Testing Different Methods

There are three basic methods for stripping paint—grinding, applying heat, and using chemicals. All of them are hard work because the same binders that cause paint to adhere make it hard to remove. Clark and his crew considered using several different methods on the Winchester siding before making a final choice. As the slides to the left reveal, all these approaches have advantages and disadvantages. But every paint-stripping job is a little different, and past experience, along with some empirical testing, helped Clark decide what would work best for the Winchester house.

For instance, grinding—using power sanding disks or clapboard sanders—is very efficient on siding that's in good shape, but it generates lead-laden dust. Although the tools can be fitted with a vacuum hose, the last thing Clark wanted, in a cheek-to-jowl neighborhood like Winchester, was to release any lead-contaminated dust. "The work was scheduled for high summer," says Clark, "when everyone has their windows wide open. On top of the dust, there's the constant loud scouring noise the tools make."

Heat and chemical strippers were also given a try. The big downside of most heat methods is the risk of fire. "Any stripping contractor can tell you a story he's heard of a house burning down," says Clark. "A crew finishes at the end of the day, there's an ember under a dry clapboard...next morning, ashes."

Chemicals are less straightforward because of the different types. The old standard, methylene chloride, is effective but very nasty stuff. Also on the market are some "environmentally friendly" strippers, some of which work better than others. "It's unfortunate," Clark says, "but it seems that the least caustic chemicals are the slowest, and some of the orange-based products I've tried don't really work well."

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