Updating the Screened Porch » Repair
The screened porch on the back of this house is a summer sanctuary. Now. Nothing is a given and I always seem to have to walk through fire first, and for this porch that meant a whirlwind spring spent repairing, cleaning, scraping, and painting.
I’ve already introduced the porch here and our list of To-Dos was as so:
- Contractor removes all of the exterior framing like a giant puzzle, labeling each piece to simplify putting it back together. They also remove the old screens. DONE
- Replace completely rotten floor boards and baseplates as needed. Hire out.
- Repair minor rot with wood hardener and epoxy filler.
- Clean and prep for paint.
- Paint all framing, rails, posts, doors etc.
- Find and create solution to drainage issue.
- Contractor comes back and installs the new Super Screen and puts the framing back.
- Scrape and sand floor, fill in cracks and seams with wood filler, prime and paint.
- Enjoy a cocktail while watching a summer storm from a bug-free, dry and freshly screened and painted porch.
Step 1 was complete and now it was time for Mike and I to get to work. With everything removed, the structure of the porch was revealed along with its host of issues—the most obvious being the floor. It is made of exterior plywood which we always thought was weird—why didn’t the original builder use decking? There is no drainage, which is usually not an issue. However, in extreme weather, think sideways rain, water collects all along that outside wall with nowhere to go. And rot happens, as it expertly, discreetly and sinisterly does.
We had high hopes of replacing the floor with decking, thinking that it butt against the bottom of the railings. We were sad to see that the plywood floor is actually sandwiched underneath. It’s also glued and nailed to every beam it sits atop. Big time bummer. Replacing the floor was still possible, but it just got a whole lot harder and more expensive. We met with a carpenter and talked ideas.
Option 1 Remove all of the railings, pry up the floor and replace it all with decking. We would then run screens underneath to maintain a bug-free zone. Most expensive option, most work involved, definitely not done by summer. Carpenter was not enthused.
Option 2 Take a sawzall and cut the floor along the bottom edge to avoid removing all railings, then complete same as above. Workable idea, but I really didn’t think this would look good and that the edge would be wonky. Also, expensive.
Option 3 Survey the floor, replace rotten pieces only, add drainage. This wasn’t our ideal option because the plywood floor is kind of just sort of well, ugly. But it was admittedly, mostly in great shape. If we could successfully add drainage, clean and paint the floor and keep up with maintenance, I think we could avoid repeating these same problems.
The thing is, sometimes budget prevails, and we were already spending some bucks on the screens. Of course I have fantastical dreams of what our porch could be. But I am also a practical person, living here on earth. I don’t like to spend money or to unnecessarily add to landfills when what is there, just needs finesse. Besides, I can always put a rug on it.
Option 3 it was. The carpenter got to work right away replacing the four pieces of floor that were beyond repair. He also had to replace all of the baseplates under the rails that sat atop those pieces. Does this make sense? It looks like this, this image is after the repair:
Note that the vertical 2×4 is not structural, which is one reason we chose not to repair it. Also, that’s not a lot of rot and we were able to strengthen it with wood hardener. In the end, this piece is covered by the final framing. The porch also has vertical 4x4s that hold up the roof. The 2x4s serve as visual breaks and support for the railings and ballusters. ANYWAY.
This was a scary/exciting moment. You can see how the 2x4s are just hanging there but the 4x4s go all the way through to the joists. You can also see that the beams underneath are all in great shape. THANK YOU HOUSE GODS!
The carpenter was able to replace the four rotten boards pretty seamlessly. He added screws every 12 inches or so into the beams below and sanded where new met old to try and make transitions as smooth as possible. He replaced all the baseplates here too. When it was said and done, I noticed that two of the 2x2s that tie into the ballusters were also rotten, so I replaced those myself with spare cedar from the garage.
This was all a huge relief but not nearly the end of my tale. There was a small area of rot near the doorway to the grill deck. Cute, right?
It just gets better. Then we found this after removing the old trellis from the front. The trellis was situated at the exact point where the two large rim joists meet, essentially trapping water in the seam. We practically scooped it out with a spoon, while wiping away each other’s tears and quietly chanting “oh crap oh crap oh crap”.
And yes, it went nearly the full span of the porch. I know this looks terrifying, but let me assure you that those two joists actually sit in front of two more identical beams that are perfectly sound. I am thankful we caught this before it became a real problem!
SO what to do? During my usual 5AM internet search (my best work is done before anyone else wakes up) I came across Abatron LiquidWood and WoodEpox, aka, your superheros in the good fight for wood restoration.
I won’t lie. It ain’t cheap, especially that WoodEpox—and I had to order it twice, gah! But from what I can tell so far, it really, really works. Follow the directions, WEAR GLOVES, and be patient.
LiquidWood is part resin and part wood hardener and used to reinforce and strengthen rotten wood. As the name implies, it is a liquid. You apply with a brush or pour it directly. WoodEpox is also part epoxy and part wood hardener but comes in the form of a soft paste. This is applied after LiquidWood as a way to fill in gaps and literally rebuild missing wood. Both can be sanded and painted after curing.
The gist is to scrape away paint, rot and any loose bits and make sure everything is dry before starting. I had a lot of pent up anger at this point, but it’s important to be gentle during this step. It is not warranted to remove all the way to good wood. LiquidWood soaks and spreads into rotten wood to reinforce it.
Once ready, mix thoroughly equal parts Part A and Part B of LiquidWood in a disposable plastic cup and use a cheap brush to apply. It was absorbed quickly and I kept adding until the wood was completely saturated and started to pool. Let it set. I was amazed at how strong the wood was after this step! I happily went around the porch coating any inkling of rot with this product.
Once LiquidWood is dry it can be painted directly, or, if you need to build the wood back up, add WoodEpox. This stuff is lightweight and soft and can be molded to any shape you need. It’s timely though and dries fast, so mix only what you can do quickly then mix more as you go. I set up a little station just for this outside on a board. As before, wear gloves, measure out two equal parts and then just start mushing and twisting together until they are fully blended. Then you have about 20 minutes to work until it starts to set.
Patching the floor was easy, but the joists were a bit tricky. I was really missing a lot of wood here and needed to recreate the edge of the boards. I started by filling in the cavern, pushing the putty down into every crevice. It’s okay if the product dries and you have to come back later to finish. You can just keep adding WoodEpox to WoodEpox and it will adhere. The shiny parts you see are the dried LiquidWood.
It started to rain on me partway through this process, so I had to cover my work with plastic to keep it dry. It might’ve been okay to get wet at this point, it was all sealed with LiquidWood and mostly filled with WoodEpox, but I wasn’t taking any chances!
Once I had filled the gaping wood, I could go back and finesse the putty to create my edge and make it look as close to original as possible. I used this plastic putty knife and a cup of water to gently mold the clay, smooth it out and recreate the edge. Any bumps could be sanded later but I tried my best to keep that to a minimum.
In the end, my edge wasn’t perfect, but I am relieved to know I have halted any further water penetration or rot growth. It was barely noticeable after paint. I would definitely use both LiquidWood and WoodEpox again and plan to on some windowsills we are working on. Please note, I received no compensation for these statements! I am just a genuinely happy customer. Next up: clean, sand, paint and how we dealt with that drainage problem!