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Tips for renovating steam radiators

Pinec0ne
Pinec0ne Member Posts: 17
I bought a 1920’s home and decided to keep the steam system so I want to beautify the rads. What’s the best method? I was thinking of using a wire brush or scraper to get the paint off since I want to avoid strippers due to chemicals. Since the rads likely have lead paint on them I won’t use a wire wheel. 
I also am waiting for a quote to sandblast them. 

If I do it myself, what paint should I use? Should I prime them? 

I was thinking rustoleum high heat paint, but the lady at Home Depot is telling me it doesn’t radiate the heat as well after, which doesn’t make much sense to me. Looking for advice

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,916
    You'll get various thoughts. Some folks like to take them and have them sandblasted or hot dipped and powder coated. Others not so much. Me? I get as much rust off as I can, and any loose or flaking paint -- a good strong scraper and patience. And then I just paint them with a very high quality interior acrylic of whatever colour you choose. I use Benjamin Moore's Aura, but there are other brands.

    Keep in mind that a steam radiator will never get over 212, so you don't need high heat paint.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Pinec0neethicalpaul
  • Pinec0ne
    Pinec0ne Member Posts: 17
    Thanks I appreciate that. I was reading in some places to avoid acrylic or latex based paint. I think I’m just going to use a brass scraper and paint scraper and try and get as much off. 

    Did you prime your radiator?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,916
    No, honestly I didn't bother -- I took Benjamin Moore at their word, as they claim that Aura at least is self priming. Seems to work -- I did a lot of radiators at least a decade ago, and they're still fine.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,916
    An item I didn't mention, @Pinec0ne -- modern acrylics don't dry in the conventional sense. They cure in the presence of air and moisture. Therefore -- jid you do use them on a radiator or such, let them cure at room temoerature or near it for at least a week before you turn on the heat.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ethicalpaul
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,078
    We use a local sandblaster/ painter who uses Sherwin Williams standard paints and has never had any issues. I think it isn't so much about the paint as it is the surface prep prior to painting.
    gwgillplumbingandheating.com
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • Stet
    Stet Member Posts: 37
    Actually, Dan has an article on this. Look it up!
  • IainGellatly
    IainGellatly Member Posts: 2
    I have 15 large hot water radiators in my 1898 Victorian. All where painted several times with cheap neutral-colored latex paint over the years by prior owners to blend in and be less noticeable. I removed each one, sandblasted bare at a local blasting shop, then primed and painted with automotive-grade finish. Now they look great and really stand out. They are literally conversation pieces all around the house.


    cligerCLambWMno57
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,262
    edited August 2023
    Our friends at Castrads (@Nick_Castrads ) do beautiful work with radiator restoration.
    President
    HeatingHelp.com
  • JoeHammes_2
    JoeHammes_2 Member Posts: 2
    We've painted well over a hundred radiators in the last 20-plus years like this: Sandblast if they are overloaded with paint - otherwise, pressure-wash, then wire-wheel clean. Paint them outside or in a booth with thinned-down Rustoleum (or any good oil enamel) in any color with an HVLP sprayer. Keep shooting from various angles to get every surface - if the paint is thinned to a watery viscosity it won't build up or harden into runs and drips. Let them cure several days to a week, then, if it's heating season, open the windows a few inches and run the heat for a day to let the paint cure and vent the smell. Leave a small can of leftover paint with the owners for touch-ups. This has worked very well for us.







  • retired1
    retired1 Member Posts: 2
    I'm not a plumber but a small landlord and had ideas of swapping out an old radiator. Those ideas were nixed when we tried to lift it. It had to be 100lbs. To remove a radiator and carry it down 2 or 3 flights of stairs and to do the same going back up, was a no go?
  • Steam_Gus
    Steam_Gus Member Posts: 7
    I did a refresh of all my cast iron radiators  25 years ago (11  units). Professional sandblasting and two coats of spray with a BM metallic paint (bronze color).
    Bought a special tap to cleanup all vent ports. Repacked all valve stems and tape/doped all union connections (massively reduced water refill cycles)
    End result was more comfort and lower operating costs.  Go for it. 
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,605
    retired1 said:

    I'm not a plumber but a small landlord and had ideas of swapping out an old radiator. Those ideas were nixed when we tried to lift it. It had to be 100lbs. To remove a radiator and carry it down 2 or 3 flights of stairs and to do the same going back up, was a no go?

    I daresay 100 pounds would be a rather small one!
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    STEAM DOCTOR
  • ARobertson13
    ARobertson13 Member Posts: 6
    I repainted several radiators but chose to remove them and used a wire wheel to remove rust and old paint.
    Lead is a concern. Use as little coating as possible. Rustoleum has a high heat paint line line Sku 7716830 Silver spray on
  • rberq
    rberq Member Posts: 6
    Everybody loves the silver / bronze / metallic paints. Me too, they are beautiful. But my understanding is that those paint colors, especially metallic, reduce heat radiation significantly. Maybe not a problem, maybe even an advantage, if the house has more radiator than it needs due to modern insulation. But be aware.
  • gmcinnes
    gmcinnes Member Posts: 118
    If you can *possibly* avoid it, have someone else take care of stripping it due to the lead issues. If you can't, try and do it outside. If you do it inside, be paranoid. Outside or inside, put down lots of plastic and don't track through the house with paint chip shoes. Change as soon as you're done working. Keep everything wet while you're working to reduce dust. Don't vacuum. It just blows dust everywhere. Even with domestic vacuums that say they're HEPA. Clean with a wet cloth, and some water with TSP (if it hasn't been banned by numptys in your juristiction)

    FWI when I did mine I flaked off any obviously loose paint with a scraper, cleaned them with a dryer brush, washed them down well with TSP. I bought a cheap HVLP sprayer from Harbor Freight and sprayed them with the same Behr Home Depot paint that I was using for the trim. Been seven years, and there are no issues yet. They had a good few coats of paint on them already, so it would be nice to sandblast them one day to get them back to bare metal and bring out the fine detail in those works of art.
  • MarkReynolds1
    MarkReynolds1 Member Posts: 15
    My 4800 sq. foot prior home had BIG radiators, so moving them anywhere was out of the question. The paint was peeling so it had to come off. I had great results with a few cheap chisels pulled in reverse like a scraper. My guess is the paint bond was loosened by vibration in the metal. Also, I used a rustoleum metal primer first. Without it the latex color coat actually rusted the bare cast iron.
    Mark
  • New England SteamWorks
    New England SteamWorks Member Posts: 1,502

    Our friends at Castrads (@Nick_Castrads ) do beautiful work with radiator restoration.

    Another option, for New Englanders
    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
    newenglandsteamworks.com