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Maintaining Porches: A DIY Guide

Let's be honest here; owning a wooden porch means an ongoing commitment to maintenance if you don't want it to become ruined within the space of just a few years. You're going to be fighting a continual battle to keep cracking, rot and marauding insects at bay.

The easier path is to have your porch made from a man-made material that requires almost no maintenance whatsoever -- aluminum, plastic, vinyl or a composite, for example. Wood is just what people know and gravitate to when it comes to porches, however; aside from a preference for the look and feel, the initial cost is also very attractive, usually coming at less than what a synthetic material will.

The good news is that maintenance doesn't have to be a major headache if it's done right and on time, whether you have a wood porch or one made entirely of synthetic materials. We've put together this brief guide to not only help you keep your porch looking great for as long as possible, but also to keep the costs of ongoing maintenance down by doing everything the best possible way the first time out.

1) Regular Checks

In addition to scheduled maintenance, there's a few informal visual checks you should make a habit of doing at least once or twice a month.

Look underneath the porch for pooling water, as well as patches of standing water on the surface -- these are the prime contributors to rot, cracking and discoloration. Also check the surface for loose boards that move when you step on or near them, as well as loose nails and screws. Bolts that anchor the porch to the home are particularly important.

Check posts for rot and for loose connections. In the case of rot, you'll likely need to simply replace the posts. Loose connections can be tightened and usually reinforced  by adding additional bolts. Railing posts should always be bolted in place -- nails alone are not strong enough for this job.

2) Cleaning A Porch

You probably sweep your porch regularly, but many people neglect to clean the cracks as well, which is even more important as trapped organic material can cause rot. A putty knife is the easiest way to scrape material out of the cracks.

After sweeping and crack-clearing, you're ready to scrub. There are two main schools of thought here: pressure washing, or doing it by hand. While pressure washing is certainly much faster and easier, it can also damage wood. The slow but safe route is to scrub a wood porch by hand with a porch brush. If old porch sealer is present, you'll need to strip it off with a porch stripper product. If it's your first time cleaning a surface and you aren't sure if sealer is present, just dribble a little water on it. If it puddles up rather than soaking in, there is sealer present.

The go-to substance for killing mold and mildew on wood porches has typically been chlorine bleach, since it is cheap, effective and available at nearly every retailer and grocery store. Both the EPA and OSHA have recently retracted their recommendations for using biocides like chlorine bleach for this purpose, however. Aside from presenting a toxic environmental hazard, bleach does not penetrate deeply enough into woods to get at the roots of mold, meaning that it's only a temporary fix that will have to be continually re-applied as the mold grows back out again (and continues to damage the wood). Fortunately, there is a safer and equally cheap substitute -- hydrogen peroxide. Oxygen bleach, also commonly called sodium percarbonate, is a much safer bleach alternative that won't do damage to wood. Just be aware that you will need to apply a porch brightener product afterwards or the wood may appear discolored.

The final step in treating a porch is applying a sealant or stain to both give the surface a nice finish and also help to repel water.

3) Railing Maintenance And Repair

Wood railings will require the same cleaning and sealing procedures described above. If you are building or restoring a porch, you might consider a composite material solely for the railings. Composite railings are available in a wide range of styles that closely match real wood, and they will cut down on maintenance as well as virtually eliminate the possibility of rot and cracking.

As mentioned above, if a post is simply wobbly or loose, it can likely be stabilized very simply by adding a couple of bolts. If it is severely cracked or rotted, however, then it needs to be replaced. Fortunately, this is a job you can easily do yourself. The first step is to detach the handrail, which may be a simple matter of removing screws or bolts. Nails are best pried with a pair of locking pliers or a diagonal cutter, with a scrap of wood underneath the pliers to protect the wood surface from scratching. Don't worry about nails that break off or otherwise are too deep to be retrieved, simply drill a pilot hole next to them to install a new screw that covers over top of the nail. If you don't have a suitable replacement post at hand, keep the old post and trace it out on a piece of lumber. You can then cut it to size yourself or have someone cut it for you. Don't forget to apply sealant or stain to it as well!

Fencing Direct specializes in synthetic fencing materials aimed at DIY installers, but from time to time may have wood kits and products in our clearance section. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have about our inventory or what items might be suitable for your project.