This summer, as floors were being redone and windows repainted, we took out the cast iron steam radiators from the first floor of the Roff Home and hauled them to a guy who does sandblasting in Stockland, Illinois. Afterward, I repainted the radiators, first with a couple of base coats of primer and then two or three coats of a silver metallic spray paint.
First of all, let me say that I had no idea what a radiator weighed. Holy cast iron. I knew they would be heavy, but the biggest ones must have weighed 200-300 pounds. Lifting those things was like dragging a cast iron corpse through the house.
And of course, the warning the historic preservation people had given me was that steam radiators are fragile and are probably being held together by their own rust, so be careful and don’t drop them when you’re moving them!
Considering we could barely lift a single radiator more than two inches off the ground, the chances of damaging one by dropping it was pretty much nil.
The next challenge was loading them and then driving in such a way that they wouldn’t get tipped over in the truck on the way to Stockland. So we leaned three or four radiators against each other in the back of the truck, and I drove to Stockland slower than a blue-haired octagenarian in a midnight snow storm.
While I was spray painting, I had a bit of a panic attack about the color. At the beginning of the process, I could tell from peeling paint that the lowest layer had been a brass or gold color. But when it comes to metallic colors, I prefer silver to gold. So I went with my inclination and bought a hoard of silver spray paint. But when I started painting, I realized the silver was going to clash with the renovated flooring of the home. I panicked. The only way I could talk myself off the ledge was to promise myself that if I didn’t like the color combination, I could always unscrew them, haul them out back, and repaint them.
However, now that they are installed and I can see them against the finished flooring, I have grown to like the combination of the silver against the flooring. I think the silver adds a splash of color to each room, instead of having a color that just blends in. Sometimes it’s better to stand out, don’t you agree?
A couple of tips on our sandblasting and painting experiences :
- Wrap any openings on the radiators — or anything that you don’t want to get sandblasted — with duct tape. For us that meant wrapping the entry pipe where steam goes in and the little bullet valve that lets steam escape.
- We had been warned not to leave the duct tape on too long because it can start to adhere and be a nuisance to remove. We had the duct tape on for several days until repainting was complete but didn’t have too much trouble getting it off.
- When repainting, make sure you have the little valve completely covered that allows steam to escape. Otherwise you’ll end up with a partially painted valve.
- We used a silver metallic spray paint on the radiators. There was a temperature warning on the paint cans that said that the paint shouldn’t be used on surfaces hotter than 200 degrees F. We had some debate here whether that meant that it shouldn’t be used on radiators. I looked at the high-temperature paints, but they all looked like these industrial colors — black like a barbecue grill, a dark mottled green, and other colors so unattractive that I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy’s radiators. I called the paint company, and the support person believed it was fine to use the silver metallic paint on steam radiators. Considering heat transfer through the pipe and the distance of the steam from the boiler, we thought that it was unlikely that the surface of the radiator reached 200 degrees F.
- The radiators smelled for a couple of days after first turning on the heat. The new paint vents off some chemical when it is first heated, or something like that. So we ran the boiler a couple of times with the windows open to get rid of the smell before it got too cold.
- I’ve seen some postings online about the effectiveness of heat transfer through radiators when painting with light versus dark colors. Considering that much of the paint had peeled off of the radiators, I wondered whether I would notice a difference. Quite frankly, I don’t.
Cost < $100 per radiator
The cost of getting the radiators sandblasted was much less than what I had anticipated. We probably spent as much in primer and paint as we did in sandblasting. Not counting our time for hauling and repainting, the process cost less than $100 per radiator.
The next challenge: radiators on the second floor
We completed the radiators on the first floor of the home, plus a small one upstairs. That leaves all of the radiators on the second floor to be sandblasted and refinished. Now, once we figure out how to get 200-300 pound radiators down from the second floor without killing ourselves or destroying the home, we’ll do those, too.
Here are some before and after pics for your viewing pleasure: