Three steps across the bottom landing, grab the mail and walk in -- didn't notice any peeling paint so it must be okay. Is my porch really okay? Is it supposed to be at that angle? It seems crooked, is that just from settling? I need new railings and have been told the new ones need to be different. What's under this decking? Why is there water dripping in one corner? Who ya gonna call, porch busters?
There have been a half-dozen porch-related disasters in Boston this year, , and the main factors to be considered are age and up-keep. The typical three storey porch is the same age as the house -- that's right, 60, 80, 103 years -- and has been sitting in the New England weather for all those decades.
Basic support. The rear of the porch is fastened to the house on each floor with a ledger board or cleat -- the names vary for the same piece of lumber. The front of the porch essentially rests on masonry footings of brick, field stone or cement -- typically connected to the porch itself with either a piece or structural timber, a cement-filled metal pipe (lally comumn) or even an old chunk of log on the very old ones. It's all about gravity, there were no specific fasteners back in the day. FYI, much of this is clearly visible on rear porches not enclosed with fascia and lattice. Over the years I've found that many porch issues stem from these footings (or footers) individually degrading or sometimes simultaneously sinking. The typical angle for the deck from back to front was about a half-inch drop @ eight feet, just enough to encourage rain and snow-melt to flow away from the house without making it feel uneven.
The porch will reveal it's condition to those who know how to look, so stand on the sidewalk and really look. About even from side-to-side? Slight bow in the middle? One side lower? Does the wood seem intact? And the angle of the decking. Feel impelled to speed up from doorway to front steps? Would a a marble sort of gradually roll away from the front door or fly right off like a tossed rock?
Next blog, railings and decking.
[About this blog: Retired general contractor Bill Catz answers your questions about home repair.]