How to Refurbish or Rebuild a Small, Wooden Front Porch --- Part III Rebuilding!
Getting ready for your brand new porch
You've ripped apart the old porch and refinished the slats and railings. Maybe you've even had to go so far as to tear down the original foundation of your porch and pour new concrete footings. You've drawn up a plan, laid out the new porch physically. Now it's time to see all your hard work pay off in the form of a beautiful, revitalized porch that will continue to compliment your house for years to come.
But you're not completely done yet. There's still lots of work left, including a few more trips to the hardware store for the last of your supplies. Before installing any new pieces of lumber, measure carefully and cut each piece to the length you need. Keep your sander, level, screwdriver, and extra screws close at hand because you will need all of these tools throughout the rebuild process.
Prepare your 4 by 4 posts for attachment to the brackets in your footings by cutting them to the height designated for your porch. Don't forget to include the height of your slats in the calculations for the height of your porch surface to avoid creating a lip between your porch and your door jamb.
If you're building a platform with no railings or posts separate from your footings, your posts will only need to be as high as your platform. If your posts are doubling as support for your porch and your railing, add the height of your railings to the height of the platform and purchase posts tall enough to accommodate your design. For these posts that double as railing posts and footing posts, do not use pressure treated wood unless you plan to cover them with post jackets to protect your bare skin from the chemicals in pressure treated wood.
Hardware stores and lumber yards sell 4 by 4 posts in multiple lengths. If you're building a platform without making the railing posts part of the footings, consider buying a longer post and cutting it to the lengths you'll need. If you have a platform 2 feet high and four footings, consider buying an 8-foot-long post and cutting it into four, 2-foot lengths. Longer posts may cost less per foot. You may have to do more cutting in the long run, but it will save you some money. Ask your local hardware store/lumberyard employees if they provide free cutting service; some companies will provide you with a set number of complimentary, cross-cuts on your purchases.
Joist hangers and joists
After you've secured your footing posts, you're ready to install your joist hangers and joists. As mentioned in Part II, make sure to use galvanized metal brackets to prevent corrosion. Secure joist hangers with coated or galvanized screws. Make sure you use a size that is long enough to secure the joist to the bracket without pushing through the opposite side of the joist. For 2 by 4 or 2 by 6 joists, select a screw that is 1.5-inch-long or shorter.
Use a level to ensure hangers are positioned so the joists are also level. Cut your joists to fit snugly against the posts and in the joist hangers. Don't rely on the joist hangers to make up for gaps between the post and joist. After you've done so much work, a wobbly foundation is not what you want. Secure the joists in place with screws angled through the hanger, joist, and post. Use screws, not nails! Driving nails through the joist and post will push the two pieces of wood away from each other, causing gaps. Screws with pull the pieces together for a more secure and permanent construction.
Install tar paper for added protection from the elements
Even when using wood that can resist the weather, time and water will eventually destroy even the most chemically-treated wood. To give your porch foundation an additional 8 to 10 years of life, consider lapping the tops of the joists and posts with 30-pound tar paper. Although this may make porch sound creaky in hot weather as the tar softens and sticks to the bottom of your surface boards, the heavy paper wicks water away from the wood, and adds extra life to your foundation.
Cut narrow strips of tar paper and fold it over the top of your posts and joists so it completely covers the top surfaces and an inch or more on the sides. Secure the paper in place with a staple gun. Staple the paper to the sides of the board---not the top---to avoid putting holes in the top of the paper where it is meant to protect the wood from water. If one length of paper doesn't cover your joist, overlap the next strip by several inches to ensure complete coverage.
Don't worry if the tar paper is visible from the side or front of your porch. Adding a skirt to the edge of your porch will give you a surface to which you can secure your railing balustrades and a way to neatly hide the nitty-gritty parts of your foundation and frame.
Install your surface boards
Now that your foundation and frame are in place, it's time to install your surface boards. Be sure to stain all sides of your boards before installation. It's easier to install the best looking surface for your porch if you have two sides to choose from, and the stain on the underside and ends of the boards provides additional protection from the weather.
Before you drill any pilot holes and drive any screws, stage your deck surface carefully. Determine the size of the gaps you want between each board. If your foundation didn't come out 100 percent square, this is your chance to correct for any errors by altering the size of your gaps so the edge boards overhang the posts and joists. Use a spacer or measuring tape to ensure even spacing. If some boards are bowed, consider grouping those boards together on the step surfaces.
Once you've oriented and placed each board in a location that creates an aesthetically pleasing surface, mark and trim any pieces that need to fit around railing posts. Don't forget to stain the cuts. Start from one end and drill your pilot holes through the boards at each joist. Use coated or galvanized deck screws to secure each board in place. Drive each screw fully into the board so it sits just below the surface. As the boards expand and contract over time, the screws won't catch any toes if the heads creep up.
If you're installing boards to cover the rise of your steps, use a level to ensure each riser face is level. Once your surface boards are in place, install your skirt boards just below the overhang of your surface boards and secure them to the posts. Since these boards are decorative, not structural, you only need to attach them at a few select points. If your porch is low enough to the ground to create a comfortable home for wild animals like skunks or raccoons, consider installing lattice or screen between the skirt and the ground. Dirt and leaves will collect around this screening so choosing vinyl or galvanized metal lattice will provide a more lasting barrier. If your skirt boards go all the way down to the ground, consider using pressure-treated wood as long as it does not come in direct contact with bare skin.
Codes vary, but most porches and decks more than 4 feet above the ground require railings. Railings also provide a finished look to your porch and allow you to play with style. My house, for example, is a typical 1960s ranch with very little personality so I decided to introduce a modern edge by using a cable rail system. If you want a more traditional appearance, many hardware stores and lumber yards sell railing kits with either square or round balustrades. Be sure to purchase the correct number of balustrades to meet local codes for spacing. In my area, balustrades must be no more than 4 inches apart to prevent small children from getting stuck. Using traditional, vertical, wood balustrades is the most economical way to go and the easiest to install.
Cut and stain 2 by 4 or 2 by 6 boards to the required length to fit between your railing posts. These will serve as the rails so ensure the ends and corners are carefully sanded. Use screws long enough to go through the railing boards and into the posts, but short enough that they don't punch through the posts. Three-inch screws should be of sufficient size. After staining the balustrades and railings, drill a pilot hole through the top and bottom of each balustrade and attach them to the 2 by 4 or 2 by 6 that makes up your railing, and the skirt board at the bottom.
The Final Product
The final product is a great looking porch! Depending on the type of stain you chose for your deck surface, (opaque, semi-opaque, or solid) you will need to clean, sand, and re-stain the exposed surfaces every one to two years. Since I completed construction on my porch about two and a half years ago, it's starting to show some signs of needing refinishing, especially on the steps. Lots of salt, snow, ice, and shoveling have taken their toll on the once-pristine surface. Regular upkeep, however, will mean less work when it comes to preparing for refinishing, so don't put it off too long!