Renovation & Design

New icing on an old cake

Fresh porch with aluminum railings gives new life

This isn’t the first column dedicated to the refurbishment of an old and tired, front concrete porch-step. However, with the number of requests received this past season, I thought it apropos to showcase the process again. Provided the concrete porch remains rigid and stable, and the front door sill is at an acceptable elevation, a decorative sheathing may be all that is required.

Once the old wrought iron railings are removed by cutting along the base of the posts, at the topside of the concrete, any chipping or flaking concrete is then removed until a firm area remains. With the concrete now ready to receive framing, the dimensions for the newly designed front porch are incorporated into the structural aspect of the porch. Although the majority of the support is offered by the old concrete in this instance, the new version of the front steps will be slightly wider, by roughly one foot on either side. As such, a notched ledger is fashioned, to provide a nailer to which all joists can be fastened. Once in place, the framework for the new steps is systematically created.

Firstly, atop the old landing, joist on the flat are positioned at every 16 inches, with shims along the underside at every six inches. The outer joists are mounted using traditional joist hangers. Once the joists are in place, the front cap is then fastened to every joist creating the new top landing platform. The framing for every stair is established in much the same way, by fastening boards atop the concrete on the flat with shim underneath, and affixing typical stringers on either sides beyond the concrete, mounted to the standard joists. It can be tricky, but it is imperative to ensure level along every stair while shimming, and crucial that all stairs framing maintains a 10.5-inch depth. Once the framing for last and lowest stair is configured, the decorative sheathing stage can begin.

The homeowner selected a beautiful multi-toned composite board by Deckorators, called Tundra. This matches the composite used in a ground-level deck built last summer in the family’s backyard. The goal for the front porch was to completely hide the old concrete porch. And because the composite would be installed using the overlap top-decking method, fascia is the first composite to get mounted. Unfortunately, an extra step was required because fascia boards by this composite supplier are only manufactured at 12-inch widths. As such, the fascia boards were first ripped to 7.5 inches using a table saw. Once that was completed, the three visible sides of every stair level were adorned with this fascia, mitered at every corner, starting at the top tier, and working down to the lowest stair. Doing fascia first guarantees the desired three-quarter-inch overlap can be maintained during top-decking installation.

With the fascia step completed, top-decking begins by mounting squared boards (non-grooved edges) along the three sides of the outer perimeter of the top landing, and along every stair. These boards are mitered at every corner, fastened to the lumber framework using hex screws. With the overlap boards in place, the grooved inner boards are then fastened to the top landing and stairs using the provided clips. The new porch really came to life with once the composite tasks were accomplished.

Finally, new white aluminum railing is introduced at either side of the newly sheathed front porch-step. Straight railing posts are mounted to the corners of the top landing, and the top and bottom supports are secured within the mounts. The pickets are then ‘clicked’ into position one by one, using the four-inch spacers provided by the railing system. To complete the angled stair railing sections, universal mounts (angle can be adjusted) are affixed to the inner surfaces of the upper posts, and the inner face of the posts set along the top of the lowest stair. Once in place, the upper and lower supports are then set into position, and the angled stair pickets are mounted in similar fashion to the top landing railings. After a few more finishing touches, the new porch is ready to showcase a fabulous facelift.

Depending on every specific scenario, it may be advised that the old concrete steps first be removed, and a completely new support system be introduced. With these extra tasks, however, comes added costs and they can be substantial. As mentioned earlier, provided your concrete is stable and rigid, it may not be necessary. No matter, a new front porch adorned in composite with aluminum railings is sure to be a head-turner, exponentially increasing curb appeal.


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