Problems To Overcome When Remodeling A House With A Front Porch

Front Porch Problems and Home Renovation

Here in Madison, Wisconsin we're lucky to have many beautiful older homes with a lot of character and plenty of curb appeal. Remodeling older homes can pose specific challenges to designers and contractors when it comes time to update them. If you are choosing to begin a whole house remodel and you have an older home with a front porch, you owe it to yourself to have your design-build remodeler ensure the porch is stable.

Since the 1980's a lot has changed in the way homes are constructed, along with what homeowners prefer regarding functional space. When working on an older home, at Degnan we always address the basics. We appreciate the architecture, craftsmanship, history, and character of older homes. We work with our clients who want to preserve these features when planning updates or renovations.

It is common when remodeling older homes that issues with the front porch often need to be addressed. Let's explore some of the challenges we've encountered when working on a house with a front porch.

Common Problems In A House With A Front Porch

A traditional front porch can be supported in many ways.

If you live in an older home, making sure that the foundation is solid is a significant concern. This includes footings under the front porch. Many homes built before 1940 were not properly graded for water runoff and often had shallow footings used to support floor joists of the front porch.

While this was adequate to meet any building codes of the time (and before 1940, there weren't many!) we often see the effects of age on this critical foundational element.

Breakdown of this critical element can cause movement of the porch, which is a common problem associated with older homes. Here in Madison, our temperature extremes and harsh windows can undermine the stability of shallow footing, typically poured less than three feet underground. There are three options for repairing a supporting structure that has shifted over the course of its life.

Post and pads

This is a common method for supporting a residential porch on a house with a front porch and a crawl space. It consists of concrete pads poured to a depth of fewer than three feet below grade. If movement of the porch is a problem, this system can consist of adjustable posts on concrete pads with beams installed, each with two jacks. This allows for seasonal adjustments to the structure to compensate for any movement due to weather or other factors.

Poured Concrete Piers

Concrete piers run much deeper than pads of footings. Piers are poured a minimum of 10-12 feet below grade and are used in areas of unstable soil. They tend to run to the underside of the floor joists. Poured piers offer superior support in certain areas of Wisconsin, also withstanding weather changes and frost cycles. However, they are significantly more expensive to install.

Informally known as a helical pier or helical pile, the helical screw pile creates less or lawn repair while being installed. Click photo for video of installation.

Helical Piers or Piles

Officially known as a Helical Screw Pile, these are a support system that extends deeper below grade. In very basic terms, you could consider a helical screw pile to be like a corkscrew, and they are installed very precisely with a bobcat auger system. One advantage of a helical pier installation is that the bobcat auger measures support capability as they are being driven into the ground, so the level of quality control is very high. Another advantage is that there is little mess compared to other systems which require extensive excavation and stockpiling of soil. Click here to view video helical piers being installed.

Grade Beam System

Grade beams are typically constructed of poured concrete that extends slightly below grade, typically resting on shallow piers or footings and run to the underside of the floor joists. Grade beams systems can also be constructed of pressure treated wood and plywood. This is a less costly option that still provides good perimeter support and also creates a barrier to pests and outside moisture.

In older homes, while the tendency to believe that any separation or movement of the porch is the problem, it can also be something known as differential movement between the foundation of the home and the system you've chosen to support your front porch.

This home had a modern front entry foyer addition with a steel column and concrete frost wall and footings.

Frost wall and Footings

In Wisconsin it is common to need a concrete frost wall and footings that extend to at least 4 feet below grade. Porches can always be built on a frost wall, and if there is other foundation work going on, a frost wall can be competitively priced. A frost wall is generally easy to use to start construction once it is completed.

Work With A Structural Engineer

While you may believe the house is stable, that isn't always the case. Home foundations are subject to the same stresses that can cause the front porch in an older home to shift. While the shifting is probably much more subtle, it is something to be considered before choosing a front porch support system like poured piers. While piers are a superior system, they do cost more than other options, and if the problem is movement of the home, piers will not offer a solution to the problem.

This is why you need to consult a professional before performing any repairs of this type. Working with a good builder, or design-build-remodel firm will often include a consultation with a structural engineer before any work begins. Structural problems, especially in an older house with a front porch require proper repairs. Always work with a qualified contractor who has experience with these types of repairs.

If you have an older house and are considering a home renovation project, give the experts at Degnan Design-Build-Remodel a call at (608) 846-5963. We can help you design the perfect space to meet your needs. Click here to schedule an appointment.

This article was updated by Abe Degnan on 12/17/2018.