We’re plugging away on the porch. We enlisted the aid of Mike S to help move things along, and I took a couple of days off work to make some progress, since our weekends have been pretty busy. The first step was to put the ledger for the ceiling joists onto the house. Where that ledger wraps around the bay, we had the additional wrinkle of the original decorative siding. We ran into this when we replaced the first floor windows as well. This was probably beautiful when the house was new, but it had been covered up by the subsequent layers of siding and, like much of the original house, was too far gone to save. The challenge was that there was no sheathing under this, so once we removed it we were down to the wall studs. That meant before we could attach the ledger we needed to put up plywood and house wrap around the bay.

Mike came back the following week, but before we got back to work on the ceiling, he wanted to put in some stairs. We can’t put in the permanent stairs until I remove part of the sidewalk, pour a new footing, and figure out exactly how the hand rails are going to work so we can put the right lumber and spacing on the front of the porch floor. Instead of all that, Mike brought some lumber he had cut down from his pile of utility poles and we put together some temporary stairs out of that. This way if things like getting custom railings fabricated takes a while, we can get in and out of the house in the mean time, not to mention making it a lot easier to work on the porch.

With stairs in place, we moved on to notching the top of the three columns and putting the three sides of the ceiling beam in place, attaching to the house at the bottom half of the ceiling ledger. We used a ratchet strap to pull the columns back to plumb, since they’d started to bow and warp, then started putting in ceiling joists. We attached the joists to the ledger with hangers, then the other end rests on top of the ceiling beam at the front. I got the rest of the joists put in the following week, as well as the lag screws for the ceiling ledger. The ceiling joists that connect at the bay were particularly fun, since the angle is so sharp. The last part of this section of the project was adding the short, perpendicular ceiling joists on either end, since the roof will angle down to either side. We’re not putting the roof on yet, since we’ll now use the ceiling as a platform to work on the front of the house.

 

This was not my finest hour(s). The framing of the first floor of the porch consisted of a few steps: notching and putting up the three columns, adding the front beam, adding the side beams, then installing the floor joists. For starters, my original framing plan was bad. I bought a bunch of double joist hangers with the intention of putting the double 2×12 front beam between the columns on the front. Mike S said that the code requirement was to have the beam span across the columns, and used the back deck of the apartment a couple doors down as an object example of how it was supposed to be done. I was reluctant to do it exactly that way because I wanted the front of the columns to be proud of the deck for stylistic reasons. I eventually settled on notching the columns on the back side to the depth of one joist, then using brackets and through-bolts to hold everything in place. This required additional trips to the store for different (longer) boards, returning brackets, buying new brackets, etc.

Ship-lapped beam

Saturday, Mike (Sarah’s dad) and Rob came over to help me with the installation. I got the columns notched using a combination of circular saw and reciprocating saw. Next, after getting the three 6×6 columns stood up and putting the front beam on, we discovered the center column was closer to the house by a couple of inches, causing a banana effect. We took it back down and wound up cutting off the top of the j bolt embedded in the concrete, drilling in a sleeve anchor (which is not as strong) and securing the clamp much closer to the correct location. Apparently Sarah and I augered the footings even less accurately than I initially believed.

Aligning columns

With the center column back up and the front beam back on, we put the first side beam on and discovered my next mistake. I had carefully measured the height to notch the columns by using my six foot level from the top of the ledger to over the footing and the bracket and measuring with a tape measure. I was careful to have the level just break the line to account for slope away from the house. I somehow must have measured to the top of the level instead of the bottom, because the beam was actually over two inches higher than it should have been, meaning that it was sloping toward the house. At this point, we called it a night.

Columns installed (the first time)

Nicole and Rob actually spent the night so they could help us again on Sunday. We took the beam back down, took all three columns back down, cut two inches off the bottom of the columns (fortunately I hadn’t cut the tops down at all), put them back up, and put up the side beams. Sarah’s parents came back as well and we got most of the joists in place, however, there too we ran into some challenges. We were measuring the lengths as we went and fitting them snugly, apparently as we went it was actually pushing the column at the end out of plumb and a gap formed between the column and the side beam. We had to go back and remove several joists and cut them shorter, and get the column back to level. I went back to the store and got some more Spax screws which I put through the columns and into the side beams to hold them tight. I may add some additional bracing, since I’m still not 100% happy with it.

Rob installing joists

We put the joists on 12″ centers since we’re going to use composite decking and don’t want any flex. I ran into some issues trying to use the front beam as a guide for the top of the joists, since there was variance from one side of the center column to the other. I had to go back and adjust several joists to be higher or lower so that the level slides smoothly across the joists without gaps. Given they were already nailed with joist hangers, this was a bit of a hassle.

Floor framing complete

In short, this was a two steps forward, one step back project that took more time and effort than it really should have if I’d been more deliberate in planning. I want to thank Rob and Mike, as well as Mike S, for all their assistance.

 

We had one last ground prep step, which was to grade out the dirt under the porch, extend the trench we buried the drainage pipe in, and cover it in plastic. We extended the drainage pipe itself and its “sock” and finally covered the whole thing in crushed stone. We need more stone, this was leftovers from the drainage project last year, but it’s enough for us to continue work. We want to put the posts on the footings we just poured, but before we can do that, we need to be able to brace them with some framing. That means attaching the ledger to the house.

First ledger board

We’re installing two inches of rigid polyisocyanurate foam on the outside of the sheathing to improve the R-value, reduce thermal bridging, reduce the temperature extremes the wood has to endure, and as an alternative to making the interior smaller with additional wall thickness on the inside. However, this adds complexity to how things like windows and the porch are constructed. The porch is attached to the house with a “ledger”, a board that is attached directly to the framing of the house with lag screws or bolts. Because of the exterior insulation, we need to attach this ledger a bit differently.

I referenced this image from Green Building Advisor which covers this, but it suggested using blocking around the bolts with aluminum flashing over the blocking. That was a bit more involved than I really wanted to get, so instead I built up two layers of pressure-treated 2×10 boards, sort of a sub-ledger. I installed the house wrap over this, wrapping tight to the boards so that the foam can sit directly above them. Keeping this inside the house wrap ensures that the drainage plane behind the foam doesn’t trap water against the house and instead channels it down and out. Wrapping a solid board is a lot easier than flashing around a block protrusion at every bolt hole.

Ledger attached

Since the ledger was being attached to the 6×8″ rim board through 4½” of lumber and another ¾” of sheathing, I used 12″ Spax structural screws. Around the bay, there was just a regular 2×10 rim board with brick behind it, so I used twice as many 6″ Spax lag screws. Sarah’s dad, Mike, helped me install the 2×12 ledger. With the ledger attached, the next step is the columns and the floor framing.

 

Unlike the previous porch, we want to have footings supporting the new front porch. The plans call for three columns: one at each of the front corners and one in the middle, but while they specify the size of joists to use, they don’t specify the size or type of column or footing. I decided it was better to oversize than undersize, especially since I’m not a fan of either spindly-looking supports or the quality and trueness of the average pressure-treated 4×4. The result is 12″ round, reinforced concrete footings that go deeper than the frost line and 6×6 pressure-treated columns. We plan to clad any exposed lumber in PVC trim.

I figured out the locations of the footings using tape measure and a board that I marked with the distance from the house, since it was easier to lay that down that remeasuring with the tape. The corners are set in from the edge of the house by six inches so the gutters and soffits won’t extend past the edge. That also made it (slightly) easier to dig the footing that’s right up against the neighboring fence.

Augered holes with cut down tubes

Digging the footings by hand sounded awful, especially since I was still sore from breaking up the old stoop. So we rented a two-man (person) auger with a 12″ bit and an extension. Between drive time, use, and cleaning, we used just about the whole 4 hour window for the three footings, but Sarah and I were able to get them all dug while my mom watched the kids. We put down tarps for the dirt since we’d installed fabric and mulch last year and I didn’t really want to mess all that up. We still need to haul all of the dirt to the back yard. I don’t have any pictures of the actual augering, since we were under a time crunch and obviously both of us were using it at the same time.

After the holes were dug, we dropped in the knock-off Menards-brand sonotubes. Then I used the laser level to mark the same height on each and cut them down by a few inches so they were even. This wasn’t critical, since the posts can be different lengths, but I think it will look better visually. The next step was concrete. Our poor Subaru Impreza hauled two loads of twelve 60lb bags of high strength concrete mix. We mixed up a few bags at a time in the wheelbarrow and shoveled it in. We added three ½” rebar rods to each footing, spaced evenly, with a ⅝” J bolt for the post base proud of the surface by about an inch. Derek helped by mixing up concrete in his own wheelbarrow and dumping it in.

 

 

The first step in replacing the front porch is to take off the existing porch. I took off the roof of the porch a few years ago because it was too short to accommodate the new front door. Before I could take off the porch, I had to move the mailbox and our delivery bin. I mounted the mailbox to the fence by the front gate and put the delivery bin underneath it. Despite this, UPS is being difficult and doesn’t want to deliver now.

Old porch

The peeling paint on the porch made it look like it had been there for ages, but underneath it turned out that it was built not terribly long ago out of pressure-treated lumber. I took off the heavy wrought iron railings. I used an angle grinder to cut the ends off the concrete stoop. By the time I got the last piece out to the alley a scrapper was already loading the first ones onto his truck.

Removal in progress

The old porch used approximately 50% of the lumber it should have, with large spans between joists, stringers, and mediocre at best support. The porch itself came down in a couple of hours. The support posts had zero footings, and literally rested on the surface. I’m surprised it didn’t sink into the ground. It was a positive as far as I was concerned, because it made it that much easier to tear down.

Porch removed

What wasn’t so easy was the front stoop. The bottom step of the porch was a 16″ thick block of steel-reinforced concrete, and I declined to rent a demolition hammer, instead mostly relying on a sledgehammer and a prybar. It took far longer to break apart the stoop than the rest of the porch, and my hands still hurt days later. Bits of concrete flew into both neighbors yards as well as the sidewalk out front, so even once it was broken up I was still walking around picking up little pieces.

Breaking up the stoop

I’ll also need to take out the front sidewalk, but we’re planning to replace it with pavers. Since the main paver project will be in the back yard (some time in the future), for now we’ll just cut the existing sidewalk back to where it needs to stop and do all the pavers together (later). I haven’t done that part of the demo yet. I have to figure out how to run the 20-amp extension cord that the concrete saw uses to the front yard when it’s not long enough to reach the nearest 20-amp outlet.