Communion Of Dreams

House horrors, part two: rebuilding the monster.

Three weeks ago we started a “small” home repair project.

Well, we thought it was going to be small. And then we discovered the horror within. As I said in my first blog post about this:

When you start a project like this, you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you actually start getting into it.

Boy, howdy.

Well, it became much more of a project than originally envisioned. If you want to know why I haven’t done a lot of blogging recently, this is almost entirely the reason: we wound up replacing everything about the original porch except the two upright posts, and those we altered. We even wound up having to clean up and put aright some of the work which had originally been done to tie in the porch roof to the house roof, which was a real horror.

And when I say that “we” did it, I mean that literally: my wife and I.  We actually did every single aspect of the work. My wife is an architect, and we’re both very used to working on smallish practical repairs — the sort of thing you always have pending on a house which is 130+ years old. Had we known that this job was going to turn out being so big, we might have opted to put it off until a contractor we trust was able to work it into his schedule. But once we got started, we were committed to doing the work all the way through, not according to someone else’s schedule. So, we did it.

What follows below is a step by step photo documentation of the work, just for grins. We finished the work this weekend (well, except for the painting, but that’s pretty minor and will get done in a week or so when we have a chance), and I’m really pleased with how well it all turned out. So, if you’re interested, take a look.

And with a little luck this week I’ll get back to a more normal posting schedule.

Jim Downey

OK, here we go.

The beams were made of two 2x8s sandwiched together with pieces of 2×4 between them. This makes them more stable as well as plenty strong for the job. Here I’m holding the finished main beam in place while we check that the dimensions all worked.

My superman pose. I don't get to use it a lot.

My superman pose. I don’t get to use it a lot.

Once checked, we  added a 1×6 ripped to the correct width for the bottom of the beams to close them in, then mounted them. Here’s a detail of the main beam and side beam, once they were tied together.

Beam detail

And here’s a shot showing the whole framework of the beams:

Beam up

Then we had to calculate how to lay out the rafters in the space given, since you want to have the rafters at 16″ centers. Our kitchen blackboard served as a handy design center:


We decided to use rafter hangers to mount the rafters on the new heavy fascia on the house side, rather than having them in a notched fascia as had been done originally. This is at least as strong, easier to do, and makes it somewhat more flexible for adjusting the level of the roof deck of the porch where it would come into contact with the house roof. Here’s my wife checking the positioning of the rafters:

Checking rafters

Once the rafters were positioned, they were numbered and marked for cutting a ‘birdsmouth notch’ where they would come into contact with the front beam. This is a shallow angle notch which allows the rafters to sit flat across the top of the front beam even though the roof itself is slanted. Here are the notched rafters:


The rafters were then mounted, screwed into position into their hangers on the house side, and screwed into the top of the front beam:Rafters mountedAnd here’s a detail which shows how the ‘birdsmouth notches’ fit on the main beam:Rafter detail

I mentioned that the only original items which we used in the reconstruction were the upright posts, and even those were altered. Here’s a shot of what we did: mounted them onto steel deck post ‘shoes’, to minimize the chance for rotting where they are in contact with the concrete pad:

Steel shoes

After getting the rafters all mounted, the next step was to put down the roof decking. Which was mostly pretty easy, except for one piece which had to fit into an oddball shape on one corner of the house which also has a large conduit for the main electrical power coming into the house. We decided to make up a template using some thin cardboard stock — one of the places where my book conservation skills and tools came in very handy:


For the roof deck we used tongue & groove 3/4″ OSB, which is a heavy but durable composite board, similar to plywood. Mounting this was fairly straight-foreward, but a lot of work — that stuff is HEAVY! Here’s me playing around halfway through that process:


And here’s a shot of the decking all in place:


We decided that the best way to finish the appearance of the porch was to put in fascia on either side of the main beam, notched so that it would close off the space from the beam up to the roof decking. Sounds simple, but it’s a little tricky to do just right. I first cut the fascia on the inside of the beam to the correct length, then temporarily mounted it so that it was in contact with the beams. That allowed me to mark directly on the fascia (a 1×6 board) where the notches needed to go. Here’s that positioning:

Marking fascia

And here’s the notched finished product in place:

Fascia done

I repeated the process on the front side of the beam.

At this point, it was time to do the roofing. I had worked as a roofer to earn money during the summer when I was in college, but that was … er … some years back. But with a little help from YouTube, my knowledge was refreshed, and it went well. First I did the flashing: putting in place a lightweight sheet metal material where the roof meets the siding of the house, as well as along the house roof and the side structure of the new porch roof. Here’s a detail of that latter item:


Then it was time to put down the tar-paper and secure it:


Following that I put down the edge drip rail all along the roof edge, then applied the roll goods (a mineral & asphalt matrix on a fiberglass substrate, suitable for small jobs like this) with the proper use of roofing cement and roofing nails to the flat roof. That then transitioned to standard roofing shingles where the porch roof met the house roof.

The last part of the construction was to finish the detail work on the ends of the rafters. That was done using a 1×6 board with a secondary 1×2 at the deck. Makes it look fancy. Here’s a detail of that:

Finished detail

And here’s what the finished job looks like from a bit of a distance:

All done

Ignore the pile of debris which was the old porch. That’ll be the next thing I take care of.

And that’s how I spent entirely too much of the month of October. But we did a very good job, and the new porch is much stronger and better put together than the original ever had been.

Jim Downey

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