system. This can be made up of dust, dirt, pieces of limescale, or even just hard water: anything that settles in radiators can cause them to become cold at the bottom, since it blocks hot water from being able to heat the space effectively.
This sludge is almost always typical black sludge since not much else can get into the heating system or through the boiler filter. The exact composition of the sludge might change, but it is usually just a thick black sludge that gets stuck in the pipes.
Blockages, especially a build-up of sludge, can be the biggest problem in regards to cold spots in radiators. However, you may need (and usually do need) to hire a professional engineer to handle it. They usually flush the system to remove any blockages.
Most of the time, radiators are cleared with a pump that pushes any chemical blockages out of the bottom of the radiator (or the top of the radiator, if it is stuck higher up). This is the best way to remove sludge effectively.
Descalers can't remove sludge, but they can remove the limescale that forms it, which also prevents rust from harming the heating system.
Sometimes, a heating engineer will have to dislodge blockages externally, which could take a while if they are not able to find the blockage quickly. The heating engineer may also have to dismantle certain pipes if the problem is serious enough.
All of these different options are used together during a Power Flush, which basically involves completely flushing the cold radiators of all blockages that might be causing a problem. It can take up to ten hours if you have multiple cold radiators to fix, but it also saves you having to buy new radiators.
Trapped air can be another common cause of cold radiators, even if the heating system seems to be perfectly fine. A cold radiator will not directly impact heating systems, so the best way to identify the problem is to check each cold radiator and compare it to the boiler gauge: if at least one radiator is too cold, it may have issues with trapped air.
The easiest way to clear air is to use a bleed valve, a radiator valve that can be used to get it out of the way and free up room for hot water to flow again. If you bleed a radiator, you eliminate the blockage that takes up space in the pipes, making room for new water to flow through, and provide proper heating to the cold areas.
Some radiators have features like a thermostatic radiator valve (TRV) that need extra steps in any guide you follow, and may cost more to replace. Be sure to look up a guide relevant to your own radiator models if you can, these can often be found online.
Radiator valves can suffer a lot of problems, especially if you do not seal them correctly. Open radiators can drip water from the bottom and make the system less efficient, increasing heating bills and potentially causing a leak. Always be sure to seal up radiator valves to stop these water leaks, and double-check them every time you need to open or shut them.
If air is coming back in and making the radiator cold at the bottom (or cold at the top) again even after you bleed it, then there is something else making the radiator turn cold, usually a leak or crack of some kind. All radiators and boiler models will naturally fill with air over time, but it should not be instant.
The leak does not have to be near the spot where the radiator is cold at the bottom: as long as a blockage is be able to get into the radiator from further back in the heating system, it will usually cause the same problem. Try to find these leaks and either fix them yourself or get outside help from a professional engineer.
Of course, it is also possible that a full flush won't do anything, meaning that the boiler itself is the culprit, making your radiators cold at the bottom. The boiler controls almost everything else in the system - even if you close every radiator valve, flush all chemical blockages and fix each leak in the pipe system, the boiler can still be damaged.
Boilers usually need a gas-safe professional to fix them, even if the issue is only with the boiler filter, so people without gas-safe registered training should avoid fixing it themselves.
Always get a gas-safe, registered engineer to handle boilers. Whether it is chemical damage, boiler filter problems, hard water or just issues with heat retention, boilers are very dangerous if handled incorrectly. A corrosion inhibitor might be able to protect a boiler, but it can't fix it, so major heat issues can require a brand new boiler altogether.
If you need a new boiler, you need a new boiler. There is no other way to get around a broken boiler system: radiators can be replaced somewhat easily, but boilers can cost a lot more to build and set up.
If you are getting cold water at the bottom of a radiator and only see faults with the boiler, then you need a new boiler: the heating needs to be able to reach the bottom of the radiators effectively, and weaker or old heating systems/boilers can stop that from happening.
Radiators can have a lot of issues depending on the heating system they use, how old they are, and when you last got a new boiler. From water leaks to blockages, there are multiple causes of a cold radiator, and you can't get all of them solved at once.
Always start by figuring out why the bottom of the radiator is cold. Did it ever get a rust inhibitor check? Could there be a leak? Is there something blocking the top of the radiator? Is the heating system the problem? Check as much as you can, and try to find anything that might help you identify the issue.
The best way to solve minor radiator issues is taking the solutions one-by-one. If you think that water has started to fill the bottom and can't be removed, then see if you can drain it out. Do not rush into cost-heavy solutions until you know that they are needed.
A rust inhibitor is a good way to get a head-start on preventing future rust issues and can make sure your radiators do not turn into bigger concerns further down the line. Replacing parts of your heating system can also help - basically, do anything you can to extend the life of your system.
Signing up to sites that offer free advice or help with certain issues can help, and you can also look for sites that have host technical guide documents or other guide information that might be useful.
You may have to sign up to these with an email address for free (you can always use a spare email if you want to avoid spam), but they are a good way to get expert advice on how to fix the issues.
If you do not have anywhere to turn that can help you solve the problem yourself, look for somebody who can. You will have to fill them in on the issue, but a new perspective from a professional can help a lot when you have no idea what the problem is.
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