housefilter-wood porch, badly painted, wet
May 21, 2005 10:21 AM   Subscribe

The front porch of my 1926 non-historic house needs to be refinished. It has peeling paint over stain, is developing 3-4mm wide cracks and when I make it down to wood, the boards seem to be damp. Small ants come spilling out when I turn off my orbital sander.

The porch is covered, isn't too big (maybe 15 sq. feet). I have an orbital sander, wirebrush, paint scrapper, a heat gun and a small tools and material budget. I have elderly pets and I eat the plants I grow next to the porch, so I'd prefer to avoid chemical strippers.

I assume I need to get down to the wood, fill the cracks, sand, put on a coat of some kind of primer, then possibly multiple coats of paint (I gave up on stain, after seeing the shape the wood was in). I got nearly nowhere after 4 hours with paint scraper, orbital sander with course sandpaper and fingernails (some of the paint sheets off, other bits are really on there). I gave up on the heat gun after 15 min. Is there any way to speed this up without using chemicals? Can I leave the paint on the railings (which is in better shape), and just sand and paint it? And how do I get the hook and eye sandpaper to stay on the orbital sander for long enough to wear out said sandpaper?

Paint was glopped on over dirt, bird shit and gods know what else, and it was applied thickly. The porch itself was (like so much of the rest of the house) apparently built by a 4th grade class on holiday.

The goal is not a cover on House Beautiful, but rather to end up with something that looks decent, does not attract any more attention from the zoning zombies and does not require major surgery every year. Repainting every few years is fine. I'd rather spend a little more on paint and get another year or two out of it than repaint frequently. I'd rather not spend huge amounts on paint that will last 2 months longer than cheap stuff.

Any paint recommendations? Primer recommendations? Should I break down, and put some kind of outdoor carpet thing on the high traffic bit up the steps to the door (I think that kind of thing looks tacky, although that would fit in with the tone of the neighbourhood)? And, how do I deal with the damp boards (I'm in Michigan, if that makes a difference). I'm doing this alone, and really need to move on to other house issues within a few weeks.
posted by QIbHom to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
If you've got insects in the wood, that means the wood needs to go. Otherwise they'll eventually make their way into the structural wood in the house itself, which is a very expensive repair.

If the wood isn't completely rotten (pray a little), you can try stripping it with THE BEAST (infrared paint remover -- much more effective than a heat gun). This will strip multiple layers of crap and gunk down to bare wood.

Don't carpet your outdoor wood. Carpet will just absorb moisture and encourage all sorts of nastiness. Carpeting belongs indoors, if at all (I wouldn't even put it there, but then, I'm a hardwood freak).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:40 AM on May 21, 2005

Best answer: Well, first of all, you have to diagnose why the wood is getting and staying damp, and address the moisture problem. Damp wood is a favorite of carpenter ants which will undermine the structure of the porch and require you to tear down and rebuild. This is the most criticial step.

Once the moisture issue is solved....then you can focus on refinishing the porch. Strip it first, but do not use sandblasting or powerwash...this will further ruin the wood. (We use the infrared paint remover, citristrip, heat guns, tungsten steel scrapers, etc...sanding isn't a good idea if there is a chance that lead paint is on the porch. That will be harmful to elderly pets, you, neighbors, you name it.)

Dig out any wood rot, soak any soft wood with wood hardener/rot fix, and patch the holes left from digging out the wood rot with a HIGH quality wood Abatron or Sculpwood. (You can mix it with sawdust to make it go further.) Paint the wood with a PAINTABLE water sealant. Caulk joints and ends. Prime it with an oil primer (it digs into the wood), and then paint with a latex or oil paint. (You can put latex on top of an oil primer but not vice-versa.)

Do not carpet the Civil Disobediant pointed out, this will just give you more problems with wood rot.

Sorry. There is really no cheap and easy solution to fixing damp wood which is exposed to exterior elements...if you want the fix to be something you don't have to keep messing with from season to season.

Here's a some snippets for fixing some wood rot with Abatron (1, 2). And here's a nice summary of prepping and painting exterior wood.
posted by jeanmari at 11:39 AM on May 21, 2005

Response by poster: Is it possible that the wood is dampish because the paint was put on over wet wood? It is pretty obvious that the paint was put on right as the house went on the market (and it was a neglected rental for years before I foolishly bought it).

If that is the case, can I just watch where I got down to wood, and see if it dries up?

Alternately, could it be wicking up water from the soil? I just took a look underneath, and the supports are just raw 2x4s and 4x4s put directly into the ground, no cement, no sealer. If that is the case, can I use cement blocks (or some other cheap prop) to replace the supports? I simply don't have the budget (nor, probably, the skills) to replace the porch.

I appreciate the answers so far, even the out of budget ones (infrared paint removal isn't going to happen, unless I modify the IR port on my Thinkpad). I'm off to google ants. These are too small to be carpenter ants, but that doesn't meant they aren't a problem (I can't see them coming out of wood, rather they appear to be crawling up between boards, which doesn't mean they aren't in it).
posted by QIbHom at 12:03 PM on May 21, 2005

For removing the paint, you may want to try Peel Away, which is not the most economical solution, but works extremely well and doesn't have the fumes and stuff of other solvents.

Also, since you are likely dealing with lead paint, it keeps things moist to cut down on dust.
posted by stefnet at 1:00 PM on May 21, 2005

Best answer: Whoa. Yes. Putting wood directly on the soil is a big, big no no. You could jack it up and pour cement footings.

It's possible that the wood was painted while wet, I guess (?)

This sounds outta my league. I might try to humbly appeal to the guys and gals at Fine Homebuilding's Breaktime board, preferably with photos so they can advise you.

Man, what a bummer. I hope it works out.

p.s. Clear any plants/brush away from the supports and the keeps the bug population somewhat down...
posted by jeanmari at 2:18 PM on May 21, 2005

As a tool solution, look into renting if you can not afford (or simply don't wish) to buy the tool.

When you refer to the raw lumber in the ground this is actually not all horrible. Certain types of treated lumber are designed for direct contact with earth and if the posts are deep enough and the soil is firm enough you will be okay with bearing. (I'm not saying I prefer this but it can work. And below the surface of the post-ground contact might be a true footing that you can't see.)

I don't know when I can check back next on this thread but do you have pics?
posted by Dick Paris at 2:27 PM on May 21, 2005

Yeah - the wrap-around porch at our summer cabin had the original posts right in the ground. This was bad news (soggy coastal BC - both rain and seawater abound) and we had to jack up the porch, install concrete posts in the ground, then re-do the wood posts on top of the concrete pool. If it's a porch just above the ground level, it's likely that your local big hardware store will have the tools, and you can often rent the big jacks from the Home Depot-type place (I really hate Home Depot but you get my idea). Then you dig a hole, usually using some kind of wood frame inside it, and pour concrete beneath the ground. Then after it's dry, install the wood posts connecting the concrete block and the porch. As for the wood of the porch itself, I have no idea. If it's buggy, be more aggressive than you think you need to be - otherwise, it will take out your entire foundation before you know it.

On preview - Dick Paris is right that some wood is okay touching the ground. BUT if it's the original wood from 1926, and hasn't been maintained, and looks like it's rotting or transferring moisture, be wary!
posted by fionab at 2:31 PM on May 21, 2005

One more thing...the posts are 4 x 4's, correct? (The posts hold up the deck and stand vertically.) Are the joists 2 x 4? Or are they 2 x 6? (The joists are horizontal beams that support the floor of the deck.)

Fine Homebuilding provides a nice table for the size of joists you need for the size of the deck (the "span"). If the deck isn't at least built to the minimum recommended specifications, I would try to keep weight off of it as much as possible. A deck that isn't structurally sound, with wet wood, is a bad accident waiting to happen.

I don't you to be hurt.

Regarding the wet wood: Has it rained recently? The wood (especially if it isn't treated lumber) could be wicking up water from the ground or might not be draining properly. If you were to stab at the wood with a screwdriver, is it spongy? (You'll know.) If it isn't spongy and the specs are alright, it might be salvageable. Do you have any pictures?

Take care.
posted by jeanmari at 2:33 PM on May 21, 2005

Response by poster: I will attempt to take pics tomorrow, and upload them somewhere. It is a tad dark now.

The wood isn't spongy, just damp. It isn't like the rotted wood I replaced under the eaves and by the toilet last year (screwdriver won't go into it without lots of pressure, paint scraper didn't gouge up wood, even when I was rough with it, nor did the wire brush). I was a bit taken back, because even with the peeling, I don't expect to find damp wood under paint and stain. From what I've been able to find in my house repair books and on google, the kind of peeling I see is consistant with paint over wet wood. Perhaps I should try dremeling down an eight of an inch or so in the corner tomorrow (I can always fill it in, eh?), and see if I strike dry wood.

We had lots of snow (and several big melts followed by hard freezes) last winter, and we've had a good bit of rain since that melted. I haven't had standing water in the front yard this year, although I had some briefly last year. So, I suspect the supports wicking up water is very possible.

Of course, it is supposed to rain for the next week...

I haven't gotten under the porch to check the joists, but I obviously need to. I can safely look under there, from the side, without crawling under there. I will also poke under the supports a bit, to make sure there isn't concrete down there already (I doubt it, judging by other things I've run into with this house). Fortunately, jacking, digging and pouring concrete are within my capabilities. That sounds like the next step, unless I find something awful under there tomorrow.

I'm not sure how old the porch is. The railing is definitly not from 1926 (standard wood sizes, signs of sloppy repair). The stain wasn't very deep, and I know from a neighbour that the grey paint on top of it dates to 3.5 years ago (so it probably isn't lead paint, although I'm being very careful with it), so I doubt the floor planks are original, either.

I am most grateful for the ideas, links and advice. I've been amazed at what I have been able to fix around here, but since I don't have experience, I very much need reality checking, especially when I run into something odd.
posted by QIbHom at 7:37 PM on May 21, 2005


What's wrapping the sides of this porch?
posted by Dick Paris at 12:18 AM on May 22, 2005


It sounds as if you are of sound mind and body, so this may be well within your capabilities to manage :)

Feel free to send an email in care of my homepage address when you wrangle some pictures. If I can't answer your questions, we have plenty of pals who may be able to...

Take good care. Stay dry.
posted by jeanmari at 12:30 PM on May 22, 2005

Response by poster: Dick Paris, I'm not sure what you mean. It is just wood, painted over, including the ends. There is stain under the wood. The roof ends right where the decking does.

jeanmari, I didn't manage to get pics today (it was pouring all day), so it is going to be at least a few days. I'll e-mail you when I get some up.

Next task will be fixing the footings issue, and putting concrete down there. That won't happen for a few weeks. After that, it'll have to dry out a bit before I can finish stripping it and paint.

If I find rotted wood underneath, then I'll replace those boards.

Thanks, gang. I think you've given me enough to start on. I'll report back here how it goes, or put something in metatalk refering back to this question if the question is closed.
posted by QIbHom at 7:03 PM on May 22, 2005

Sorry. Sides of the proch between the top of the deck and the ground. (Just wondering if that space is too tightly closed and not getting enough air.)
posted by Dick Paris at 10:09 PM on May 22, 2005

Response by poster: Ah, I get it now. They are open, there is a gap of over a foot. There is a small amount of lattice on one side, but that is going away.

Good thing to check, but I think the air circulation is probably pretty good.
posted by QIbHom at 5:32 AM on May 23, 2005

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