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Eventually, Everyone Turns to Stone

By our standards, this job didn’t take very long. Not a lot of photo evidence, your honor, just circumstantial stuff. I bounced up and down that @#$%ing ramp outside that basement door for a plenty long time, but once we set our minds to replacing it, it was done pretty quick. There’s my spare heir painting a bit. We put new clapboards over the patchwork sheathing wall, and wove them in under the windows and such. We added a water table to the raggedy slot that the old ledger board from the catwalk once occupied. Multiple water tables look fine on an old Victorian/Arts and Crafts house. The A&C style especially liked horizontal bands on houses. They work to kick water away from the siding below them a bit, too. Big blank walls of siding look dreary anyway.

Before painting, we prime knotholes with BIN primer, which is shellac with white pigment in it. No water base or alkyd based primer works for that, no matter what the label tells you. Then we primed the raw wood with alkyd primer, because it works great, but mostly because we had some. The spare heir is caulking the seams where the siding and corner boards, etc. join together. Energy efficiency devotees love caulking, but they always use the wrong kind in the wrong places. We use plain painter’s caulking. It doesn’t have any silicone in it. It’s getting hard to find. Everyone wants silicone in all their caulking. Everyone wants their paint to peel, I gather.

Here’s the typical division of labor on jobs at my house. My son poses for Animal Crackers, and I work like I was twenty years younger than I am. I’m screwing down leftover decking from the front porch, to a deck suspended on 4 x 4 pressure-treated posts left over from lifting the back of the house. We offset the stairs from the door. There was a weird assortment of footings scattered around the sloping leftover space where the porch was being built. There was a flat, level, wide footing in one spot, and we’re going to land on it with the stairs.

The whole porch was assembled with better screws than I was used to seeing back in the day. These things are beastly strong and tap their own holes and frighten small children, delicate women, and men who wear spangled spandex to ride a bicycle.

Besides, it’s what they had at the local lumber yard. First we screwed a PT ledger board to the house. We put standoff blocks behind it to keep water from collecting behind it and rotting the house sill. Then we put in the posts on the two outboard corners. We found two footings from porches past, and decided the porch would look great with those dimensions, whether it did or not. We gave the framing the right pitch by laying a level on it, and assembled it with the Strong Bad screws. Quick and dirty, but plenty sturdy. We screwed an extra ledger board between the left-hand post and the intermediate post, which projects down behind the joist to accept it. That gives us a big landing surface for the stair stringers.

The right-hand post runs straight up and through. It’s a smart way to keep the railings from getting hinky over time. We used strap anchors to affix the stair stringers, used the same decking for treads, and had a working porch in one day. We’ll put an outboard railing on the left hand side there later. The railings ended up very sturdy, and they were sized to allow you to push snow off the deck without having to lift and throw it.

Here’s most of the balustrade in place. The top and bottom railings are just PT 2 x 4s. You cut matching bevels on the table saw on the top of them to shed water. You leave a flat spot in the center that’s the width of the square spindles. Then we cut some caps for the top of the posts out of cut-off planking, and made a four-sided pyramid cap to sit on top, also to shed water.

The outboard (left-hand) railing is in place now. We left it off as long as we could to allow us to work in the slot between the battered concrete wall and the new deck. We proceeded to paint everything. We sealed the knots with BIN primer, but other than that, we just put latex house paint right on the PT wood, including the decking. Many people think pressure treated wood is immortal or something. It doesn’t rot, usually, but it kind of works itself to pieces and looks like hell in a few years if you leave it raw. The siding and trim in the background is all painted now.

The porch looked swell and all, and I was plenty enthusiastic about turning the @#$%ing ramp into firewood, but the ground it sat on was still a dump. We scavenged some stone from around the yard to make a low wall and level out the ground. We buried a perforated pipe, because the roof overhead dumps rainwater something awful right in that corner. It has an outlet a couple of feet out on the driveway, to push the water away from the house.

The little wall took the curse off the slope, and we filled the void with crushed 3/4″ gravel around the pipe, soil we’d manufactured in a sawdust mulch pile, and some landscaping mulch to finish. Some of the stones have dollops of hidden mortar behind them to hold them in place.

Drill some holes in the bottom of a washtub, dump in some gravel and soil, and plant some posies. It ain’t the Boboli Gardens, but it’s OK for us. We ain’t Medicis.

[We’ll start a new project (we already started and finished) tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and commenting, and thanks to the anonymous donor on my Ko-Fi tip jar. It is much appreciated}

Plunging Into the Side Porch

Well, we finished propping up the front porch, and propped our feet up on the railing for a few minutes afterward, but the side porch needed renovation, too. Or more precisely, it would have, if it existed. Its molecules had disassembled themselves and moved on long before we showed up. In its place was a plunge to your death. I know that Plunge To Your Death would make a pretty good name for a Disneyland ride, or maybe a thrash metal band, but it makes for bad architecture. Our children are older, and can look after themselves, mostly, but I imagine if the former owners had kids, they advised them to stay out of the yard, and play in traffic, where it was safer.

These pictures were taken in my Blue period. This is what the house looked like when we moved in. Everything was this dreadful blue, the color of a de-commissioned Soviet battleship hull, and it certainly made me blue to look at it. That door is three or four feet in the air. It’s the entrance to the basement, which is above the basement basement we showed you when we lifted the back of the house a bit. The house once had a gallery catwalk that led from the driveway (dooryard, in Maine-speak) to the kitchen porch. That had a roof over it, attached to the house over the two windows you see. The catwalk led to the door currently sporting a fifteen-foot plunge to your death outside it. It was attached with plain nails to a ledger board on the house, and it served as a roof over some kind of long-lost porch-like structure outside the basement door. There was a mystifying assortment of footings scattered around the ground, so random I couldn’t even figure out what might have sat on top of them. From the quality and amount of fasteners I discovered in the wreckage, I wouldn’t have walked on any of it without checking my life insurance policy first, even when it was brand new.

I toyed with the idea of building a new catwalk until my daily headache morphed into a slight seizure. Too much work, too much money, too much time. We decided to get rid of the upper door, and make the enclosed porch into a giant pantry for the kitchen, and enter our house through the front door. I realize that anyone entering a house through the front door is currently frowned upon in architectural circles, if not actually forbidden. If you can find and open the front door on a typical snout house these days, it makes mummy’s tomb noises. We liked the idea of entering our house like we owned it, not like servants coming through a garage or something. We did own it, come to think of it. The house cost $24,000, and it was worth every penny. As you can see, it wasn’t worth a penny more, however.

It’s not a good photo, but I assure you I was standing upright when I took it. The house had been slumping for a long time. The windows probably started to stick when the frames got trapezoidal, so they ripped them out and boarded them up. We need a side porch, but we’ll have to fix everything while we do it. Luckily, there’s lots of lumber still kicking around from raising the back of the house and fixing the front porch. There’s plenty of 4 x 4s for posts, and some decking boards, and assorted other things we’d need.

Here’s how we got along for years until we could afford the time and material to fix the house. Oh, I remember the dark days of bouncing up and down that ramp. I ended up at the bottom of that ramp more than once, flat on my back in the snow, staring up at the stars, with a giant tray of hot ashes from the wood stove dumped on my chest. You don’t want an icy ramp outside your basement door, trust me.

That little wooden kneewall was the bottom of one of the barn doors that once served the back of the house. We found it at the bottom of a pile of debris in the back yard, and it was still pretty solid. There were still some hinges on it. Leather hinges. Tres elegante, n’est-ce pa? Eventually, we made a door out of its beaded boards.

A neighbor was bringing eleven plastic windows to the dump, and wondered if we wanted them instead. You betcha. They’re awful, but the price was right, and you could almost see your hand in front of your face at noon in the basement again. It’s a start. As you can see, I extended the railing around the plunge to your death to keep trick or treaters from getting too big a trick.

We pulled off a wafer-thin sheet of OSB sheathing, and found this underneath. Man, I thought I was the king of using everything you can lay your hands on to fix a house, but I can’t compete with that. I’m barely a viscount or squire compared to whatever king of trash put that together. That blue thing you see on the ground is the oil furnace that came with the house, lying on its side in the mud after we shoved it out the door. It was finally useful to us. You could stand on it and work on the windowsill. Other than that, it was always a 600-pound doorstop.

Well, I was fairly certain that bad things were going on behind that wooden sheathing quilt. My heir decided to help out and peel it off. He’s smiling for some reason. At our house, if you’re smiling, you’re not paying attention. Anyway, I appreciated the help. When we removed the patches, we weren’t disappointed. It was a mess. We’ll sheath over it properly after we replace the rotten stuff.

The kitchen porch death door was the first to go.

Interestingly, Kitchen Porch Death Door is the name of my Alice in Chains tribute band. But I digress.

[I’ll digress further about my side porch tomorrow. In the meantime, if you’d like to support Sippican Cottage digressions, please recommend this site to your online friends, and maybe leave a trenchant comment, or a regular one if you prefer. You can hit our tip jar if you’re feeling wealthy, because we’re not]

Tag: fixing the side porch

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