From a distance, the house in Winchester, Mass., site of the 2002 This Old House TV project, was a picture of yellow siding and white trim. Closer inspection revealed a craggy clapboard landscape of cracks, chips, and flakes where 10 coats of paint, applied during the 80-year life of the house, were failing by degrees.
“The clapboards are cypress, I think—a full 10 inches wide and 7/8 inches thick at the butt,” said TOH general contractor Tom Silva. “Beautiful wood in great condition, except that it won’t hold any more paint.”
Painting contractor Jim Clark concurred: “We could feather out the failed areas with scrapers and sandpaper before priming and top coating, but a year after we finish, the flaking and chipping could start again. So all the paint has to go. That means a lot of work, but when we’re finished, we’ll have a baby-smooth surface that will hold nice, even coats of paint for a long time to come.”
Dealing With Lead
Stripping paint from any house built before 1978 raises the question of lead. Given the number of coats on the Winchester house, Clark had no doubt about the presence of the heavy metal. In the past, getting rid of lead required hiring a licensed—and costly—abatement contractor to remove and dispose of the lead-laced paint. But changed in Massachusetts in 2001, according to Jim Roberts, an environmental analyst with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection: “Massachusetts adopted federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines that reclassify lead paint residue from a residence as household waste. The idea is that if it is easier for homeowners to dispose of lead, they will be more likely to remove it from their homes.” For Clark and crew, it meant that they could do the work—if they took the mandated safety precautions—and that all the paint they removed from the house could simply be bagged up and chucked into the trash.