Saturday, 26 January 2013

Is your deck feeling down?

Dear Joe,

I have a triplex in the east end of town.  The front porch has sagged to the point of being unsafe and the tenants are unable to use it.  I have told them that it will be repaired shortly but I am unsure as to how to go about repairing it and to what degree.  The actual wood of both the upper and lower decks looks ok so I don’t want to replace them if I don’t have to.  The roof is sturdy but I will need to reshingle it.  Can you tell me what to look for and how I should diagnose the problems that need to be fixed and how I should decide what to save but still keep it safe.

Thanks BMD


Thank you for the great question,
This is a very, very common problem with all of the tenements build as Cornwall boomed between 1900 and 1940.  Most were built in the same basic style with one unit above, one below each with a front porch facing the street.  As they age the points most susceptible to deterioration are the wood components directly exposed to the weather or the earth.  The first thing to go usually, are the wooden posts which rest on the footings, and the bottoms of the posts which support the upper two structures.  Changing these is fairly simple.  It requires some careful jacking and then simply cutting out the old posts and replacing them with new pressure treated lumber.  Now you’ll have to do a careful inspection of the structure of the two porch floors.  This will require getting dirty.  You’re going to have to crawl under the porch with a good light and a hammer and screwdriver.  Do a good visual inspection and with your hammer, give all the framing members a good hit to test their structural integrity.  If everything appears ok, take the screwdriver and poke the wood joists concentrating on the tops and ends of each one.  If no rot is discovered then it should be just a matter of replacing the posts and levelling everything out.  If the joists are rotted then you will be looking at a complete replacement.  Other than that, a good visual and tactile evaluation should be enough to evaluate the porch and make your decision as to what to replace and what to keep.  Now, keep in mind, buildings codes have not only changed since this house was built but, there were no building codes to speak of when it was built so the porch as it was originally constructed probably would not conform to today’s codes. You have to beware that if you’re reconstructing any part of it, it will now have to conform to the Ontario Building Code, so you will need a permit and a building inspector to come and make sure that all of your work is safe and conforming. 

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