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Inspect Your Front Porch Columns

At Least Yearly

As Seen On
by Jeff Patterson in Exterior DIY Projects

Do you have a front porch on your house? Have you ever inspected the columns or supports that hold up the porch roof?

If the answer is no then this post might persuade you to do so!! The first rental home I ever bought here in Pittsburgh is a 100-year-old charming little house that has a relaxing front porch made from wood.

Even the columns look original to the home which is cool because they provide some character. Over the years I noticed the bases under the columns started to deteriorate. They’re also made from wood and get pummeled by rain due to the porch facing west and probably leaky gutters that can’t handle strong storms.

One day I decided to take a closer look at the column bases and see how badly they were damaged. My fears were instantly realized.

 

Porch Column Base Damage

 

Did you ever watch a Nightmare On Elm Street movie as a kid and then rehash bad memories as an adult. Well, that’s kinda how I felt after looking at all the rot in this base holding up the house column.

 

Pressure-Treated Lumber for Porch Columns

Yep, this is super bad. My best guess is that whoever replaced these columns did so in a rush and didn’t really care about their craftsmanship. And it looks like they used scrap pieces of regular 2×4 lumber, not even pressure-treated.

Why is pressure treated better? It’s meant to be used outside and has a protective coating that resists rain and moisture. Plain old 2×4 lumber is meant for inside your home and as such doesn’t need any special treatment. It’s not expected to be rained on or have birds poop all over it like pressure-treated wood.

After scratching my head and having a minor panic attack I decided there was only one option and that was to jack up the porch roof and replace the rotted base.

 

Inspect Your Porch Columns

The big lesson here is to inspect both the bottom and top of your porch columns. Whether you have steel posts, brick supports or wood columns like mine it’s a good idea to take a close look at them for rot, rust, or severe damage because if they’re weak your porch could collapse. And a collapsed porch means someone might get hurt or even worse die.

A contractor who owns several rentals told me a story about one of his porches collapsing while both tenants were standing on it. His tenant broke her ankle and ended up suing. The insurance company settled the lawsuit for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This entire fiasco could have been avoided had my friend just inspected the porch for rot or disrepair.

Don’t put yourself in a perilous situation. Inspect your porch.

 

The Good News

The good news is that if you have a wood porch column base like mine it’s easy to build. So at the very least you could hire a contractor to jack up the porch roof and slide your custom-made bases under the columns.

Of course, you’ll also want to inspect the columns themselves for any rot or insect damage. I found some issues with our old wood column but was able to fix it with wood epoxy.

My next post will share how I built the porch column bases from pressure-treated lumber and why I chose wood over PVC.

This is something you can do if you have a circular saw, measuring tape, and safety glasses (even though my eyesight is terrible I still prefer to have two eyes versus one).

If you follow my adventure I promise you’ll learn how to make the porch column bases, fix rotted wood with epoxy, prevent existing wood from getting damaged, and easily add a cool decorative effect to any piece of wood with a trim router.

 

Customized Wood Column Bases

 

Oh, and just as a tease I wanted to share the final product!! It’s not entirely finished but at least my porch is much safer.

 

New Wood Column Bases

 

New Wood Column Base 2

 

What’s Next

Making the front porch column bases was a fun project – and saved me a ton of money!

Plus, it’s cool to learn carpentry skills that can be used over and over.

Thanks as always for reading, watching, and being part of our awesome community.

Ask your questions below and we’d be happy to help.

Cheers,

Jeff Patterson

 

 

 

 




19 Comments
  1. Geneva says:

    Your new bases look great! How did u jack up porch though? I would have never considered PVC ?

    Mine are wrapped or surrounded by Hardiplank so should be good to go for the life of the house I would think.

    Your blog is great and I am slowly going through your videos learning as I go as well. Keep it up!!

    G

    1. Thanks Geneva for your encouraging words, I needed this since the last few days have been way stressful. I made a cross out of 4×4 posts then placed a bottle jack under that. Both sides of the cross were under adjacent headers and I slowly raised the bottle jack until the porch roof weight was taken off the column.

      Your column bases should last a long long time!! I’d love to see a picture of them. If you have time send them to me at [email protected] ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Amanda says:

    Actually, my husband and I bought our current house a year ago and a few months ago noticed the front porch columns are bowing. It also looks like the bases and the top decorative pieces have been replaced with smaller versions of what was there before (the trim was never replaced to extend to meet the new pieces up top)…I wish I had a picture because my description is probably very confusing. Anyway, I’m not really sure what’s going on inside the columns. The columns themselves are PVC which makes me wonder if the wood posts underneath are rotting. The house is only 10 years old so I hate to over-react, jack up my roof ($$$), and tear apart my columns just because the columns look bowed when really the PVC was just cut too tall for the porch and has created the bow. It’s not horribly significant but when you’re walking up and down the porch 50 times a day trying to get the baby to sleep…you notice EVERYTHING! Is there anyway to detect the rot without breaking in? Would it be horribly expensive to rent/buy a jack?

    1. Hi Amanda, it’s not expensive to buy little bottle jacks. The one I used was $27. But depending in the severity of your issue this might be a job for a pro. If you’re really concerned it wouldn’t hurt to hire a contractor who specializes in porch construction and repairs. I’d get at least 3 opinions from qualified contractors who are A rated on Angie’s List. If you’re not a member it only costs $49 and for an important repair like a bowing column it’s worth the money to see the Angie’s List reviews.

      You can send me pictures if you’d like. My email address is [email protected]

  3. Marcela says:

    Hi Jeff,
    I have three porch columns that need to be replaced (some brick work will be done on the porch, there are no bricks now, just cement. The original columns seem to be made out of wood and they are covered with some sort of metal but the posts are very wide: almost 7 inches. There is no cap or base). Should the posts be 4×4 and with the wrap 5×5 or 6×6?). One contractor is suggesting to use pressured treated wood for the posts and wrap them with PVC. I would like your insight. Another contractor is suggesting a lally pole (?, iron, metal pole) wrapped in permacast. And another contractor is suggesting aluminum columns. See why I am confused? please tell me what you think. Thanks a lot.

    1. Hi Marcela,

      There are several options you can go with and all the contractors seem like they are giving good ones. It sounds like your primary concern is safety. If I had to replace our columns I’d think about using aluminum because they’d never rot or have to be painted. But your final choice also comes down to price. I wanna say the aluminum posts I priced out were $200-$400 each (although I could be off a bit for your project because of size).

      Pressure treated lumber isn’t a bad option and the PVC will protect the wood from the environment. So, I hope this reassured you a little bit. What were you going to choose?

      ๐Ÿ™‚

      Jeff

      1. Marcela says:

        Hi Jeff,
        Thank you very much for replying. Yes, my major concern is safety because I want to be sure the columns can bear the weight of the porch roof. Would hollow aluminum columns meet this criterion?. If I choose pressured treated wood wrapped with pvc, how would I know if the wood ever rots or has any problem if I can’t see it?, is there any way to check it?. I also read that painting the pvc gives the appearance of wood. Is this true?. Thank you very much for your help.

        1. Hi Marcela,

          You’d have to work with your contractor to figure out if the aluminum columns will support your porch roof’s load. It would be somewhat hard to see if the pressure treated lumber has any issues if it’s covered with PVC molding. But it’s not a bad option if installed correctly. Certain products like Azek do look like wood. Honestly, I’d lean toward the aluminum because it won’t rust and will last a really long time. That said, I think either option will be safe in installed correctly.

          Jeff

  4. Aaron says:

    I currently have a porch issue and like you Jeff, when I removed the base cap I immediately realized what kind of danger I have been on the verge of. I can only blame my own inexperience to start but what I have is a house built in 1905 with double front porches. I noticed that the tongue and groove decking on the corner of the lower porch was starting to rot and crumble from water damage. Apparently water was resting behind the base and not running off. Well today I removed the base cap and checked out the whole scenario. My columns are permacast 10″ round columns that were replaced in 2000. When replaced there was no damage to the porch area. Now 14 years later I am surprised my porch is still standing. What I am thinking of doing is supporting the upper porch/roof and remove the columns, tear out the old decking and sills, Install new sills but I am not sure as to what to support the columns with. There are piers at the corner, center and near the stairs. But the sills are supported by wood shims on the piers(probably from earlier repairs for leveling). The current columns edge is sitting on the sill and porch decking. I really need some advice as to what to do.

    1. Sounds a bit scary Aaron. Any time I get that funny feeling in my stomach that something could be over my head I like to call in an expert.

      Unfortunately I’m not that expert and wish I could help you out. In this case, my big concern is that if you pull the columns the roof might give way.

      I just want to make sure your safe, that’s all that matters. The house can be repaired but you and your family are way more valuable. I’d recommend calling in a contractor to inspect the columns, sills, and porch roof itself. Primarily because you might have some kind of underlying issue that they will spot and you won’t.

      Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful Aaron ๐Ÿ™

  5. Mike Story says:

    A few years ago I had to do the same repair to my old house’s porch. I used 2 x 4’s to brace up the porch roof while I replaced the rotted columns, each one at a time.

    1. Great job Mike, it can be tricky and a bit dangerous. Frankly, this project had me sweating (mostly from nerves) more than any other I’ve done. The thought of a roof collapsing is scary stuff.

  6. Jim Hilton says:

    So I’m in the middle of this exact same repair. I have already done 2 of the 4 columns at my place. 2 to go. They are solid wood and will never ever ever ever EVER rot again. I have some other helpful tips, all of which follow a theme: Borrow from the classic boating community. Who knows best about keeping wood which is literally bathing in water from rotting? Those guys do!!
    Tip #1- When marrying up two (or more) pieces of wood together that will be outside, as Jeff so eloquently did when he constructed his really nice bases, put a layer of Bedding Compound between the pieces. The stuff is about the consistency of peanut butter, only slightly thicker. And is impervious to water. It can be a bit messy but cleans up easily with mineral spirits. I removed and replaced an entire boat cabin where the joints were bedded properly with this stuff. It never let water in the joint, and the joint was at least 50 years old. The nice part? If need be, it comes apart easily. What isn’t exposed to air stays soft and malleable. What is exposed to air, skins over and is paintable. A quart of this stuff is about 30 bucks.
    Tip #2- When you’re dealing with wood rot of any kind, the wood CAN be repaired with Two-Part Epoxy. I know it sounds like scary stuff, but it really isn’t. If I can do it (total amateur) then anyone can. We think of epoxy as glue, and yes that’s what it is mostly. But more than that, epoxy chemically bonds with wood down to the cellular level. When poured over severely rotten wood, epoxy encompasses the bad wood, bonds with it, and makes the most severely rotted wood stronger than the day it was cut from the tree.
    Experience- My 2 porch columns were attacked by carpenter ants. They had hollowed out the column about 8 iches from the bottom, going upward. They had also made a network of caverns inside the column going up another 8 inches. About 16 inches of a 5ft column was severely structurally compromised. Since once can’t find solid wood columns anymore…..I removed the column entirely with a bottle jack as Jeff described….turned it upside down….mixed up a batch of epoxy, and poured it into the bottom of the column. No need to remove rotten wood. The epoxy soaked down into the column filling all the voids and caverns. Let it cure overnight. I had to do this process 2 more times. On the last try, I wrapped clear packing tape around the outside of the column multiple times and made a big funnel. When I poured the epoxy in, I stopped when it got to the level of the original base. Like filling a coffee cup this process is. Each time you do it, there’s less void to fill. The tape was just to make sure the epoxy didn’t “spill out” over the top and make a mess. Epoxy is permanent! That said, once it dries it’s sandable, paintable, drillable, saw-able. It works just like wood. And is impervious to rot and bugs. Like I said the repair is 100% permanent and I will never have to do it again. Sand it smooth, paint with whatever paint you like and you’re done. No one will ever know there was a repair done. It’s that seamless. And that easy.
    Another tip- My place has one of those “trap door” style doors into the cellar from the backyard. The original is long gone, and the previous owner slapped a plywood door on just before putting the place up for sale. Which of course rotted after one winter. I went and got a new piece of plywood, mixed a batch of epoxy, rolled it on with a smooth paint roller, let it dry, light sand, paint. 10 years later it’s as good as new. I’m telling ya this stuff is amazing.

    1. Whoa, these are awesome tips Jim!!!

      Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge because we’re all going to benefit from it.

      I really like your idea of using boating tips for the home. Especially the Bedding Compound. I’m going to check this out because we have a boating specialty store near us.

      You’re the best Jim for adding these tips. Thanks again ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. Valerie says:

    My mom just had new fiberglass columns installed and the base hangs out over the floor of the porch. It does this even on the two corners of the porch where the base hangs over on two sides. The contractor said the column had to be in that spot because the column had to attach in the bottom of the arches overhead. I think this looks sloppy but I don’t know how to fix it. Any suggestions? Thank you for your help.

  8. Doris A LaRue says:

    I have two columns supporting a roof over a balcony. The columns are made of staves. Several years ago some staves became loose, and I glued them back and caulked them and painted them. But before I did this I peeked inside the column. The stave columns are load bearing and hollow inside. I worry about that. Is there any way to shore the columns without replacing them? Maybe some decorative kind of reinforcement? Something I could wrap the column with? Also, can you tell by looking if they are doing their job? Nothing is wobbly or saggy.

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