Evolution of the Front Porch

The front porch of our house has been a puzzle from the time we moved in.  As you can see below, it was barely visible when we first bought the house due to the overgrown juniper bushes that flanked the sidewalk.  We didn’t pay much attention to it until we ripped out all the bushes a few weeks after moving in.

After removing the bushes, we found that the slab was sitting on air.   There was a 5 inch gap under the porch that we didn’t see until the bushes were gone.  We tried to hide it with some extra rocks and plants but obviously not the best long-term solution.  We did have a couple nicer wall lanterns put in and tried to pretty it up with some flowers but fact remained that it was still ugly & made a nice home for the local chipmunks & bunnies.

I found more issues (rot) with the front when I painted the front door & hardware (which we are still ignoring).  The size of the steps has also been an issue from day one.  The first step is too tall & the second step is too short & together they create a tripping hazard.

We brainstormed many different solutions for the porch & talked to several different contractors for quotes and finally decided that we would try to tackle it ourselves.  Our plan was to extend the small step to the edge of the landing w/ concrete, knock out the too tall step & add 2 new steps down to the sidewalk and then tile the whole porch.  We bought the tile (which is still sitting in the garage) and Kevin started the first step by mortaring cement blocks under the gaps on each edge so that the tile would have something to stick to.  Then we did a little more Googling and found that you can’t just put new concrete on old concrete.  It will not stick and is likely to crack.  So back to the drawing board.

This is where the deck/patio project went awry.   While the concrete guys were working on the back patio, we asked them (through the contractor) to give us a quote on fixing the front porch.   They came back with a solution to build up the middle to be even with the front door and have a couple steps down to the existing sidewalk.  The quote was pretty reasonable at $1300 so we told them to go ahead.  They did a little bit of demo & removed the small stair & the tall stair before we left for the cabin for July 4th weekend.  I talked to the concrete guy before we left & he said he was concerned that the solution proposed was not a good idea because of the void underneath the porch (which we had described in detail prior to the demo).  He had already contacted the deck PM – who was on vacation – and was waiting to hear back from him before proceeding.  We left for the cabin with the understanding that nothing else would be done until we heard from the PM.

We got a text from the PM around 5 o’clock on July 3rd that the better solution was going to involve cutting out the entire middle of the concrete slap & pouring support piers & then pouring the middle in the configuration that was originally discussed & the price would now be $2800.  Umm.  We told him to stop all work and we would discuss on Monday.  We worked on alternative solutions over the weekend that we could do ourselves because we weren’t ready to spend almost 3K on a mediocre solution especially after the deck bill & the new AC units.

We got home after the 4th and found that they had done more demo after we left on Thursday & that there was now a 2 foot chasm between our sidewalk and the porch.  Not happy.  We sent a couple urgent & less than friendly text messages to the PM & didn’t receive a response back until Monday morning.

We discussed the issues with the deck PM on Monday morning & asked him to come back to us with a quote to do the whole project right.  This entailed demoing the entire existing slab, prepping the area & pouring a new LEVEL slab higher than the old one with a couple steps down to the sidewalk.  The quote for this came back at a staggering $5600 – more than quadrupling the initial cost of what we had initially agreed to.  Not good.  And due to the additional demo we were at a point of no return on the front porch project.

We called another concrete contractor that had lots of very good reviews on Angie’s List and had him over ASAP for a quote on the project.  He came in a little over $3600 for the same work that the deck contractor quoted $5600.  We went with him on the spot.  I wouldn’t say communication is this guy’s strong suit either.  The first timeline was he would fit us in the next week and when I called at the end of that week – the new timeframe was later the next week.  The 2nd timeline worked out and work started (& finished) on a Friday.

A couple hours in the crew had broken up most of the slab.  This looks pretty scary.  You can’t really see it in the picture but it appears that the slab was not actually tied into the foundation of the house but just sitting on top of it.   We are glad that we didn’t add more weight to the middle because it would have likely broken & we would be stuck spending even more money to get it fixed again.

The plan was to leave all of this as a base for the new porch.  I was skeptical about this but once the porch was framed and rebar was drilled into the foundation the new porch is not going anywhere.  It was a long day of work that I’m glad I had no part of but our curb appeal was much improved by 6pm.

Liam is a fan 🙂

We had caution tape blocking the front for a full day to let it dry so hopefully none of our neighbors thought it was a crime scene.  There is still a little work to do patching stucco under the door, touching up paint around the edges & fixing the door frame.

and no longer plan to tile it.  We can get a little money back by returning the tiles we bought back in March (yes – it is now July – this one has been a long time in the making).   We found a couple pretty red planters at Target that will add a little more color in front but the concrete still needs to cure for a few more days before putting anything heavy on it.

We are very happy with the way this turned out and the ease of dealing with the (2nd) contractor.  I’m also glad I no longer have to think about how to put lipstick on the pig that was our old front porch!

New Deck and Patio

We had a great view from our kitchen windows but something was missing….

Grilling in the dirt under the screen porch with the spiders & random lawn equipment (moved prior to this pic) is really not appealing.

Especially when you have to use the stairs of death to get there & back with hot food.  There wasn’t a landing outside of the porch so it was almost impossible to get in and out because the door opened over the stairs.

These babies have been a PITA since we moved into the house.   Before we moved in they weren’t even attached to the footings – the whole staircase could be moved by pulling on the bottom rails – and you didn’t even have to pull hard.  As part of the repairs prior to closing, the stairs were secured & the screen porch was jacked up & leveled because it was slowly sinking but long story short the contractor that did the work was an unprofessional hack.    So we were left with this slightly less rickety but way too narrow & steep set of stairs.  You felt like climbing a mountain when you walked up & I tripped a couple times carrying Liam up but luckily didn’t fall.

The screen porch was also still sinking & no longer level 1.5 years after the last “fix”.  We started getting quotes on different deck & stair options over a year ago & finally found a contractor in May that offered the best solution – albeit not the lowest price.   Most of the time “best” and “lowest” don’t occur in the same sentence when talking about home improvement so we decided to go with them and finally get this project done.

Here is one more before shot.  I do miss the pretty grass that we had – there was definitely some damage to the landscaping during the project due to lots of feet & some heavy machinery.

After signing on the dotted line it took three weeks and a phone call with the owner of the company before we had our first meeting with the (2nd) assigned project manager.  This was annoying because we expected the timeline to be quicker from what the sales guy told us before we signed the contract.

After the initial meeting with the PM, the process started speeding up.  The permit was pulled within a couple days and the survey of our lot was completed by the end of the next week.  The crew started work exactly 1 month after we signed the contract.  The deck building went very quickly and the whole thing was up within 2 days except for the support posts.  Everything including the screen porch was propped up on temporary supports until the concrete pad under the deck was complete & dry.

When they dug out the foundations of the original support posts under the screen porch, they found that the posts were sitting on dirt & concrete had just been poured around the posts instead of actual foundations – that is why it was sinking.

We were very hesitant to walk on the porch or deck while it was being held up like this.  The concrete pad under the porch was where the project slowed down again and went off the rails a little.

It took another full week to dig out under the porch & build the forms.   The original intent was for the patio to be a full step down out of the basement door so there would only be about an 7-8″ drop on the front edge to the yard.  This didn’t work out due to the placement of the foundation so the patio had to be poured at the same level as the foundation. That left a 16-18 inch drop at the front & edge of the patio.  We decided to fix this issue by adding a railing to match the deck around the front & edge of the patio so no one would fall off.

They finally poured concrete 2 weeks after the first crew started on the deck.  The whole timeline was supposed to be 2 weeks so heading into the third week we were getting impatient again.  We had to push hard to get the deck crew to come back on Friday of the third week to finally put up the support beams.  The entire house shook as they were hammering in the beams.  They also built the rail for the patio on the same day.

Our stress level was also higher during this part because we found out that we had to replace BOTH of our air conditioners.  NOT Cheap (either)!

The concrete guys tried very hard to minimize the damage to the grass & did bring in hay & pine straw to limit the erosion after they were done but we will still have a good bit of work to do this fall to get the grass back in shape.

We asked for an add-on quote on our front porch (see issues in this post) during this process & that is where the project took a wrong turn.  I’ll save that for a future post because I already have too many pictures for this one.

The final inspection passed & the final walk-through with the PM was exactly 2 months after we signed the contract.

Sooo…after all that here’s the finished product.

There is now a landing off the screen porch and short set of nice wide stairs down about 5 feet to the deck.

The grill is so much more convenient now that we’ve already started using it more (as soon as the support posts were installed).

The decking is composite w/ aluminum balusters.  The pressure treated parts of the rail will eventually be stained but we need to wait until September.  The deck is 12′ wide & 20′ long.

We had a double gate installed to match the railing to keep the kiddos in.

The main set of stairs is such an improvement!  The stairs even have LED lights that come on automatically when it gets dark.

 

The area under the screen porch is so much better now too.  The space is actually usable and the railing ties it into the rest of the deck.

It’s an impressive addition to the back of the house.  I can’t wait to get some furniture so we can start enjoying it!

We need to do some landscaping around the patio – right now it is just dirt covered up with hay – but one thing at a time.  We’re very happy with the finished product even though it was painful at times during the process.

And Now We Wait – Update

The bulbs we planted in November looked great this spring!  The daffodils came up in 2 phases and the tulips bloomed over about 3 weeks.  It added great spring color to the backyard.  I hope those daffodils come back again next year!  This may be the only year for tulips though since you have to dig them up and replant each year.

Back in November, we spent most of a cold Saturday planting around 100 tulips & 175 daffodils in the backyard.  Liam even got in on the work.  He “helped” rake & plant the bulbs & wore ear protection just like Kevin.  Here’s the pine straw island of the backyard that we hope will be covered in pretty flowers come Spring.

Kevin rented a one-man auger to dig the holes since it seemed easier than manual digging.  He was very sore for the next 2 days because that thing is a beast to use because it vibrates constantly and jerks hard when you hit a root.  He had loads of fun digging the almost 200 holes needed with this thing.

We lined the island with 2 rows of tulips and put randomly placed daffodils in the middle.  Liam and I fertilized & planted the bulbs after the holes were dug.

Hey!  This picture actually makes it look like Kevin was having fun with that thing!  HAHA!

Liam kept just throwing the bulbs in the holes so I made sure they were right side up so that all this work would be worth it.

And now we wait and hope the squirrels don’t chow down on too many of these before Spring.  The frustrating part about this much work is the lack of instant gratification…the “after” picture looks just like the “before”.

Oops! I didn’t take an “after” picture because I was feeding Liam lunch so the “before” will have to do.