• June 30, 2004

When No News is Bad News

Problems halt our restoration

Exteriors, Restoration Diary

bp_02Our back porch is really such a mess!

The old adage “No news is good news” doesn’t always ring true. I haven’t written in a while because we ran into some problems with our back porch that required us to rethink our exterior restoration. We halted work completely for the past month so that we could figure out what we are going to do about our back porch and how much we can afford to do.

bp_001Back porch appears to have been enclosed with wood scraps and odds-and-ends, but no real framing.

The back porch used to be open. It was enclosed sometime prior to the house being shingled with asbestos tiles in the late 1940′s – early 1950′s. We discovered that the enclosed wall and windows have NO framing! The walls, windows and door are all different depths from the house. The back porch is a hobbled together mess inside and out.

bp_11Detail of the “construction”

One of our dining room windows looks out onto the ugly back porch. When the view was open to the outside I am sure a lot of light streamed in but now the dining room tends to be dark and the view leaves much to be desired.

bp_004View from dining room window

Our goals are to let in more light and to relocated the washer and dryer to one end of the porch and enclose them in a cabinet. We want to put in new windows and relocate the back door to the middle of the porch.

bp_006Window juts out 10 inches from the wall.

Another concern is an upstairs sleeping porch that was added to the house around 1918. The porch is built to the end of the roof rafters right on top of the old cedar shake roof. We are concerned that the porch isn’t adequately supported. Prior to buying the house we had a structural engineer look into this and some other problems with the house. The structural engineer felt that the support for the room was adequate.

Several other people, who are knowledgeable about old houses, have told us that the room is sloping downward and we are at risk of having it fall off the back of our house during an earthquake!

bp_0003Sleeping porch built to the edge of the roof rafters

We also found evidence of termite damage along our new foundation. All this had me sticking my head in the proverbial sand because, in truth, I just “didn’t want to deal with it.”

bp_007Wires hanging off the back of our house. How ghetto is that?

It is hard to get excited about spending money on the back porch, a room that we use for washing our laundry, housing the litter box and our Sparkletts water dispenser, especially when our kitchen has holes in the ceiling and plaster falling of the walls and we are still brushing our teeth in the bathtub.

I had decided to reside the back porch and to revisit it in 5 years when the rest of the house was completed. Unfortunately, that won’t really work since the walls aren’t framed. Our neighbor, an old house buff, assured me that residing the porch would be like trying to “fix a skull fracture with a band aide” and that our back porch is a complete mess that should be gutted and rebuilt right away.

bp_005Exposed plumbing pipes.

So here we sit, we two, trying to decide just what we want to do with that back porch anyway?

All advice and opinions, especially regarding the sleeping porch support, are welcome and greatly appreciated!

Comments { 9 }
  1. mommydearest

    Dear Heather,

    I came upon your site through houseinprogress. We have a Queen Anne Bungalow in Berwyn, IL. I don’t think we are restoring, but we are restoring. I know that doesn’t make sense, at least we hadn’t decided that when we purchased our home 5 years ago. But for some reason that is what it is turning into. Unfortunately, when restoring a home nothing is set in stone, nothing. We have our punchlist that we’d like to follow, but sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. Hope an easy answer comes your way. If you do decide to deal with the porch first, there is the upside — you will have a great view of the outside from your dining room where you will most likely sit and have a quite restful meal after working on the rest of the house.

  2. Sean

    I recently went through a similar situation with our former back porch on our 1923 Bungalow – It was also enclosed/ expanded around 1946….. using scraps and salvaged materials. The fun started when we decided to replace the subfloor in preparation for new granite tile. half the floor was the original porch with tongue and grove fir, and the other half was the original porch posts running the other way, with the original porch ceiling used as flooring… It got worse from there. The original porch was held up with wood posts sitting on concrete, and the other half as supported by wood blocks sitting on the what had been the sidewalk. The porch had been extended in all directions, so on two sides they just nailed extensions so the floor was just hanging in space…. The walls were a combination of original porch rails, and whatever scrap pieces of wood were available. In the entire room both walls and roof, there was not a single solid piece of wood. Add severe termite damage, rotted windows ( they all had bars bolted directly to the sashes, and I discovered that the whole window came out by pushing on it) and truly scary wiring
    (they recycled that too). Add to all this is the fact that they hacked out the back wall of the house to open it up, and there was very little holding it up. We could not demolish and rebuild the room from scratch because it is too close to the property line for new construction, so I had to rebuild it from the inside. I borrowed the neighbors hand held jackhammer, removed all of the old sidewalk, dug a foundation trench around the old wood blocks, braced the roof with 4X4′s and poured a foundation under the existing room, then completely rebuilt the floor. The walls had no sill plates, so i had to cut all of the old studs to insert them, added new solid studs, framed and installed windows to match the main house, moved the door to the outside, then replaced all of the rafters on the roof and installed a skylight. In order to address the problem with the back wall of the house, I had to add a 4X8 beam across the opening, and since we wanted the transition between the house and the addition to be seamless, I had to place it above the ceiling, which meant I had to tie all of the rafters to the new beam ( the addition had a lean to roof). Mind you I did all of the work myself on evenings a weekends, over the course of several long months. As a rule of thumb, just because something is leaning, doesn’t mean it is in danger of going anywhere. Your back wall shouldn’t be too bad – You can tear it all out and start fresh because it simply a filler – since it was originally open all it has to support is itself. I found my replacement windows at Freeway Lumber in Boyle Ave – They match the original ones from our house exactly. With a little elbow grease ( and paint remover) we have authentic period windows for very little money. When faced with these types of projects, break it down into little parts, figure out what needs to be done right now versus what can wait awhile… For instance, in order to paint the house the back wall must be rebuilt, but that doesn’t mean you have to move the washer and dryer right away ( unless they are in the way of something else!) Little by little you will get through all the things that need to be done. Think of how far you have gotten already!!

  3. heather


    Whew! That sounds like so much work. Thanks for sharing what you have been through – it’s nice to know we aren’t alone in this. It is easy to feel overwhelmed at times.

    Also, thanks for the tip about Freeway Lumber. We paln to check it out soon. We also have some aluminum windows on the front of our house that we would like to replace.

    Mommy Dearest, thanks for the encouragement!


  4. jm

    I am SO glad that YOU guys are okay. That is the most important.

    Oh! The sidetracks we go on when we begin to unearth the multitude of muddling sins. Just keep chanting to yourself what I chant to myself in this 1914 relic…”She’s been here for 90 years. She’s stayed up for 90 years. Not going anywhere soon.”

    Argh. I feel your frustration. I know that you are living in as little of an area as possible already. To buy some time, can you relocate the “things” from the back porch, build a much more satisfying foundation and supports underneath the sleeping porch and leave the bottom porch for awhile as an “open” porch? Sounds like, in that muddling, there must be an exterior wall on the inside wall of the porch…no? Yes? This would allow you to set up for your ultimate vision, stabilize the structure and still focus on residing the rest of the house.

    Have U told you the story of my in-laws who braved a Nebraska winter with two wee ones while the second floor of the house was jacked up with car jacks and the gap was wrapped in trash bags and tarp? No? They lived! And prospered! You are in the “what? Huh? #$*&^!!!” phase right now and rightly so. But it will get better from here…it will. I know you guys are brave souls and you will persevere! Hurray Heather and David! (Plus you can plot and dream for any built-in porch swings, benches, etc. now….)

  5. heather

    Hi, JM! I’ve been following all the progress you have been making over at houseinprogress.net on your Chicago bungalow.

    We have seriously considered leaving the back porch open as a “for now” type of solution to save some $ because the costs of the exterior restoration are getting out of control. They main problem with that idea is the only restroom on the first floor is located on the back porch. With the type of security issues that we face in our neighborhood, we don’t feel comfortable leaving the restroom open to the outside.

    Thanks for the pep talk! :)

  6. Sean

    Over the years I have worked on a large number of old houses – In the beginning, I had the attitude that I would not spend the time/money on something unless it was the final product. Consequently, I lived with grimy walls, cracked windows and floors with pieces of plywood nailed over holes. As time went on, I was tired of living in a disaster area and feeling overwhelmed because I had a million and one projects before I could see any real progress. So now I am a little more likely to paint trim that will someday be stripped, and spend a little time and money to patch something I will eventually replace. The most difficult case in point for me is my back porch renovation – Our house is covered with stucco painted a shade of yellow I can’t stand. A part of the reconstruction involved moving two windows and a door, which left huge gaps in the stucco. I cringed at the thought of having the stucco patched, so i toyed with the idea of in-filling with plywood until I can focus on the exterior stucco removal. But then I would have to look at that every day as a reminder of that huge project, which would be too overwhelming. In the end, I had the stucco patched and painted yellow, which was the best solution for my mental health because at least the outside is finished, and even though I want to change it, it can be on my own schedule instead of “The exterior looks horrible and unfinished”. Although your back porch needs work, don’t let it stop the progress on the rest of the house – Its way to easy to get sidetracked and fall off the wagon – Remember that paint is relatively cheap, and worst case scenario you will have to repaint the porch when you rebuild it – In the meantime the rest of the house will look great and the scope of the project will go from rebuild porch AND paint the house to paint the house. Much more manageable eh? Hang in there….

  7. J. Lurie-Terrell

    Heather: I want to write a short bit on your project with a link to this site, but I don’t know your full name – is your surname also Chiu, or something else?
    I’d like the article to appear on Hewnandhammered.com – if that’s OK with you – within the next day or two.

  8. Jason

    These are always the projects that suck the enthusiasm from you – $$$ for no real visible change. We’ve had a couple of those, as well. Still, do it now and you’ll have new proper framing and it’ll be out of the way. Leave it for another day and it’s one of those dreaded lingering things that hangs over all of your other restoration. Hang in there. And a side note, another example of when no news is not necessarily good news: when your last post is ‘after much debate about our safety, we decided to remove our security bars’ and then your visitors don’t hear from you for a month. Yikes. Thanks for the update!

  9. heather

    Ha ha. I’m laughing over your last comment. Thanks for the good laugh.

    Admittedly, we have kind-of (ok, completely) lost our motivation. We are still avoiding the backporch like the plague and aren’t as excited to work outside since the weather is much warmer now.

    The slackers who live here…

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