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Williams Painting In The Washington Post

Remove wallpaper from behind a radiator

By Jeanne Huber

Special to The Washington Post

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Q: I have an older house with radiators. In one room, I would like to remove decades-old wallpaper. Do I need to remove the radiator itself to do this?

Alexandria

A: Try to get the wallpaper off without removing the radiator. Though you can find DIY instructions on the Web for removing the radiator, Dave Williams, owner of Williams professional Painting in Alexandria (703-768-8143, http://www.williamsprofessionalpainting.com), notes that you could easily wind up stripping or breaking a connector, especially if the fittings have been painted over.

Williams says that if he needed to move a radiator, he'd call his favorite plumber, Mark Evans (703-425-3345). Evans says he'd need three or four hours for the job, which would include draining the system (you can't just turn off the control knob at the radiator) and bleeding out air afterward. It's not a DIY project "unless you're the kind of person who can do your own gas pipes," he says.

Assuming you decide to leave the radiator in place, start by pulling up an edge of the wallpaper and testing whether the top decorative layer pulls off easily. Some wallcoverings are designed for easy, removal. Others need to be soaked first with wallpaper stripper. If the wallcovering is vinyl, scoring the coating first with a wallpaper removal tool helps the solution seep through. Once the decorative layer is off, use more wallpaper stripper to moisten the backing material so you can scrape it off.

Of course, the big challenge is getting behind the radiator to do all of this. Williams suggests that you remove as much as possible from above and below. Use a long-handle wallpaper scraper to loosen what's left in the middle. In England, where radiators are common, hardware stores sell wallpaper scrapers with two-foot-long handles. But in this country, most scraper handles are less than a foot long, so you may need to improvise.

Once the residue is off and the wall dries, paint behind the radiator with a skinny roller attached to a long handle.

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