Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

1893 Victorian: The Porch Rebuild

Sunday, December 23, 2012

So back to that crazy 1893 Victorian we were working on...
In my last post, I talked about how we had just bought the house and were dying to get started on fixing that wrap-around porch.  And get started we did!
The porch roof was actually fine (or so we thought), so first things first:  how to support the roof so that we could work on the deck? 

The rickety stairs are gone!
We had to cobble together 10 of these supports to hold the roof of the porch while we worked underneath to remove the columns and replace the deck.  We had used this pretty simple and strong design on our own porch with great success, so we used it again on this project.  These are treated 10 foot long 4"x4" posts topped with "triangles" made from treated 2"x4"'s.  Everything was bolted together, as we didn't want nails failing and the roof coming down on our heads!
We used floor jacks to jack up each section of roof so that we could get the porch column out and then jacked it back done onto the support. This is a painstaking process, as it all has to be done by hand with a wrench that moves the whole thing 1/4" at a time!
With the roof supported, it as time to start ripping off the old rotted floorboards and dismantling the deck.  The rot was much worse than we imagined.

You'll often hear me say "they don't build 'em like they used to" but, in this case, that's a good thing.  Those pictures show years and years of water damage to wood that was over 100 years old.  Honestly, we didnt' understand what kept this old porch still standing.  I suspect it would have fallen off the house in another year or two. 
In addition to the rot, the porch wasn't built right to begin with.  First, it wasn't even attached to the house.  (Yes, you read that right!)  The boards just fit into slots in the brick.  The span was too long for the supporting 2"x8" joists, which caused the porch to sag.  You can see where they tried to fix it in that lower left-hand picture where there's a 2"x4" attached to the 2"x8".
And, if that wasn't bad enough, the whole thing was supported on the edge by a series of brick columns that were crumbling and were just dug into the ground about 8 inches.  I literally took the columns apart by hand. Frost would have caused this deterioration and would also cause the whole porch to "heave" with each freeze and thaw.  This brick columns would have to be replaced with actual concrete footers dug all the way below the frostline at 32" down.  J.'s grandfather's antique posthole digger made short work of it.
Once the footings were poured, it was time to start rebuilding.

The brick columns were replaced with treated 6"x6" posts sitting on the newly poured footers.  We added more footings\posts than there were originally so that we could cut the span of each section in half and make the deck stronger.  Instead of 16' sections, we had 8' sections.  We also added more joists in each section than the original deck and secured everything with screws and joist hangers.  The rim board (the board against the house) was secured to the foundation with Tapcon conrete\stone screws.
This new deck isn't moving one bit and is built to last.

We worked one section at a time, putting in the joists and leveling everything.  Notice the slight slope from the house to the front of the porch.  This will make sure that moisture runs off and doesn't cause those rot problems again.
Then we got to the tricky curved part of the porch.

Again, not the optimal way to build this.  It's no wonder this edge of the porch had sunk 6 inches!  If you look closely at the upper left-hand corner of picture above, you'll see where the end of the curve IS NO LONGER ATTACHED.  It had rotted completely away, leaving that part of the curve unsupported.

The trickiest part of the whole rebuild was figuring out where to place the interim post to support the middle of the curve.   Do you remember your algebra?  We needed it for this part of the project.
And here's the newly finished deck.  Yep, it's a triangle.  You can't build a curve out of straight wood but we came darn close.  We would make the perfect circular curve later on with the flexible trim boards.

Next up was putting on the deck.  We had a local lumber company deliver treated tongue and groove floor boards (traditional flooring for these old Victorian porches).  The easiest way to do this is to run the boards long and cut them off later with a circular saw. 
We had to do diagonal cuts where the two sections met in the middle of the curve.  A rented floor nailer and rubber mallet were the only other tools we needed to get the floor laid.

One thing I want to make sure I point out in the above picture is the temporary post on the right-hand side.  You'll notice it's sitting on a white square.  That's actually white Azek, which is a composite board made out of wood and recycled plastic.  It is termite resistant and will never rot. 
Since there was such a problem with rot in the old porch, we decided to nail and glue a square of Azek on top of the post supporting the deck to protect it from rot from the top.  It also allows the floor boards to removed and replaced without removing the porch columns.  The squares wouldn't be visible, as they would be under the bases of the porch columns.  How's that for thinking ahead?

And here's the new porch floor sporting a new haircut and 2 fresh coats of porch paint.  To figure out where to cut the radius of the circle, we used a pencil and a piece of string attached to the corner of the house. 
It was fall, and the leaves were trying their darndest to mess up my paint job, but we finally got it done.  Other than the edges, which we did by brush, the whole thing was rolled with a paint roller attached to a pole.  That made pretty good work of it.

Finally, we turned our attention to the columns.  Some of them were in pretty bad shape and had various lengths of rot on the bottom.  These columns are solid wood and heavy with a capital H!  We looked for a column that we could cannibalize at some of the antique places in town but couldn't find anything that was right.  Luckily, we found someone in Ohio that could turn a solid wood log to the right diameter and ship it to us.

We first had to cut any of the rotten columns back to solid wood.   As you can see, the one in the above picture had a good 2 feet or so that was rotten.  We then used heavy duty construction adhesive and dowels to attach the two pieces together.  Then everything had to be stripped, sanded and prepped for painting.
The last step was attaching new bases and tops. We wanted to do everything that we could to prevent moisture issues with this porch so we were ecstatic to find that Home Depot carried sets of recycled plastic porch bases\tops.  These are load-bearing, will never rot and can be painted.  And they easily attaced with exterior screws.

J. almost got me in the picture! 
These are two of the columns all ready to be put in their spot on the new porch.  You can see another one drying in the background.  This process took a long time because we wanted the porch posts to really look nice.  I think they came out great!
Whew!  This post was pic heavy and I appreciate your sticking around through the whole thing.  In my next post on this project, we'll get these porch posts in place and start working on the roof.  I hope you'll join me...

UPDATE 1/6/2013:  Wanna go inside?


  1. Amazing job! I can't wait to see the rest :)

  2. Absolutely amazing! It is so cool to see what was done - I can't wait to move in!!!!

  3. First off, I'm glad you're both back in the Land of the Living.

    You were so painstaking on the porch... let's see the roof and the rest of the house!!!! :-) Yes, my middle name is Impatience!

  4. What an incredible job!!! I am in awe...

  5. Me and my old 1/2" Milwaukee drill also got a workout drilling holes for 12" long bolts to hold the framing together!

    What was really fun, though, was watching people driving by almost run off the road because they're staring so hard at the work that they forget to look where they're going. I lost count of how many dingalings hit one curb or another because of that!

  6. You must be proud of that Porch rebuild. I was interested in how you were going to approach the radius reconstruction.. We are porch contractors in Massachusetts and take as much care into building new or existing Colonial and Victorian porches.

    As you would know through experience it takes a lot of time to restore an old home that was built in that era. The finish craftsmanship was superior than the "good enough" standard of our current time.


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