Suggestions for dealing with lead abatement?

wall and baseboardSandra emails:

We just bought a house, and discovered that there is very badly chipping lead paint on a couple of radiators in our house. Could some of your readers recommend a good lead abatement specialist to come and paint this for us? We had also considered sandblasting and powder coating them, but that is looking like a lot to organize: A plumber to uninstall and reinstall, someone to move very heavy objects, the sandblaster, plus it is getting cold and we don't want to be without heat for the next month. It just got overwhelming. We have a nine-month-old baby in the house so we want to make sure that it is done well. The house is almost all wallpaper and finished wood, so lead isn't a huge concern in the house otherwise. Thanks!

There are a lot of old houses in this area, so there are certainly people who have also encountered this issue.

Got a suggestion for Sandra? Please share!


Do not try to get rid of the lead paint, it's too expensive to hire someone and unsafe to do it yourself. You're correct in that your better off hiring a professional to paint over the lead paint. Before you do anything I would check this link and possible call the number for suggestions.

First, I wouldn't worry about rushing into it. Lead (or any actual toxin) risk is about exposure; the traditional worries have been about paint dust becoming airborne (such as window sashes rubbing up and down). That won't happen on a radiator. Then there's ingestion, but you're probably going to keep a baby away from hot radiators anyway. That gives you time to determine whether you want to have someone take them out and blast them down, or just replace them. If you're concerned in the meantime, you could also go the radiator cover route.

EPA's information on finding a properly certified contractor is available here:

If you live in the City of Schenectady, there is a program available for lead abatement administered through Schenectady County.

Even if you don't qualify for the program or live in Schenectady, they may be able to give you a list of the approved lead abatement contractors that perform the work.

When we bought our house we were lucky enough that all of the radiators had covers. If hours aren't ornate/nice looking you might want to think about having the metal covers made. I think there's a place in Schenectady that makes them (can't remember the name on the labels inside). Google away!

Removing it yourself is not dangerous as long as you do your homework and do it properly. Remember, it can only get into you a couple of ways.

Wait till it's warm again, there's no rush as the lead is not in a form in which exposure can occur, unless the kid's gnawing on the rad. In the spring, strip the paint, sand it down and repaint it with a good high-temp paint (I'd recommend a POR-15 application for maximum long-term adhesion and rust elimination).

The stripping process is simple - isolate the area, don't let dust collect on exposed skin, use a proper air filter on your face. A can of paint stripper will remove most of it easily. Clean up.

Total cost = about a hundred bucks for supplies and high-end paint. Less than that if you use cheap enamel.

I recommend painting/sealing over the paint, then getting thin metal cabinet that are made specifically to go over/around radiators. Pb is only dangerous if airborne dust or ingested.

Painting/sealing will create a layer over the Pb paint, and the cabinet will create a physical barrier.

As long as you know it is there, you can be careful. You can always abate at a future time. Beware abatement company advice - they are interested in $ and will always advise abatement.

As a fellow owner of a lead paint filled old house, I would tend to agree that abatement can be very cost prohibitive and would go the radiator cover route. These can be made or purchased and depending on the type of radiator and how hot it gets the cover can also end up providing a shelf type space and provide a bit of protection for curious hands that want to touch the radiator itself. See this link for an idea -,,1582598,00.html

And as a word of caution for future home improvement projects, behind that wallpaper and even in some older wood finishs you most likely have some lead or other potentially toxic items. As Carl mentioned it is all about exposure and ingestion. Sometimes it is better to cover things up or leave things be rather than trying to remove things that are most dangerous when they become airbourne.

I used this product called ECOBOND which just not seal the lead paint, but treats it. Treats it in a way that if ingested passes through the body. Can be used as a sealer or in removal.

This is several months old, but I sometimes search this page looking for old advice so thought I'd update how I dealt with this issue - I'm the op.

The city of albany has an amazing (and totally free!) program where they send an inspector to you house, and use a gun that tests every layer of paint on a surface (even the layers you can't see) for lead. They tested every room in several locations and gave us the report. I now know everywhere that there is lead, even if it's not actively chipping, so that I know how safe I need to be for future renovation projects.

Of course, this does legally obligate us to deal with any actively chipping lead hazards. They let us do the work yourself (we own - I think it's a different case if you are a landlord), and we were also able to check out a hepa vacuum cleaner to help with clean-up. When we're done dealing with lead hazards they'll send someone out to test the dust in our house for lead.

All of this is free. What a great program! Highly recommend.

Regarding the lead removal on the radiator: It was going to be $900+ to have the radiator either: 1) removed/installed and sand blasted/powder coated or 2) have a certified lead company come in and paint the radiator (this would not have included stripping the radiator, only sealing it so that it would never chip again). That seemed ridiculous, so we did it ourselves.

I opted to strip with a fume-free product called peel away and then used an oil-based primer that was made for surfaces that rust. This project took about $150 and 40 hours of work. At least 35 of these hours were spent stripping. Stripping with peel away was very time consuming and I wouldn't recommend it for something as intricate as a radiator (though it would be great for a door or something like that). I felt I needed to strip because the paint was coming off in sheets, but you have to get the stripper (it's a thick gooey paste) completely off before you can paint, and then you have to neutralize the surface or the paint won't stick. All of this wasn't really possible with all 21 intricately-detailed and 10" deep fins on this radiator - instead what happened was I had dried peel away stuck to the radiator in places that I could barely reach that were not going to come off no matter how hard I tried.

For other radiators in our house that are in need of a touch up, I'm just doing a wet scrape in a room covered with plastic, and this is much faster and cheaper.

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