We have a Victorian house with a very efficient steam heat system that is relatively inexpensive for the size of the house. The problem: We are unable to find paint for the radiators and pipes that will withstand high temperatures. We have stripped the radiators several times and tried various paints; the last try was spray paint but to do one small radiator it took more than eight cans. Some of the radiators are very large, and the finish is already chipping. I am getting ready to refinish three more rooms and am in dire need of assistance. What can I do?
—Bronwyn, New Market, Maryland
If there is any residual rust on the radiator, you can spot prime with red-metal primer, then top coat with brush-on high-heat enamel. If there is no rust, then brush or spray on high-heat enamel directly to the bare metal.
High-heat enamel is available in white, which can be tinted to match many light colors, and black. It is available in individual spray cans, too, but it's more expensive to purchase this way. If you have a lot of radiators to paint, consider renting an HVLP sprayer and do them all at once. HVLP stands for high-volume, low-pressure and delivers a very controlled spray pattern. With a little—or a lot—of practice, you'll be apply coatings like a pro.
Watch This Old House
plumbing and heating contractor Richard Trethewey revive an old painted radiator: How to Paint a Cast-Iron Radiator