As the seasons change and the rains and cold weather return to the NW, we reach for our umbrellas and coats and button up for the coming months. Now is also a good time to think about buttoning up those last projects around the house and making sure that your home is protected against the cold and wet weather as well.
The porch is the main entrance to your home: simple and efficient, or regal and stately, there’s a lot of components and parts and a lot of places that need to be periodically checked and maintained in order to keep the porch in good health. Here’s a short checklist to help you make sure your porch is in good shape and won’t be causing unnecessary problems later on.
Posts and columns: Unless you have metal posts on a concrete porch, you’ll want to make sure your posts are in good shape and aren’t letting water collect and get trapped anywhere where it can lead to rot. Check the seams where the post sides are joined together, if there’s any gaps that have opened up it’s best to seal them with a high quality elastomeric sealant and then a high quality paint once the sealant is dry. Modified silicone caulks or synthetic rubber caulks are your best bet for long-lasting exterior caulks that can stretch as gaps open and close; don’t use inexpensive painters’ caulk for areas that will get a lot of weather abuse, they won’t hold up as well over the long haul. Pure silicone doesn’t take paint well so is also not a good choice for these areas. The trim around the base of the post is another area where water collect. Make sure that all the joints between the post and trim, and the trim and porch floor, are well sealed and painted so that no water can penetrate in.
Railings: The majority of Portland’s classic homes have railings with a variation of wooden bottom and top rails holding vertical balusters, connected between support posts. Balusters tend to rot out from the bottom, where they connect to the bottom rail creating a place to trap water. If you find rotted balusters, it’s best to replace them before the rot spreads and the railings become unsafe. The joints around all the balusters should be checked, sealed and painted as necessary. Nail holes are another common way for water to get in: make sure all the nail holes have been filled and sealed. Even if you have metal balusters and wooden top and bottom rails, or metal railings on a wooden porch, it’s a good idea to seal around those connection points to keep water from getting trapped between the metal and wood and rotting out the wood. Railing posts should be caulked and sealed the same as columns and larger posts.
Porch floors: The ubiquitous porch floor in Portland is 3-1/4” tongue and groove flooring that is laid so that the seams run in the same direction as the slope of the porch. This allows water to shed off the porch and reduces the chance of it getting trapped in the seams. Even so, the seams between individual boards are likely to open up a little every year as the temperature and moisture cycling shrinks and expands the wood. You’ll notice that the ends of the boards at the front of the porch, where there’s less shelter from the weather, take more abuse and weather more quickly than the areas that are farther back under cover. If you have clear-finished porch floors, the best preventative maintenance is to get on a yearly schedule of applying a coat of two of finish before the cold and wet weather sets in. While this may seem like a bit of work to do every year, it’s one of the very few ways to guarantee that your natural finished porch will remain looking good. Otherwise, each of the gaps that opens up can allow moisture to get in, which can lead to swelling, buckling, or rot later on. If the flooring is painted you’ll still want to get on a semi-yearly schedule of caulking and painting to ensure longevity, but it will be a bit easier to see the gaps opening up on a painted floor than on a clear finished floor. Stairs can be treated the same as porch floors, sealing and caulking as necessary to help keep them looking good and preventing water intrusion.
If you stand outside and watch where the rain goes to as it runs down the outside of your house, you’ll likely find other areas that may need attention. Anywhere where water sits and pools up, or gets trapped, is a potential place to be addressed before problems set in. A little bit of preventative maintenance each year will help keep your home healthy and looking great, and avert unnecessary problems before they start.
Paul Johnson is a remodeling contractor in Portland, OR