working on the porch


Posted: August 7th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: exterior, porch, slow progress | No Comments »


Since the weather’s so nice I’m trying to get the porch fixed up. It’s one of the first and most conspicuous things that you see from the outside, and it’s part of what called to us when we first saw the house. I don’t really mind it looking a little shabby, but right now we’re trying to get the whole house cleaned up enough to get a mortgage from the bank (as if we were getting ready to sell the house – click here to learn more about this complicated process), so we’ve got to get everything as neat and tidy as possible, and I think the exterior is especially important for them. Shabby porch with missing and rotten floorboards probably won’t cut it.

built new front steps
porch before

I started thinking about this project in the cold months of winter, and resolved to jump in and start work as soon as the afternoons started to get warm enough to work outside. I figured I could get this done over the springtime (ha!) and then we’d enjoy the summer with a beautifully new and tidy porch. The first temperate day in April, I chose the warmest, sunniest spot and started sanding away the peeling paint. A lot of the paint seemed to be falling off in large chunks, which probably means it never adhered to the wood properly whenever it was painted on in the first place. So it didn’t really make sense to paint over the old paint, since it’s falling off anyway. Gotta get rid of it all and start with fresh wood. We had some lead paint test kits, which revealed that some of the trim had lead paint, but the porch floor was lead free, which means it’s OK to sand (with a dust mask, of course).

starting work on the porch
first day of porch work, April 21.

The sanding work starts out feeling really fast and satisfying, but soon the sandpaper gets clogged and dull, and once the easy bits are gone it starts to feel a lot more slow and tedious. I used a small disc sander, because it’s what we have, so I wouldn’t have to run out and rent a 300-lb sander every time I want to spend an hour or two working on this, and also because the porch boards are fairly uneven, bowed and cupped and I think a larger sander (like the one we used for the kitchen) would have reduced the entire porch to a pile of splinters and sawdust in an hour or two. The smaller sander lets you work on a sort of uneven surface without having to sand away an enormous amount of wood from all the high spots. Not sure if this was a genius decision but that was my logic.

working on the porch working on the porch
still sanding in June and more sanding in July

I knew the porch had a few little “soft spots” but I kind of wanted to just put a fresh coat of paint on it and not get too fussy about ripping out and replacing old boards. Normally I want to get a job done right, even if it takes a long time, but current circumstances dictate that we get things done quickly. So, just a quick sanding and a fresh coat of paint, and we’ll come back and do this all a bit more thoroughly in a few years when we have a bit more time and money. But the more I worked on that porch, the more I found that it had some REALLY rotten bits! So rotten that I couldn’t even sand the planks, they just disintegrated. Bummer.

working on the porch

So then we get out the little Dremmel saw, and surgically remove the worst of the rotten planks, and then found that some of the boards underneath were rotten too. The porch roof has no gutter, so every time it rains, the water splashes down onto the porch floor and soaks those boards and rots them starting at the outside edge and creeping inwards, and sometimes rotting all the way through to the support studs underneath. Not all of them, but a few. So then we had to sister in new studs next to the old studs, just so we could have something to screw the new porch boards onto. This is how projects go, with old houses. You just want to put a fresh coat of paint on a thing and then you find a little problem and then another problem behind that one, and you end up gutting the whole blessed mess to get to the bottom of the it. I already knew this before we bought the house (I grew up in an old house renovation!) but it’s one thing to know a thing in an abstract sense, and another thing to actually have to do it with your own hands. Luckily it’s hard to get too grumpy about anything when you’re working out on the porch in the warm spring sunshine. Anyway, I didn’t do the most thorough job, and certainly not the neatest job, but I did replace all of the rottenest boards and studs.

still painting the porch

And then started painting! It was super exciting for like an hour, until I stepped back to take a look at the color. I don’t know how or why I picked this paint color. It was a Sunday morning and I wanted to get the can of paint before all the hardware stores closed for the day, so I got some swatches from our encyclopedic selection of paint swatches, and picked this lovely and dignified, subdued teal blue color. Ran out and bought a whole gallon ($55) and started painting. By the time I realized that the color actually looks INSANE, all the stores were closed and I had to decide whether to give it up for the day or just keep going with this wild aqua blue. I was thinking, you know, stately historic New England color palette (I chose it from a historic color swatch!), but somehow it turned out looking like… a swimming pool in Miami. A tropical vacation in 1963. A 1957 Chevy Bel Air. A pair of glossy 1980′s plastic jelly shoes. A melamine ashtray in a go-go bar. Which is all great stuff but totally not what I had in mind. It’s so crazy how a color looks completely mellow on the swatch and then turns out to be super wild once you’re done painting. It’s also super glossy – we picked a really tough oil-based floor-and-deck paint since this porch gets a whole lot of foot traffic and rough wear and moisture and stuff. The glossier it is, the tougher it wears, which is great, but the high-gloss sheen definitely contributes to the loud-and-bright look. I actually love this color in many other circumstances, but I think it looks goofy with the pistachio-green siding, which is a terrible color for this house anyway and I can’t wait to get rid of it, someday. So, half the porch is painted and I still think it looks crazy and I’m not sure whether I should just quit worrying about it or change it – what do you think? It’s already turned August!! so I kind of just want to finish this and keep moving on. I’m thinking of using up the whole can for the first coat, and then doing a second coat in a darker shade. Or maybe I should just try and learn to like it. I do love tropical vacations. Hmmm…

working on the porch painting the porch


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