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The Process of Repainting Old Kitchen Cabinets in Historic Wellesley Homes

Repainting Old Kitchen Cabinets

Cabinets are often the statement-maker in any kitchen and it is no different in historic Wellesley homes.  Most of these older homes were originally outfitted with wooden kitchen cabinets that have been painted over the years and now are coated with old paint prone to chipping. When renovating a kitchen, whether an historic home or one that is more contemporary, homeowners often wonder whether it is better to replace or to repaint the kitchen cabinets.

Replacing your kitchen cabinets, instead of repainting them, can be very expensive, costing tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the size of the kitchen, the cabinet materials and whether they are custom built or ready-made. If you want to upgrade your kitchen, and the wooden infrastructure of the cabinetry is still strong, repainting your kitchen cabinets may be a more affordable option.

Painting kitchen cabinets is detailed work. If you decide to repaint instead of replace your kitchen cabinets, consider hiring a professional painting company with the knowledge and experience needed for a durable, flawless finish.

The standard procedure

standard procedure

First, it’s best to hire painters when the right climate conditions exist. Applying a new coat of paint in high humidity can cause moisture to form between the layers and will compromise the finish. It will also make the paint take longer to dry. To avoid this, consider painting during the dry winter season.

Before repainting, remove everything from your counters, cupboards, and other exposed areas. Your painters will protect every surface that is not be painted and will carefully remove and identify all of the cabinetry hardware.

To remove the old layer of paint, the surface will be sanded and vacuumed. The sander can be electric or by hand, and will be HEPA vacuumed to capture any loose fibers in the air. This is especially important if your old paint is contaminated with lead or asbestos (will explain more in the next sections) as exposure to these chemicals can cause serious health issues.

Next, your painter will repair any damage to the cabinet, sanding down the surface until its smooth, again, leaving no dust in the air.  This kind of preparation is key to a perfect finish that can tolerate the kind of use that is typical in kitchens. Then, the cabinet is ready to be painted with new primer and coats of paint, applied either by hand or sprayed. Once the topcoat is applied and properly dried, the hardware can be reattached and the cabinets can all be put back in place.

In an historic home, painting older kitchen cabinets present specific challenges as they are often designed with small curves and crevices. Here, it is advantageous to spray on the paint rather than use a brush, creating a smooth, completely untextured finish.

Repainting cabinets with lead paint

The U.S. government banned lead paint in 1978 due to health concerns. It was often used on windows or doors, but we recommend contacting a lead-certified paint company in Wellesley, MA, to test for any contamination in your kitchen regardless.

When lead paint is completely intact on a wooden surface, it doesn’t pose any risks. But if it flakes or dusts are released into the atmosphere, it can have a negative affect on cardiovascular, reproductive, and kidney functions. Children are especially at risk.

If lead is found in your home, your painter will follow a very specific procedure for removal,  either sanding off the paint using a HEPA filter, or encapsulating it. Encapsulation involves applying a special formula over the paint, preventing it from flaking into the surface. Once that layer dries, you have a safe surface on which to reapply new primer and paint layers. However, encapsulation is only an option if your paint and wood are undamaged. Otherwise, your painter will sand and dispose of the lead layer appropriately before going over the clean wood with fresh paint.

Repainting cabinets with asbestos

Starting in the 1920s, asbestos was popular for painting cabinets as well as kitchen pipes. Painters mixed asbestos into paint solutions because it was an excellent insulator, was fireproof, and made the paint thicker.  Regulation of asbestos did not take place until the 1980s, even though for more than 40 years, studies were available revealing links between mesothelioma and lung-diseases. Asbestos paint is no longer available, but there is often evidence of it found in older homes.

Like lead-paint, people are not at risk if the asbestos-based coat hasn’t chipped. But during any housework or demolition, asbestos is light enough to release microscopic pieces in the air. To remove asbestos-paint, a professional painter will wet the surface to capture any free sand and use a negative air pressure contaminant to prevent loose fibers from escaping the room. The surface will then be sanded much like the process for lead paint abatement.

Other Precautions

Each state has carefully defined rules pertaining to proper paint refinishing, especially if it’s contaminated. For example, if you intend to abate asbestos-based paint in your home, you are required to inform the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Department of Labor Standards (DLS) at least 10 days in advance. To remove lead, you will need to have a licensed lead inspector examine your home, and complete a test per the Massachusetts Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP).

For more information on what paints to use, look specifically for cabinet-grade paints like Benjamin Moore’s Advance to create a beautiful and durable result.

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