Saturday, March 5, 2011

Painting Cast Iron Radiators: ATTENTION! Use Oil-Based Primer!!!

So, I mentioned in passing that we'd had our first -- and hopefully last -- DIY misadventure with the new house. Well, here it is, and it is sure to bore the bejeezus out of you if you are not interested in either a) radiators; b) old houses and their issues; or c) colossal eff-ups that result in howls to the heavens. Why have you forsaken me, God?? 

Okay, so maybe it wasn't that bad. But it was a real pain in the tush. I've given this post a very search-engine-friendly title, and if it is what has brought you here and you're choosing paint for radiators, I hope I've caught you in time! Here's the story.

Our new-old house was built in 1885, and has gorgeous Victorian cast-iron radiators:

Which were fairly mucked up with lead-based paint, some of it pea green, some of it flaking off in potato-chip-sized flakes.

And here's the thing we've learned about having radiant heat in Portland: it's not uncommon, but it's not the norm. There aren't that many companies that work on radiators, and . . . they're not cheap. What was involved here was taking down the boiler, unhooking each radiator, hauling them out of the house for sandblasting, and then hauling them back. And they're HEAVY SUCKERS. Jim estimates the bigger ones at around 800 pounds! So there was a lot of labor involved in this step. It took four medium-large to quite-large guys all day, and cost accordingly.

The result was delicious.

Hello, gorgeous!

Here's where it gets fun. We'd thought to save some money by having Jim take it from here and do the painting himself. (On a separate note, we were cautioned against powder-coating for several reasons. Bored yet?) So he looked into it, googled around, and most importantly, he went to a paint store -- a regional chain called Miller Paint -- and told them what he was going to do, and asked what he should use.

They sold him a product.

He used it. 

On all eleven freshly sandblasted beauties.

All eleven freshly sandblasted antique beauties of ungodly weight. 

And within an hour of using that product, recommended by Miller Paint specifically for this purpose? 

It began with some worrisome speckling.

And progressed.

Ye gods, rust! RUST EVERYWHERE!

We just wanted to cry. Instead we cursed and wrung our hands. Jim did some more calling around -- a local mom and pop paint shop called Powell Paint, and Home Depot (the opposite ends of the spectrum), and was told, immediately and competently by both places that one must not use latex paint on cast iron radiators OR THEY WILL RUST.

Ya think?

In fact, what he should have used was simple old Rustoleum Red Oxide primer in the spray can, which is only a few dollar per! Well. Good to know. However, we now had to start over. The question: reemploy those four guys for another day of money-bleeding? The thought was sick-making, so Jim decided to use a nasty chemical and scrub the rust off himself instead.

Which took an entire week of evenings and was not fun. Not. Fun. The result was this:

Followed by this:

Painted and glossy and lovely and ready to reinstall!

And the thing that seriously sucks? The painting was easy. This DIY job should have been a piece of cake. But because an employee at Miller sold Jim the wrong thing, it became a nightmare.

(You must be crazy bored right now. What are you still doing here?)

I did contact Miller, incidentally, to let them know of the problem. They were at once gracious (they agreed to pay for Jim's stripping supplies), and not. Thing is, we're about to paint out entire new house, every single room, and even some floors! And we were going to buy it at Miller, but their polite response was lacking in any clear effort to keep our business. There was even a hint of blame, with them claiming their stuff *does* work, but Jim didn't use it right

{Uh oh. I'm falling asleep in my chair.}

So there it is, DIY catastrophe. We're back on track now, radiators done and beautiful, and . . . now we'e up to our waists in trying to get our *current* house ready to show . . . 

{Seriously. I keep nodding off. I'd better go. Forgive any typos or dream sequences. I'll be back when I'm awake! :)


Q said...

Shoot, the radiator in my dorm room might have lead-based paint on it. *makes mental note to not touch it in the spring when the steam turns off*

Jane said...

oh no!
But those things look beautiful and worth the pain in the long run.

Gondal-girl said...

they are heavenly, think of the cold nights when they will work their magic, a glass of wine and the tales you will tell Clementine

( I am having house envy)x

Amber Lough said...

I'm WAY behind on my blog reading...but this was a great first-time-back post to read! The radiators are gorgeous. And mysterious, since they spent how many years covered up? So sorry you had to go to all that trouble and expense, though.

Can't wait till we own a home some day.

Elizabeth said...

bugger! too bad, b/c i think miller's low-VOC eco paint is my favorite of the two options i've tried (the other being the cheap arm and hammer version @ freddie's which was super thin and took three coats). but i wouldn't be eager to patronize them either based on their response! you can buy the miller eco paint at fred meyer too. there's always metro paint, which is recycled, but it's not low VOC. on the upside, it's thicker and covers in two coats. good luck!!!

Faith Pray said...

Ouch! Glad it all worked out after you guys wasted all that money, time and labor on it, but they do look radiant. hee hee. And glad that they were redeemable and didn't explode or something.

Amber said...

They are beautiful, though.
But GAH! I HATE poor service like that!! Hate. It.


Charlotte said...

Oh my gosh. I feel for you--radiators are so darn heavy, and it isn't as though you all don't have enough to do. Mercifully, our radiators were never painted by previous owners, so removing lead paint from them was not one of our (many) fun paint removal projects!

You might want to get hold of a handy book called "The Lost Art of Steam Heating." My husband also wants me to tell you that if you have a single pipe system, the efficiency can be improved by replacing the ratty old valves with "Varivalves" and putting a shim under the end opposite the steam pipe so that it drains more efficiently :)

You can also, of course, re-read the bit in Madeline L'Engles book Meet the Austins in which a potato has to be jammed on an exploding radiator valve....

tone almhjell said...

The radiators are absolutely gorgeous. And they can be so ugly, you know? Good job Jim. Terrible job silly paint shop people, who of course should have offered to do the work for you.

amy said...

Oh, ugh. I feel your pain. All that time and work! I usually go to Miller for paint and feel kinda sick that you were lead astray. I do not have radiators, or even a house right now, but was enthralled with your post. The radiators are beautiful!

Anonymous said...

If you have time, I'd write a letter to the employee(s)'s supervisor, and let them know why you won't be painting your entire house with Miller, as planned, or recommending it to any of your friends. Heck, you can take most of what you wrote in the blog post and just recycle it in the letter.

I'm so sorry that happened to you. I hate it when uncaring people suck little pieces of our lives out, like a whole week of evenings. On the plus side, kudos to Jim--those radiators look GORGEOUS!

anne said...

I grew up in a house w/cast iron, hot water heat. The best heat ever. You did the right thing, redoing them, the sandblasting, etc....and yes, they are amazingly lovely and add such class. I will tell you, tho, never fall and hit your head on one. My brother did, he had been to a cast party in High School and got drunk (first and last time as a youngest, let me tell you!) and came home and fell and hit his head on the radiator in the front hall....OW!

and hey, it wasn't a boring post. You told it well, and it was interesting.

Laini Taylor said...

Hi all! Thanks for enjoying my radiator tale of woe :-) Can't wait to see them reinstalled and enjoy the delicious heat! Our current house is always chilly in winter! Once Jim stopped by a friend's house and she was wearing a Tshirt [indoors] in winter, and he was dumbfounded because we have to bundle up in our house!!

Elizabeth, we decided to use Benjamin Moore no-VOC from Powell Paint; we just tested it out in the house we're selling, and it's great. No smell at all, and very nice color. Well, "color." (White.)

Charlotte, ha ha! I did reread Meet the Austins a few years ago. Oh, how I used to want to be Vicky Austin!

Anonymous, we *did* contact Miller, with much more detail than is included here, and they were very prompt in getting back to me, and as I said, very gracious. There was a hint of blaminess though, which I found offputting, and when we intimated we were going to look elsewhere for our many gallons of paint for the house, the corporate guy didn't try to persuade us (which is fine, I guess), but just said, okay bye. I thought that was a little weird. But they were very easy to get ahold of, and very nice.

Anne, yes, I'm psyched about radiant heat! Will watching the booze :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi im glad every thing worked out and the radiators look Great .
Another tip is you should always use a solvent or enamelled based paint not water base (this will also cause rust ) all these paints can be bought in any ral colour .
I bought the exact same radiators new from a great company called
They have there own foundry and make all the old designs . They also sized and painted the radiators to my spec and look superb.

Radiators said...

You must ensure that your paint and primer are approved for high-temperature situations, or the paint could be ruined the first time you use the heater.

Lynn said...

Hi! I stumbled across your article while surfing to find answers regarding re-painting our old cast iron radiators (putting them in a new log house - they came from an old Alaska Highway lodge - I digress...) Your article was VERY INTERESTING - I didn't nod off, I was glued to every word! ;) I just got some high-heat rustoleum (Tremclad, actually) at the store yesterday and plan to start painting in a week or so. Ours aren't nearly as fancy as yours, which, BTW are COMPLETELY AWESOME - but I'm hoping for the same quality result that you persevered for. Congratulations! Awesome recycling and how beautiful. You and Jim should be extremely proud. Well done.

Anonymous said...

i dont see what type of paint you used over the rustoleum red oxide primer.
the white glossy looks great and am in the process of redoing several radiators but dont know which is best paint to put over it. i definitely wont use latex.
thanks for this post!

Cheryl said...

This blog entry came up while doing a google search. Thanks! We're painting radiators in our new/old house tomorrow! Glad I stopped by here. Going to read more entries now; love your writing style. I am writing a blog about totally renovating an old house outside of Boston.

P.S. Your radiators are beautious!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I have the exact same radiators in my home. I am currently in the process of removing who knows how many layers of paint off of each one myself. At least now I wont have to do it twice.

Mark said...

Thanks for this post, I also found it in a Google search. I am working on a set of radiators of the same vintage, and the information was very useful. Sorry for your bad experience, thanks for sharing it.

Emily Clayton said...

Thanks for the helpful post. Where did Jim haul the radiators to get them sand blasted? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

thanks for taking the time to post... about to embark on the same thing, very helpful and I like the writing style as well

missabaybe said...

This is very helpful, thanks! I came across your blog while searching for causes of rust and pinhole leaks in radiators. Our home was built in the same year as yours and our radiators look very similar. We had them all sandblasted and powder coated and are now regretting it (though they look amazing) b/c two of them have developed pin hole leaks. We are not sure what to do; repair them and risk more holes developing or find expensive replacements. Do you know of anywhere in the US that sells replacement radiators?

Andrew Harburns said...

The Cast Iron Radiators seem to totally transform into an absolutely brand new one, excellent job done!!!

Khalika said...

Thanks so much for this post! There is some really cool stuff on your blog, keep up the good work here!

Anonymous said...

This problem just happened to me - so your post was SUPER HELPFUL! I only wish I had read it before the painter painted all my radiators with latex over oil. Now he's probably going to have to go and sand them all and paint over with oil-based... what a mess! Thank you for sharing your experience!

Dr. Anthony Galzarano said...

Blaming the customer! The oldest, most pathetic, most aggravating trick in the book. Do they really think that makes them look betier than apologizing? Has it ever kept a customer?

Jeannie Leach said...

Sorry if I posted this already. I know it's been some time since your post but we are currently painting some radiators that appear as if they've never had paint on them. At this point based on your post we intend on using the Rust-Oleum red oxide prime before painting. We would have liked to have used our satin finish white paint that we've used throughout our house after applying the primer. However I'm not sure that it will be the best option. could you please respond and let me know what paint, oil based or latex, you ended up using after the Rust-Oleum red oxide primer was applied. Thank you so much for your consideration. PS Your hard work paid off...the radiators are beautiful! I enjoyed your post...well written....comical, too, even though your situation was not so much.

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