How to Repaint a Lustron Home
LESLIE: Cathy from Ohio has an interesting question for us. It’s about Lustron homes. Cathy, tell us about your house.
CATHY: It’s very unique. It’s a porcelain enamel steel structure. They were manufactured in Columbus, Ohio from 1948 to 1950.
TOM: Oh, these were the metal homes that were made for the returning GIs.
CATHY: Yes. That’s right.
TOM: From World War II.
LESLIE: Yeah, it’s actually interesting. The architect and the engineer, the designer of it all, was this guy Carl Strandlund. And he actually started off wanting to manufacture metals for a different purpose; for construction. And the government wouldn’t allow him to do it. They said, “You know, there’s a housing shortage and that’s what we’re focusing on.” So he figured out a way to manufacture homes out of metal and he had such a great idea that he was really almost ahead of his time.
TOM: And it’s interesting that here we are, like 50, 60 years later and these homes are still standing up. Cathy, what kind of shape is your Lustron home in?
CATHY: It’s actually in excellent condition. There is a user group on Yahoo for people that own Lustron homes or are interested in them. And there’s a lot of people that have posted pictures of theirs and some people talk about poor manufacturing with the union that were putting the houses together. So some people have problems with their foundation shrinking or cracking and the house …
TOM: Yeah, but I’ve got news for you. There’s a lot of problems with foundations in stick built homes that were built in the 40s, too.
TOM: So, that might not be so unusual. Now what project are you tackling, right now, with the house, Cathy, that we can help you with?
CATHY: Actually, there’s quite a few but …
TOM: (laughing) Okay, well pick one because it’s only an hour program.
CATHY: (laughing) My big thing is with the house … it’s all porcelain enameled steel; inside, outside, the roof, the studs, everything. And my whole inside of my house is gray.
LESLIE: Oh, well, you’re … you know, you’re lucky because your choices for interiors when you purchased a Lustron home were beige or gray. Now your exterior choices were pink, tan, yellow, aqua, blue, green or gray. What color is your outside?
TOM: That sounds like the washing machine that I had growing up. (laughing)
LESLIE: My house is avocado green.
CATHY: Actually, the outside of my house is currently tan with dark brown trim. But I was told by Alex James – the person who wrote a book on the Lustron homes – that the original color of my house was gray.
LESLIE: Hmm. You could’ve ended up with one of those canary yellow ones.
TOM: So what can we help you with, today, Cathy? You trying to change the color of the interior?
CATHY: Yeah, I’d like to but I don’t know how to do that.
LESLIE: Well, I don’t think it’s terribly difficult. I know a lot of people compare it with an automotive paint and you really sort of have to bake on the enamel. But I think if you do the proper prep work, you should be able to get a really nice paint job.
And what you want to do is make sure you clean all of the surfaces that you’re going to paint very, very well. Use a 50/50 solution of water and ammonia; especially in the kitchen and the bathroom. In the kitchen, where you might have a grease buildup; in the bathroom, where you might have a soapy residue buildup. Use the ammonia and water and that should bring everything down to a really nice surface. Let everything dry very, very thoroughly. And then, you want to make sure that you prime everything very, very well. And I think a Zinsser primer – it’s called 1-2-3 Bulls Eye Primer. And that should do the trick because that will adhere to just about anything.
And if you get the primer on, then you can go ahead, once that dries thoroughly, and use a really good sort of oil-based high quality paint. Make sure you get a high quality paint because it really does matter if you spend the money on the paint; especially if you’re dealing with something like this.
And remember that even if you were to paint any sort of surface, you need to be delicate with it. Don’t go and use an abrasive cleaner on it. Make sure you use Soft Scrub; that tends to work best since especially everything in your house has this coating on it. So make sure you do a lot of good cleaning prep work, prime and then use a good quality oil-base paint as a top coat.
CATHY: Does it have to be oil base?
LESLIE: Well …
TOM: Well, it works much better if it does. I know it’s more work but it’s going to …
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) Plus, it’ll be much more durable.
LESLIE: It’ll just be more hearty; especially since it’s all of your surfaces.
TOM: Okay, Cathy?
CATHY: Alrighty. Thank you very much.
LESLIE: Good luck and enjoy that house.