Wrap-around porch on a budget

The Old House Web

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"Sometimes I swear I feel the house smiling as I drive by," contractor Alice McCullagh says of the 150-year old seaside cottage with a facelift.

By Deborah Holmes
Photos: Alice McCullagh

Giving a non-descript, asbestos sided cottage a facelift was the challenge presented to remodeling contractor Alice McCullagh. Her solution: Add a wrap-around porch with charming Victorian details. The second challenge: Work with a homeowner who had a limited budget, and who wanted to do much of the work himself.

That second requirement might have been enough to send other contractors scurrying. But McCullagh, owner of Lady-on-the-Level, regularly works with such customers. In fact, in addition to being a full-scale remodeler/ builder, Alice rents her expertise and crew by the hour. She estimates how much a project will cost, teaches the homeowner how to do the work, and then credits the work the homeowner does against the project cost.

In this case, the homeowner designed, cut and routed more than fifty roof rafters with a special end design. He also designed a custom skirting, and did much of the carpentry and painting. Future plans call for replacement of the asbestos siding and landscaping.

The house before: Only a cement slab tells of a porch that existed long ago.

The new porch stands ready for wicker furniture and visitors.

The project

Project: Add wrap-around porch to 150-year-old home

Alice McCullagh, Lady on the Level
West Creek, New Jersey

Price: $17,000

The only indication of a past front porch was a cement slab, which gave the house a drab, utilitarian look. McCullagh determined that the slab was sound, and decided to use it as the front porch footing, cantilevering over it by one foot. The new porch extends the length of the front of the house, makes a neat mitered corner, and then runs along the side of the house, where a rickety side porch once stood. The wrap-around structure gives depth and width to the tall, narrow house, as well as providing shade against the intense New Jersey summer heat.

Click here to see drawings of thefront elevation; theproject plan; and theroof plan.

The beginnings

The first step was to demolish the old side porch. This presented the first opportunity for the homeowner to save money. He was credited 12 hours of labor (at $12.00 per hour, the going rate for unskilled labor in the area) by carting off the debris himself. The next money-saving step was digging the holes for the footers on the side porch. Each hole was 30 inches deep and one foot square. Once the cement footings were poured, and anchor pins added, the holes were covered with plastic to extend drying time. Slow curing gives cement more strength.


Ledgers were attached to the foundation wall. Floor joists are held down with a joist hanger (below).


Each joist is held onto the support beam with a hurricane clip (below).

hurricane clips

Hanging the joists was no small job, and one which the homeowner did himself. Later, when it came time to install the composition decking, even the children of the family got into the act, setting screws in the pilot holes. Extensive framing on the corner, where the front porch meets the side porch, was needed to support the mitered joint of the deck boards. Without the added support (below), this corner would have felt spongy.


For ease of maintenance, the homeowner chose composition deck boards, fiberglass posts, and vinyl over aluminum for the stair railings. Each material presented its own installation challenges. The deck boards, reports McCullagh, scratched easily and were droopy in the summer heat. Sixteen foot lengths tended to bend in the middle and sag to the ground. The decking was also a challenge as a step surface. Since, unlike wood, it is a non-structural material, it required extra framing.



The porch roof rests on 12 fiberglass posts. Since the posts could not be nailed, McCullagh temporarily used 2 x 4s to support the rafter beam, and then installed the posts. A manufacturer-supplied footer keeps the posts in place. Since hurricanes and high winds often batter the New Jersey coastline, some reinforcement was added: McCullagh drilled a hole through each footer, threaded a plumbing strap through an internal support pipe in the post, and attached it to the beam. The plumbing strap will help keep the roof from lifting in high winds.


strapping close

Plumbing strap is threaded through a hole in the post footer.

The strap is snaked through an internal 2" pipe, and fastened around the top beam.



The owner designed the entry way, and cut and routed the rafters. These were installed 16 inches on center to prepare for roof sheathing.

The roof sheathing serves an unlikely double duty: as roofing deck, and as a ceiling with an old-fashioned appearance. This feat was accomplished with T1-11 plywood, inverted to give a beadboard appearance. Half-inch plywood was doubled onto the T1-11 to prevent nails from showing through. The roofing shingles were hand nailed as well, to prevent popping underneath.


T1-11 plywood used as sheathing was inverted to give a beadboard appearance to the porch ceiling. When the porch was finished, the sheathing and rafters were painted, completing the old-fashioned look.

finished porch

The porch, ready for lemonade and lazy summer afternoons.

While the homeowner saved some money by doing much of the work himself, the use of new-generation posts, rails and decking drove the cost of the project up. "That's the price of maintenance-free materials," says McCullagh.

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