Front Page Editorial & Design Services Will Family History The Aurora Colony

Bringing It Into the 21st Century

I had learned a few things from the time I spent on the roof of the porch last autumn, tearing off old roofing and trying to find the source and extent of the water damage I was seeing. (1) The person who did the roofing 15 years ago, more or less, left about a half-inch of rafter tails exposed to the weather. They rotted, which left nothing solid to nail the gutters to. (2) The footings had settled a bit since 1906, pulling the porch roof away from the house. (3) The other thing I figured out, incidentally, is that if I was on the roof, the tools I needed were always on the ground, and vice versa.

The first photo is of the house shortly after I bought it, about a dozen years ago. That little blue Honda Civic was the last car I owned that could get up and down the driveway without high-centering. (Yes, a new -- regraded -- driveway is on the list of projects we will be addressing.)

The second photo shows the state things had come to by autumn of 2002. Yes, I had let things go for too long, and the house looked as if nobody loved it. But through the years of no money and no time, at least I had been able to think about what needed doing to bring the place gently into the 21st Century. A crew of competent workers started at once to make those thoughts concrete.

In the first three days the damaged shingles were removed from the gable above the front porch, a new attic window was framed, and sheathing was put up in preparation for new shingles. The framing for the old porch roof was removed; then the porch itself came out, and footings were dug and forms put into place for the foundation of the new porch. Cement will be poured on Day 4.

Soil samples were taken around the old underground storage tank at the head of the existing driveway, and the analysis came back with good news. The ground was not contaminated with furnace oil; however in the past some bozo had discarded used motor oil in that location which showed up in the analysis. However, none of the contaminated material needs to be removed, and it will be possible to decomission the tank in place and certify the contamination-free status with DEQ for less money than I had tentatively budgeted for the procedure.

Click on the little pictures to display bigger ones.

Week 1

Weather-damaged shingles came off, new sheathing was put in place, and the front porch roof was removed.

Week 2

The front porch decking was taken away, footings were dug and cement was poured for footings for the new front porch. A portion of the driveway was removed, and excavation began for footings for a brand-new porch on the west side of the house.

While forms were being put into place on the west side, the lower portion of the front was sheathed with wonder board in preparation for a new porch deck.

After seeing it endorsed in This Old House, I purchased a Silent Paint Remover from Viking Sales Inc. It uses infrared energy to loosen paint bonds at a lower (and safer!) temperature than other heat guns, and does not seem to drive as many noxious vapors back into the wood nor release them into the air. At $410 it seems to be an extraordinary value, and I'm happy to provide this unsolicited link to

The footings for the side porch were poured on June 15th, nine days after the start of work.

Week 3

In one backbreaking 11-hour Friday, Eric, Elmo, Sandy, Pete and Brian got the side porch framed and decked -- except for the portion that would block the back door.

Moving the back door around the corner to the back of the house will be the next major thrust. That will involve re-framing an ill-conceived addition to the back of the house that went up, as nearly as I can tell, in the late 1920s.

Weeks 4 and 5

The foundation was good and the basement floor was solid, but everything between those and the three -- count 'em! -- roofs had to be replaced and fastened securely to the rest of the house. The roof was supported with jacks on the basement floor while the walls went up to meet it. Funny how you can summarize two weeks of nail-biting work in eighteen nonchalant words.

The story of the back porch addition unfolded like a crime-scene reconstruction as layers were peeled away. The house began its life with a tiny back porch and one of those clunky lean-to cellar doors in the middle of the back wall. At some point a bigger back porch seemed like a good idea, and also a regular stairway to the basement. Once the space was roofed, it probably seemed a shame not to enclose it. Once enclosed, the east half of the space no doubt looked like a good place for a breakfast nook -- no problem that the ceiling in there would be only 7'6" -- and as long as they were doing that, it was easy to justify glassing in the rest of it. When it was re-roofed in the 1980s, it made things much easier to continue the roofline the full length of the house, so they framed in a new straight roofline over the existing hip roof in in back, which as it turned out had been framed to cover up the original roof from the days when there wasn't much of a porch there at all. While all this stuff was getting added up above, it never once seemed important to strengthen what was underneath.

What I could see when I bought the house was:

  • A kitchen big enough to roller skate in, but with so few electrical outlets that the refrigerator lived on the back porch;
  • A claustrophobic little breakfast nook with a dropped ceiling;
  • A funny rabbit-warren of stairway to the back door and basement, a hallway to nowhere, and a glassed-in landing where, old-timers informed me, the original owners had started their tomato plants every year.
Peeling off the skirting, the siding and the various interior wall surfaces produced incredulous reactions among the guys who knew how buildings are supposed to be framed. In the first place, very little was holding the back of the house either up or together. In the second, it was nonetheless remarkably straight and level, although it is not clear why. In the third place, crummy-looking drywall and cheap paneling had been used to cover up enough beautiful clear beadboard to use as wainscoating in the new kitchen.

The house has been generous, so far, in yielding up high-quality materials which can be gracefully re-used.

The week of July 7-11, 2003, was mostly spent making the old back porch addition solid and safe. New framing went in, the old framing was judiciously removed, and nothing shook loose or fell down.

There are interesting contrasts that can't be explained from this point in time. The foundation was a good, professional installation. Framing was poorly thought out, and scabbed together with anything they could lay their hands on. Fairly high-quality finish work -- the beadboard, the lath and plaster, the good vertical-grain fir siding -- covered things up nicely, and probably also held things together.

When the old flooring was cut away, we got a view that won't soon be repeated. It's possible to stand on the old basement floor and look up about 30 feet to the ridgepole in the attic. With the siding gone, there is a sort of cathedral effect, although the guys have also mentioned putting up basketball hoops down there, or filling it with water and using it as a swimming pool. Although the space is no longer accessible from the house -- there is nothing at floor level and the stairs are gone -- Charlie Riggs found it useful as a work area for overhauling the front door.

Throughout the week, EJ Andersen excavated and built forms for curbing and the new driveway, and he expects to order concrete early in the week of July 14-18.

July 18th -- breakthrough!

July 18th was a day when many things came together. There was once again flooring in the old back porch addition, and when Eric breached the wall into the former back bedroom, we got our first look at the space where the new kitchen and breakfast nook will be. On the outside, EJ ordered cement for noon. All I can say is things happen pretty quickly at a concrete pour on a hot day, and by 5PM I was able to walk on the new driveway.

July 21-August 1: On The Way Back

It is exciting to see daylight where you've never seen daylight before, and marginally thrilling to realize that the dust you're looking at hasn't been disturbed since 1906. However, it feels very good to reach the point where more things are being put in than are being taken out. That tide turned for us in the last week of July: framing was completed in the old bedroom-new kitchen. The siding went back up, and rather than replicating the random charm of the original work, Gene and Eric put it on straight this time. When the new doors were stood in place, we got a glimpse of the transformation we have been working for.

August 4-8, 2003

The old front porch was almost big enough for two people (seated) and one dog, once they all got settled down. And at some point the original pillars or posts -- who knows? -- had been replaced by a storebought wrought-iron lashup, and prettied up with glued-on plastic spindles, which fit the style of the house the same way socks fit a rooster. The new porch is large enough to accommodate a small table and chairs; it will have solid railings broad enough to sit on, and the posts will be tapered, Craftsman-style.

August 18-22, 2003: The porch gets a roof

The new hipped roof took shape over about a week. A lot of nifty practical geometry goes into a hipped roof, and this is better executed in every way than the one I started taking off last October.

The next step will be executed in the attic in the back of the house, where framing problems arising from the 1928 addition need to be addressed to make the roof safe for roofers. It's not exactly clear how they managed last time the house was roofed. With the framing made secure, the soffits back there can be repaired with some expectation that they will stay in place. Then we'll be ready to tear off the existing roof and put on a new one.

October 12, 2003

September was spent in tedious, sweltering work in the attic. There were some places up there where it was possible to deflect the roof about four inches just by pushing it bare-handed. An older hipped roof had been extended over the back porch addition, from the look of things, and along the way some of the supports apparently were considered unnecessary and were removed.

The first picture below is looking from the back of the house to the front. The lumber that looks new, is new! The next two are straight-up shots which (if you're a total framing freak) will tell show you the transition between the old hipped-roof geometry and the "newer" extension over the rear addition. It looks as if the plywood sheathing was what held it all together.

While all of this re-engineering was going on inside, the siding was being prepped and caulked, and Sandy had the exterior entirely primed by the time the first rain fell. On Friday, October 4, the first brushstrokes of red paint went on, and Sandy has been putting paint on in-between showers ever since.

There's a story about the red paint. I wanted barn red, but that's not as easy as it sounds anymore. I tried a half-dozen quarts of red paint -- better to pay for a small mistake than a big one -- without getting anything I was prepared to look at every day for the next several years. Finally I found the color I wanted lurking in my own basement, on some cabinets we had torn out. I took one of the cabinet doors into Tru-Value and got the color sampled, and if you write to me and ask nicely, I'll tell you where in the world this color formula is filed under my name.

The last picture? Well, Eric thought my blue shirt looked good against the fresh-painted siding. I don't like the camera angle, but considering that I'm 6'4", I suppose that's how I look to most people.

The roofing is bought and paid for; it'll be delivered on Monday the 13th, and we expect the roofers towards the end of the week.

Rainbow Roofing started work on October 17, 2003, and finished before noon the next day.

Front Page Editorial & Design Services Will Family History The Aurora Colony

Copyright © 2003, Robin P. Will, Rev. June 2003, URL: