Front Porch: A New Vision

November 24, 2010   //  Posted in: Curb Appeal, Entryway   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

I was never able to figure out exactly why the hardwood front porch was designed like it was. The front of the house has a small overhang measuring about 4’x6′, which is not unlike many of the other American Foursquare homes in the neighborhood. Mine, oddly enough, had a small front porch affixed that measured 9.5′ wide x 5.5′ deep, with stairs extending out an additional 4′ into the driveway. The proportion of the porch to the house was way off – it was an eyesore, even though it was in good, solid condition. As you can see in the first photo below (my “before” shots), there isn’t even enough space in that open landing area to have a cafe table or chair, so what was the point? I knew I wouldn’t have been able to afford a whole new porch that extended the length of the house with a new, deeper overhang (but it would have been cool), so I began brainstorming other ideas. I considered my options to hide (painted neutral/block with shrubs) or replace the structure for a good 18-months before I finally formulated a plan. Here are some before pictures of the front porch:

  • Before: Old Front Porch
  • BEFORE: Side view of old porch.

My decisions (and the removal of the existing porch) had to be expedited to accommodate the timing of my upcoming siding project (!) and my contractor had strongly suggested that the porch be taken away from the house to allow his crew to side appropriately behind it. Being the way I am, I offered to do that myself in order to save the crew a few hours of extra work, and knocked my quote down a little bit (do what you can all by yourself!).

I had a few plans in mind:

Plan #1: Replacing the wood with a solid cement base. Both contractors I spoke with educated me about the need to do a base beneath the frost line to support the weight of such a porch. That requirement (for permit purposes) really jacked up the costs of the job. The quotes ranged from $3,100 – 4,500.

Plan #2: Purchase a preform cement landing/staircase. The company I spoke with is local (stay local for projects like this to save big on delivery fees) and quoted me considerably less, but warned that there would be a lot of extra work on the front end to adjust my driveway area and level it appropriately. Their quote was $1,350, which was still more than I wanted to spend.

Plan #3: Design and build ourselves. It had occurred to me that maybe having cement leading into a asphalt driveway wouldn’t be pretty, but by purchasing lumber and saving on labor, I knew I could create a custom structure for a few hundred dollars.

In the interest of time and money, I’m currently working towards completing Plan #3. A hand-sketched design is still to come, but it’s going to be smaller, simplified, with matching railings similar to the ones I’m going to install on the back deck pergolas (inspired by the fabulously sleek Peter Kirsch-Korff).

Much like the back deck, I considered disassembling the porch by hand to sell on Craigslist… but it was late November in upstate NY and I decided just to post a photo of the porch and let some lucky soul come and remove it themselves (free removal for me, free lumber for them). It worked out well (and they left the posts, so that I can use them for the new construction). Here are some photos of the during and after:

  • Craigslist hire removing my front porch - steps and handails came off first, then the base was lifted off in one big piece.
  • Bye, old porch. The whole thing is in that small trailer.
  • Front porch, gone. I'll be building a new porch in it's place once the siding has been replaced.

Once it was all cleared out, I was left with this as the existing structure; the posts will be used to support the new porch, which will attach right to the house once the new siding is up. Stay tuned for more construction!

Out with the old, in with… more old

November 23, 2010   //  Posted in: DIY, Entryway, Lighting   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

There were at least 3 brass ceiling lights in my house upon purchase. I don’t even what decade they were from – I’d guess 1960s? In any case, they were outdated and not at all classy. I took them all came down really fast and replaced 2/3 of them with this light from IKEA, which is still the only cheap “close-to-ceiling” light I can say that I like. (Sidenote: If I had a million dollars, I’d buy up a bunch of lights like these.)

The third brass light and the reason for this post? It was in my front entryway. It definitely wasn’t “entry-worthy” and I struggled to find something that was appropriate. Here’s what the old light looked like:

Entryway light upgrade.

I knew whatever I replaced it with could only hang 24″ down from the ceiling without obstructing the swing of the door, and I didn’t want something too expensive, because in the back of my mind, it was the last light that anyone in the house would be focusing on, so why would I over-invest there?. Nonetheless, I searched and searched, until one day I was drawn to the selected light fixture at a local garage sale – This pretty copper and glass piece resonates with the arts and crafts movement girl in me, and I knew with a little work it would be a perfect length and fit for the space. Oh, and I negotiated the price from $5 to $2. It’s about 15″ in length, and holds one bulb.

Found: new entryway light. Yellow leaded stained glass with a copper frame.

The wiring it came with was pretty bad, so I borrowed some wire from one of the old fans that I wasn’t able to sell (I removed or replaced a grand total of 4 in my house since I moved in), and purchased a new porcelain socket from Home Depot (<$4!). Just a little change, but it does feel good.

Building The Deck – Beginning To End!

November 23, 2010   //  Posted in: Backyard, Deck   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses

Home: circa 2005, featuring the above ground pool. Once upon a time, the house I bought had a pool. An above-ground, 20′ wide, round pool. Previous owners (I’m told two-owners ahead of me) thought it would be amazing to have a deck off the house in the same size and shape as the aforementioned pool. I’m sure they also thought it would be radical to have a custom landing join the deck to the edge of the pool. The only evidence I have of this pool is a very sandy round area in my backyard, and this tiny Google Maps shot:

The pool was already gone when I moved in (thank god), but the deck, in it’s no-permit, unsafe-railing, and brick-red-stained state remained. It was located directly off the dining room, accessible via the sliding glass door. Check out the befores:

Original back porch.

Close-up of the old deck's handrail and deck surface.

Originally, I hoped to just be able to strip the deck down and restain a neutral color. I didn’t know how to build a deck, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford a team of construction workers to build me a new, prettier one. When that didn’t work, I abandoned my project for the winter, vowing to come up with a plan in the spring of 2010. That’s when I met the Lowe’s Deck Designer, and also when I started dating Pete (keep reading for how he got roped into this). I had this crazy vision of being able to exit both the sunroom door and the sliding glass door for deck access. I had envisioned being able to wrap a deck around the side of the house. And I hoped to be able to figure out a way to do it without any railings, because generally speaking, I don’t like the look and confining quality of railings. The great thing about the Lowe’s designer was that it let me play around and develop a design that would work. There were a few cons to the designer software, mostly related to ordering the correct amount of lumber, but I’d still recommend the product to other DIY’ers. Here’s the on-screen plan it produced for me:

The new deck, as I designed it on the Lowe's Deck Designer.

You might ask – “you’ve never built a birdhouse, how can you build a deck?” – well, maybe in a moment of while trying to woo me, Pete chirped up claiming (although he denies it to this day) “I’ve built decks before, we can do this.” So, I recruited him and abandoned all other ideas of hiring help from ServiceMagic to build my deck. It wasn’t until further into this story (right about when I had tons of wood delivered and laying in my driveway) that he made a comment about having no idea where to start and “OH BOY, what are you talking about? I never said that?”

My stance through this whole thing was that we could do anything and that I wasn’t worried because I knew it would come out great. That’s pretty much my take on everything home-related… I’m usually pretty confident in what I (try to) do.

As soon as the weather began to improve in April, I began careful demolition of the existing structure, and man, that was a good feeling. I started with the easy stuff – the bad railings practically fell down themselves, the floorboards gradually came up with the help of a crowbar and hammer. The frame literally toppled down once some of the girders were cut with the power saw (it was definitely not built with a permit), and the stairs went out by the curb. Pete wailed the 4×4 posts out of the ground using brute force. The materials that I did salvage were in good shape – the wood thankfully had no rot, and I was pretty diligent about removing and collecting all of the nails and screws that I could. Here are some photos documenting my progress:

Cody, keeping an eye on construction while the floorboards are slowly loosened.

Aerial view of the old deck, minus lots, and lots of floorboards.

Siding was going to be replaced anyways, so I took down some of the aluminum to give the guys a head start (and make way for the deck).

Pete, demolishing the landing that led to the once-pool.

Me, working through some stubborn nails with an angle grinder. Success, BTW.

A glance around the sunroom side of the house (that railing in the foreground is the existing staircase that was installed there). In the background, a mostly-disassembled deck with only girders remaining.

I literally leaned on the joists, and it toppled. The posts were not sunk into the ground.

Rocked the temporary staircase for a few weeks while the old deck came down and the new one went up. Cody was very confused.

Aerial view of the backyard from an upstairs room.

We had two plans for that lumber:

  1. Create an insane treehouse for Pete’s daughter in his parent’s backyard. (a post on THAT still to come!)
  2. Sell the balance on Craigslist. Happy to report I raised about $100 from the sale of that lumber, although I had a garage full of lumber, and had to deal with tough visuals (see photo of man below) in the process:

Buy my lumber! (The good stuff sold, the impossible went to the curb.)

Hauling 2x8's to a guy's truck. I guess it was inevitable, although I never had a problem keeping myself covered.

The deck plan itself was mapped out on a self-made blueprint. I documented all measurements I could decipher, using the drawings to help visualize the size and configuration of each section.. Here are photos of the original blueprint:

Master Blueprint

Close-up on the plan to build two levels.

Close-up of some notes. All in faint pencil because, well, we were never totally certain what would work.

Have you ever power-augured before? If no, don’t. Once the land in the backyard was cleared out, I rented a 2-man, gas-powered auger for Pete and I to use together. The holes had to be 48″ deep. I don’t even want to spend time writing about it because we both agree that it was so heavy, grueling, humid, and overall torturous, that it’s hard to re-live. So bad, in fact, that at one point, we brought in a car jack to help us get the machinery out of the earth, and I almost went to find neighbors who could help us out. We did it ourselves (and have new, never-before-seen muscles), but if I ever have to do it again, I’m paying someone, and I would recommend you do the same.

In any case, here’s what we ended up with after auguring:

The depth of the holes was approved by the city inspector, and we were permitted to proceed with next steps. A cement base beneath the frost line, followed by 4×4 posts went in over the next couple of days.  Pete’s (legit) biggest concerns involved keeping the posts perfectly squared in the earth, and making sure we included ENOUGH posts/enough girders (since the last things we wanted was a deck that would begin to sag or bounce after a year). Everything worked out well (and we found that we actually augured more holes than we needed, god help me). I was even able to reuse two posts that were near the sliding glass door, basically planning for the new landing to replace the same space that the old landing was. Once the posts were in, we were excited to see the structure of the deck really started to take form. Girders went up with relative ease (and yes, they were level, and FYI, we used 2×10 beams), and the joists (2×8’ers) fell right into place with the help of hurricane brackets. This was thrilling.

Measured. A lot.

More posts! You'd be interested to know that these were cut back to be about 2" off the soil so that we could build on top of them.

Girders, up.

Loving my new 2x10 girders. Joists going in almost-effortlessly. So proud.

Somehow we figured out how to do two levels of stairs – the first, from the doorways down to the main deck area, and then again from that main deck area to the ground. Success is attributed to lots and lots of measuring, and drawing different viewpoints on the blueprint I mentioned earlier.

Throughout the whole process to this point, we guessed at the sizes and quantities of materials, but diligently returned ALL extras (every extra box of nails, every extra hurricane, bolt, nut, and washer). There were times I would load 5 unused girders into the car and come home with 8 extra joists – it worked out very well, and we ended up with NO scraps.

The floorboards took a little bit of extra thinking – we ended up using a pattern of 11′ and 6′ 5/4×6 floorboards to get the job done. We alternated lengths interchangeably, so it looks like a perfectly natural surface (the plan originally had been to use all 16′ boards on a 16′ surface, but the deck ended up being 17′ wide… whoops… so we had to rethink that plan).

We had a little photo shoot part way into having the floorboards done, realizing that we hadn’t done a great job recording our progress:

Check out our new floorboards. Hot.

Posing with another blueprint, a pencil sketch on a piece of 2x10.

Pete. The saw was an extension of his arm.

Deck, sans steps.

Instead of using 5/4×6 boards as stairs, I upgraded to 2×6 boards. So far, no complaints – they feel stronger as a step than the floorboards did. Steps were designed to go around two of the sides of the deck (the third side, just a 18″ drop down to a cushy bed of transplanted Packasandra. The biggest issue we encountered with the stairs was the need to raise/re-grade the area leading up to the steps – I spent a long morning re-edging my gardens in order to produce enough spare soil to act as a base for the stringers.

Cody and the new stairs. Backyard has not been graded in this backyard yet in this photo - the bricks at the base indicate where the earth *should* come up to.

Once the steps were all in place, we found a local person on Craigslist who was giving away spare soil – we needed a LOT to regrade the whole backyard to match up to the base of the deck, attempting to make the step from the lowest step into the grass minimal. Consequently, we spent all of Labor Day weekend hauling at least 10 Jeep loads of soil in buckets (we calculated 1,000 lbs per trip) to my backyard, and grading and tamping it into the vacant areas of the yard. Like post-hole-digging with a power-augur, this is another thing neither of us care to re-live, even though I appreciated not having to pay for soil.

So proud of my new deck and freshly graded backyard.

Babying my peach fuzz grass. Enjoying a morning rainbow.

While the grass was growing, we also began working on the pergolas. The added structures were required because I inherently knew that I would never pass final inspection without handrails by each doorway. Instead of adding basic railings to the side of the house, I thought bigger, I thought trellis, I thought beautiful pergola (the adventures of our construction, documented here). Pergola pictures of our work-in progress are posted, but final photos are to come:

Love fresh lumber. Pergola framing is going up.

First pergola completed! (Another will go over the raised area in the back right, stay tuned.)

In the end, what a incredible learning experience and beautiful final product.