Radiator Restoration Recs?

Photo by PoPville flickr user available_photons

“Dear Popville,

I recently purchased a house with radiators that have been painted over many times and are now peeling. We like radiator heat, and we like the look of nice radiators, so were hoping to fix them up somehow. Has anyone tried to restore their radiators? Did they do it themselves or use a local company?”

Ed. Note: Here are some old recs from 2010 but if anyone has more current ones please add to the comments – thanks!

19 Comment

  • We ordered radiator covers from Fichman Furniture and are very happy with them. They’re wooden tops and sides, and the front is metal.

  • ChemStrip can strip and repaint them for you and they will look very nice. But it will cost you a few hundred dollars per radiator and you will also have to arrange transportation to/from Chemstrip for the radiator.


  • I love radiator covers!

    If you prefer the look of radiators, and to not block some heat as most radiator covers do some, the more expensive option, which can make for beautiful radiators, especially those with the patterns and scrolls on them, is to have them dipped and stripped, and than painted with appropriate paint – I like the bronze sort of colors. This is expensive, mainly because they are very heavy and cost some to have moved, and it costs to have a plumber unhook and rebook them up properly. Have no local references for stripping companies, as the ones I saw were in another city.

  • i don’t know where on quincy you are, but there’s a house being renoed on quincy at kansas NW where i just bought 2 radiator covers- there was at least 1 left as of this morning.

  • gotryit

    Chemstrip does a great job, but for the price, you may want to compare it to a place that can blast and powdercoat them.

    One thing to consider either way is transporting them. I think I paid $50 a radiator for two insanely strong guys to get them back up the stairs using just a dolly. Some other jokers were talking about building a ramp and nonsense like that.

  • I would recommend a $20 heat gun from Home Depot and a scraper to get the bulk of the paint off, then get the rest with a sharper scraper. You can go to Frager’s Paint Store and buy black metallic paint which makes the bare radiators look like they are brand new.

    We just went through this process and it was worth the hard work!

  • My neighbors and I used The Stripping Workshop off NY Ave. until the owner sold his business to http://www.chemstripmd.com. I had all the radiators in my house stripped (they then dip them in a deruster that cleans them both inside and out) and coated with a clear lacquer. My recommendation – once stripped, DO NOT have them repainted or powerdercoated. The cast iron looks beautiful and you can see every ornate detail of the radiators – each one looks like a piece of art. At the very least, ask to see an example of a finished clear lacquered radiator. Or just Google “lacquer finish cast iron radiator” to get some ideas. It really is an amazing way to bring out one of the the most underappreciated features of many of this city’s older homes.

    • I agree with Restoration Guy. I had mine disconnected, hauled out, and stripped at The Stripping Workshop (which I guess now is ChemStripMd). I picked a color from Modern Masters that I wanted them to be and Bob just said ‘well, that’s the color they are.’ So, I just had them lacquered. The whole process wasn’t cheap but, well worth it. I’m about 90% sure the first picture on ChemStrip’s website is one of my Rococo rads – http://www.yelp.com/biz/chem-strip-upper-marlboro-2

      I also got rid of all the black steel pipe in my house and did a pex-al-pex home run manifold system that I’m really happy with. But, I did a pretty complete gut and all my ceilings/walls were open.

      • I called out for an estimate a while back and found the estimate a bit too much for me to handle at the time. Maybe one day when I have more disposable income. What’s the benefit of replacing the steel pipes? I haven’t heard of other people doing that.

        • I’ve been mostly made to understand that this is most necessary in earthquake zones – where the rigid pipe can break and then you’re left with a lot of problems.

        • A couple of reasons for going to the pex-al-pex. (and this is for hydronic and not steam rads)
          1. The black steel pipe is a system that branches off from a huge piece of pipe and then gets smaller as it works its way around to all the radiators so, the rads at the beginning of the circuit are usually hotter than the ones at the end. The pex-al-pex system home run from a manifold to each radiator so, they all get the same temperature water and I can adjust the flow from the manifold if a room is too hot.
          2. I was moving a few of the radiators and having work done on black steel pipe is expensive. I also added a few fixtures that use the boiler system – an under-counter heater and a heated towel rack.
          3. At some point I want to renovate my basement and a 4-5” pipe hanging from the ceiling from chains running down the middle of my basement was going to be hard to work around. It also branched off and those pipes were all below the joists.
          4. It actually wasn’t that expensive – I think I paid ~$1100 for all the pex and the manifold. I paid a plumber about $2000 to run the pex through the walls and joists. Given – I was working with a renovation budget and this wasn’t just a cost incurred with my normal budget.

          I really considered chemically removing or sand blasting the paint off the rads myself – but, I just couldn’t figure out how to get to all the crevices between the blades. (without taking forever to do)

          Was it cheap? – not particularly. But, I do have beautiful 100 year old Rococo radiators, a great heating system, and was able to keep an original feature of the house.

  • I sanded off the paint (one layer, not multiple peeling layers) using a variety of hand sanders and some thick steel wool for the more detailed parts. I then cleaned the radiators and then painted them with nickel-colored metallic spray paint. It really wasn’t too hard and they look great.

    • Unless you have excellent containment and cleanup systems in place, sanding old painted radiators is not advisable, as it creates lead dust, which is harmful to children as well as to adults. http://www.epa.gov/superfund/lead/health.htm

      Radiator covers can look OK (and may be a good alternative if your radiators are plain WWII era style) but in addition to taking up more space and they serve as a barrier between you and the heat source. If you have nice 1920’s era radiators, and are going to spend the money, have them dipped and stripped. They’ll perform better then they currently do and look amazing (I echo the others about having them lacquered, but that’s a matter of stylistic opinion.)

      Best of luck!

  • I’ve redone all of them in our 1925 rowhouse. I left most of them installed and scraped them down with sharp paint scrapers, knives, bars or whatever else would do the job. It’s hard work but I got all the paint off most of them. Then I cleaned them, painted them with Kilz primer, and finished them off with a topcoat. I don’t mind covers, but that old paint can be full of lead and dangerous to kids.

  • I’m a big fan of runtals (aka flat-panel radiators). we put one in our addition, which was previously unheated, and it saved some much-needed space and looks great.

  • ThunderCheese

    Better call Saul.

    He’s at Vintage House Parts and Radiators.

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