Front Porch Action

January 03, 2011   //  Posted in: Curb Appeal, Entryway   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

Me. And the front porch. Sans railings and even boards up on the landing, but yes. It's strong and solid and exists. Happy! I never really expected that the new front porch construction had a glimmer of a chance of happening before springtime, but temperatures in the low-50’s on New Year’s Eve melted the snow and invigorated us just enough to get the tools back out. We spent about 3 hours on NYE and 3 more on New Year’s Day getting the structure started, and I saved us a few more hours by buying the lumber ahead of time.

Because the foreman who worked on doing my new siding had offered to replace the ledger board beneath the front door, the most important piece of the deck was already securely in place and framed by the new siding and j-channels. This helped a lot – if it hadn’t have been done by the crew, I would have found myself needing to chop into the brand new siding (that would have been painful). I had opted to use some of the in-ground posts that were left behind from the old porch, and that helped move the process along quickly too. The old porch was a strange shape (and color) for the house – it was much larger (in all directions) than the modest overhang above the front door – it was visually disproportionate, and I was happy (OK, ecstatic) to see it go back in November. That front door overhang wasn’t going anywhere, so I decided to reduce the size of the deck and simplify it so that it fit into the style of the house without detracting from it. (FYI – if budget wasn’t an issue, I probably would have put a front porch and overhang all along the front of my house.)

Just getting started. Ledger being adjusted, posts still need to be cut back.

First things first: Preparing the ledger board and posts for joists. I’m probably going to be distilling the process down a little bit, but here’s basically what we did:

  • Attached an extra 2×6 to the ledger to extend the length of the board another few inches – this was done so that we could center the entire porch perfectly under the overhang – the crew did well, but it was still slightly off center and Pete and I are both a little detail-oriented (that’s a nice way of putting it, right? :) ).
  • Reduced the height of the posts. We decided that the girder would sit on top of the posts with post caps, and that the joists that ran from the ledger to the girder would rest directly on top of the girder, instead of being hung off it.
  • Attached 2 2×6 boards together to act as the girder. Cut to length and secured in place on the post caps.
  • Leveled our work, a lot. Level = important.
  • And since Pete didn’t need my help for 15 minutes, I planted some Tulip bulbs that I had neglected (hey, the package said they could go in the ground from October – December… I made it.)

Once the girders and ledger were solid, we started installing the joists:

  • Cut 4 joists to length, hung them off the ledger, and rested the other end on the girder.
  • We attached the joist hangers to the joists before hanging them – this lessened the number of hammered fingers, and ensured better accuracy when it came to squaring and leveling each joist. Live and learn.
  • I would have used hurricane ties if I had remembered to buy them, but we screwed the edges of the joists into the girder to be stable.

It was easier to attach the joist hangers to the pre-measured joists before leveling and installing them on the ledger. Fewer hammered fingers. Better chance of getting the whole thing square and level.

And once the joists were in place, it was pretty easy to begin working on the landing floorboards:

  • We notched the first floorboard in just a hair to allow it to rest closer to the door frame (the siding stuck out from the natural wall a smidge).
  • The rest of the floorboards followed suit once the first one was installed, leveled, and perfectly square to the joists.
  • Note that the floorboards aren’t cut to length in the picture below – a little learned tip from our experience building the deck, the pressure-treated boards will shrink. Wait until they shrink down before you snap a chalk line and trim the edges to make sure they don’t shrink more and become uneven (ordinarily I’d say give it a week or two, but in the winter weather maybe it will take longer?)
  • Another note: See how I butted each board up as close as possible to the next? This was also a¬†conscious¬†effort because of the expected shrinkage. Many books will tell you to use a nail as a spacer between boards, but if you do that, the space might be as big as 1/2″ after the boards shrink. I’m serious, I’ve seen it. I used the as-close-as-possible method on the back deck and was pleased to see that the shrinkage left me with a pleasant 1/4″ gap between boards.

The boards are affixed very tightly together on purpose - when they shrink, I'll be left with an appealing 1/4" space between boards. The boards are longer and uneven because they'll also change in length a little bit - we'll snap a chalk line and clean it up once they've had a chance to shrink.

To get started on the steps, I bought some stair hangers, and evenly hung the three stringers across the front of the girder.

  • It was helpful to nail the hangers to the stringer first, and then nail the hanger with the stringer attached to the girder itself – you just have a little more control about the levelness this way.
  • Because the driveway needs to be redone, I didn’t let myself get overly concerned about the fact that the base of the bottom step was between 1.5″-3.5″ above the blacktop; I put little wooden wedges in place beneath the stringers to add support, and will work to create a real solid base when the driveway gets replaced.

The steps themselves went up easily:

  • The pre-cut stair treads were limited to 48″ in length at the store, but I needed steps that were 51.5″ long. I bought a single 16-foot 2×10″ board and had the employees at Home Depot cut it down into three pieces for me (much easier than letting 8′ hang out the back of the Jeep).
  • We planned for 1×5/4 boards to serve as fascia to clean up the look of the steps from the front
  • Screwed the steps and fascia into place and we were done (for today!)… we’ll still need to add railings to make the structure to code, and trim up the edges of the landing once the boards have had a chance to shrink.

I wish I could say that I’m done, but there’s certainly more to do on the next warm-ish day. Railings, something to cover the open sides, weather sealant, and making a solid base when the driveway gets redone someday. Oh, and the front storm day will get an update sometime soon, and you may have noticed that there’s some strange cement base beneath the doorway – that’ll come out and the whole frame around the door will be updated. It’s never ending, but good.

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