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Save the expense of major restoration by doing routine paint and woodwork maintenance.
Porches are more exposed to the weather and deterioration so they require extra attention to assure a long sustainable life. They are often character-defining features, providing a comfortable shade and breezes, helping you to get along with your neighbors as they pass by.

Safety check twice a year on railings, stair treads and floor boards. Test the railings for strength to assure they could actually catch and hold up anyone who trips and falls against them. Carefully walk along every stair tread and floor board in bare feet to feel for weak boards. With shoes on bounce lightly from toe to heel to feel if the whole porch shakes, if so an investigation for structural weakness may be needed.

Keep up with routine maintenance of paint and woodwork. This is especially important on porches that are more exposed to the deteriorating effect of the weather. Donít use salt to melt winter ice, it may deteriorate masonry and rust out the nails that hold the porch stairs and deck together. Use sawdust or sand instead, but sweep sand off as soon as the ice melts, so that foot traffic doesnít grind it in and wear off the paint and damage the wood.

If major work is needed begin with an overall look at the situation to determine the condition of the porch and how its character relates to the rest of the building, the surrounding landscape, and your needs. Conditions such as peeling paint and misaligned parts provide subtle clues to problems developing beneath the surface. Also keep an eye out for subtle hints of original or early details that are now missing such as paint shadows of an original molding, or old porch parts that were tossed under the porch during past repairs. As you look over your porch keep written notes and sketches.

Learn more in the National Park Serviceís Preservation Brief 45: Preserving Historic Wooden Porches.

Sunrooms, porches, screened porches and shaded decks or patios can be added as shading strategies and pleasant, memorable places. Outdoor rooms make our houses feel larger. Because they do not have to be cooled or heated, they cost less to build than an enclosed room. They add character to a home and encourage us to stay connected with our neighbors and natural environment. They can be designed as a simple protective shelter or as a well-appointed room with sophisticated construction and materials.

Heat gain from windows is a common problem. In the warm climate and latitude, unprotected windows that face south or west increase cooling costs. Porches, roof overhangs, awnings and horizontal trellises that shade south-facing windows protect the interior from overheating. A 2-1/2-foot overhang will shade a south-facing 8-foot wall at noon in the summer. To avoid heat gain and glare, west-facing windows can be shaded with vertical shading devices such as shutters.

Architectural shading is clearly a very important feature in reducing cooling loads. Architectural shading reduces the annual cooling requirement by approximately 23%, whether starting with standard double-pane glazing or the spectrally selective glazing. However, in both of these cases, there is an increase in the heating load as the solar gain is reduced.

Exterior Woodwork

Caulk where it keep water out, and does not trap water in.
Caulk at the interior side of exterior walls, along baseboard joints with the floor and plaster, around window and door casings.

Close gaps around chimneys and vertical plumbing/electrical raceways, close off at basement and attic levels.

Be very careful with exterior caulking. The exterior skin of the wall should be somewhat "breathable" allowing some air in and out of the wall to help keep it dry and decay free. The purpose of exterior caulking should be to keep liquid water out of the wall, so caulking at the tops and sides of window casings can be good, but caulking under the overhang of a window sill may trap water in so leave a small gap there to let in a little drying air. Do not caulk the horizontal joint under every clapboard or weather board, they are somewhat protected from liquid water by the overhang of the board above, and need to be open to let water drain out and let a little air in for drying.

Air Filtration

Caulk at the interior side of exterior walls, along baseboard joints with the floor and plaster, around window and door casings.

Close gaps around chimneys and vertical plumbing/electrical raceways, close off at basement and attic levels.

Be very careful with exterior caulking. The exterior skin of the wall should be somewhat "breathable" allowing some air in and out of the wall to help keep it dry and decay free. The purpose of exterior caulking should be to keep liquid water out of the wall, so caulking at the tops and sides of window casings can be good, but caulking under the overhang of a window sill may trap water in so leave a small gap there to let in a little drying air. Do not caulk the horizontal joint under every clapboard or weather board, they are somewhat protected from liquid water by the overhang of the board above, and need to be open to let water drain out and let a little air in for drying.

Exterior Paint

Spot Paint Maintenance, low cost and effective.
Painting is very sustainable because it uses the least amount of material for the most benefit to give the entire building long-term durability. With all paint work use Lead-Safe methods.

Spot Paint Maintenance. Do a round of spot paint maintenance at least once every two to three years, before the whole place looks shabby and needs a full paint job.

Standard full paint job. Includes removing loose paint, cleaning the surface, applying oil-based alkyd resin primer and two top coats of oil-based alkyd resin or acrylic resin house paint. Donít do a standard full paint job more often that once every 20 years or youíll get a heavy paint buildup that traps moisture causing accelerating paint failure.

Complete Paint Removal and recoat. If the paint has built up thicker than a nickel (.035") and you have paint failure the long-term solution may be complete paint removal. This is costly to do, but may reduce costs over the long-term. When done well the paint job cycle can extend out to 10 or 20 years.

Some New paint products cause problems for some old houses. Thick rubbery coatings (sometimes called "elastomerics" in the coatings industry) can trap moisture in exterior woodwork and masonry leading to deterioration. Specific product names cannot be mentioned, for fear of retribution, but you will know these products if the following phrases are used to describe them.

  • compares itself to vinyl siding and† contains "PVC vinyl resin" (the paint you want is made from linseed oil, alkyd resin, or acrylic resin)
  • "permanent coating" (actually you donít want permanent, you want a coating that will fail gracefully and be easy to renew, like ordinary house paint)
  • "maintenance free" (no such thing, even solid granite needs maintenance)
  • "spray on" (hand-brushed paint jobs are more effective)
  • "coating with a thickness of about 18 mils, over 15 times thicker than a typical coat of paint" (a good paint job has three coatings with total thickness of 3 to 5 mils and works just fine)
  • claims of permeability which allow the coating to 'breathe' (coatings do not breath, but they should be permeable enough to let water vapor pass easily pass through, no house coating that is 18 mils thick is going to be more permeable than one that is only 3 to 5 mils thick)

The marketers and installers of these products suggest they can keep all the water out of the walls, but that is an impossibility with older houses. An effective paint coating will be thin enough to allow water vapor to escape from the wall directly through the paint fill. If too much water builds up due to a leak the paint will fail right at the location of the water problem by peeling down to bare wood. This is a good thing that you want to happen. The peeling paint makes it easy for you to spot the water problem and fix it before it rots out the wall causing expensive repairs. A coating that is so thick and strong that it does not fail can trap water and hide problems in the wall leading to deterioration and costly repairs.

Gutters & Drainage

Keep you gutters clean and in good condition, it makes your paint and windows last longer
Controlling water reduces deterioration of many forms leading to a long sustainable life for practically all building materials.

Clean out gutters. Twice a year, late spring and late fall, get up there and clean out those gutters and downspouts. No excuses. If you can't do it safely, hire someone who can. Sometimes tree debris builds up in the roof valleys, might as well clean that out too. Why bother? Controlling the roof water at the eaves slows down deterioration of the walls, windows and doors, helping the paint and woodwork last much longer.

Drainage at the ground. Does the water drain from the hillside every spring and run through your crawl-space? It's nasty down there, but you should know what it's like BEFORE the floor rots out. Take measures to divert surface water away from the foundation.

Water in the basement can usually be eliminated or reduced with gutters and good drainage outdoors. If not look for other sources like leaking plumbing or underground water coming up from below.

Collecting rainwater in barrels and cisterns for garden and lawn irrigation saves on electricity for pumping.