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Painted pipes

Hi all,

My husband and I just purchased a circa 1865 home with one-pipe steam heating, which, being newbies to this form of heating, scares the you-know-what out of us. One of the things we recently noticed now that we're working on repainting rooms, the pipes in our kitchen and living room leading up to the top floor have paint that's peeling, exposing rust underneath. Is this normal age wear? It does appear that someone painted them with the exact same paint as what's on the walls, which I would guess is a no-no. With a toddler and another child on the way, my husband decided to buy a lead-paint test kit and will be testing it soon, but I just wanted to know what's the best way to remedy the ugliness (assuming it's not lead-based paint). I'm also curious if the more extensive damage around the pipe in the living room indicates a leak at some point. Any and all input is greatly appreciated; I'm sure we'll have more as time goes on, like "Is steam worth all the effort? Is it really big PIA?" :-)


  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Painted Pipes

    Hi- Without looking at the "rust" close up it's hard to tell the reason it's flaking. If the pipes were painted with waterbase latex paint that quite often is the cause of what you are seeing. Use a wire brush.sand paper and brush away the old loose paint and then use an oil base primer like Rustoleum..  Check with a good paint store and they'll provide you with the right primer. With new paint, you may have a little outgassing (smell) the first time you turn on the steam system so it's always a good idea to do this on a warm day so you can open the windows for fresh air if needed.

        Since you're new to steam I would suggest you get one of the several great steam books available in the Store Section of this website. The best one to start out with would be : "We Got Steam Heat!"  Here's a link to it:


    This book is written for the homeowner new to steam. It's easy, humorous reading and in an evening or two you will be light years ahead in your knowledge of residential steam heating.  The knowledge in this book will save you a lot of money. My copy has probably paid for itself easily a hundred times over.

    Steam heating is the Cadillac of the heating systems and most problems are due to a lack of maintenance on the system which can usually be fairly easily cured.

    What type of steam system do you have?  A one pipe or a two pipe system? This is determined by how many pipes lead to each radiator . One pipe = a one pipe system ,Two pipes = a 2 pipe system! 

    If you have questions don't hesitate to ask them.

    - Rod
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,314
    The first photo

    looks from here to be very typical of a leak at the radiator valve above the fitting. If you look around the valve on the next floor that pipe leads to I feel you will find signs of past or current leaking. Steam should be quite, quick, and comfortable. If yours is not then check out Dan's books first, step two is stop back here with more photos and questions, step three is use the find a contractor tab at the top of the page. Steam should never be a big PIA.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,888
    Steam systems,

    as Rod says, are not a pain in the whatever!  Nor are they any more effort than hot water systems (in fact, I think they are less).  They do require a little maintenance and thought from time to time, but so does any mechanical system.  Nor are they significantly less efficient than even the fancy new hot water systems.  So relax, take a little time to learn your system (the book Rod suggests is an excellent place to start!) and enjoy the best home heating money can buy!

    On the paint.  The thing to do is to scrape and wire brush as much of the old paint and rust off as you can.  You don't have to be a fanatic, but you don't want loose rust or loose paint.  Then paint with any good primer.  Oil base is best, and Rustoleum is recommended, but any oil base primer may be hard to get; some of the newer acrylic primers made for metal work almost as well (ask at your paint store).  Once the primer is on, we have had very good success here (this is a museum) with using the same paint we use on the walls (usually an acrylic), which has the advantage of a good colour match.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,078
    i wouldn't make a mountain

    out of a mole hill if the paint has lead in it, and i'm sure it does..just scrape and repaint..don't eat or feed to toddlers ;)
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • Hap_Hazzard
    Hap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,849
    Pipes and paint

    When I replaced my rotted-out wet return I found that in some places the damage on the outside was even worse than inside. The worst areas were those that had been painted with ordinary house paint. Some of these looked so bad you'd think it had been buried for twenty years.

    Needless to say, I was not keen on painting the new pipe, but my wife wasn't pleased with the standard black paint and lettering motif, so I looked around for something that would make us both happy. What I found was some Rust Oleum "high heat" paint. They've now gone beyond their basic "barbecue black" and are now making some decent colors. We settled on a nondescript beigey color called "almond" that almost matched the basement walls.

    I can't say how well this stuff will hold up over time. I'll be dead before these pipes rust out in any case. But I can say that it looks good and doesn't stink up the house when the heat is on like the regular Rust Oleum does.

    If you're concerned about lead, you can buy test kits at most building supply and hardware stores, but they ain't cheap.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA
    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • Luv'nsteam
    Luv'nsteam Member Posts: 278
    VHT paint

    Very high temperature paint can be found in an automotive store if Rustoleum paint does not float your fancy. Another source can be found here: por-15.com. They specialize in automotive restoration, but have some really great products that work. Good luck!

    Thank you,

  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 4,386
    Lead paint is....

    a real problem. I would use care removing it....especially w/ a young one. The best thing I can come up w/ is to encapsulate it. Some 1/2" wall fiberglass insulation and then get the PVC vinyl boots to go over the pipe and fittings. This will not only look decent it will keep all that nasty flaking inside out of harms way.
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    what they said, but

    After wire brushing, I'd hit it with a coat of rust converter before I primed (with an oil-based high temperature paint.)
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