My brother and I only got halfway done with what I had hoped to accomplish yesterday, but we learned a lot along the way. The big picture goal here is that I’ll be covering my existing concrete front porch with wood so that I can stain it and it will look like a traditional wood front porch. But you can’t just put wood porch/deck boards directly onto concrete. First, you have to attach risers/sleepers to the concrete and then the porch boards can be screwed to the risers.
So the plan yesterday was to get all of the risers/sleepers attached to the porch. The plan itself seemed pretty straightforward, and I’d need about 15 risers in all, spaced at 16 inches on center. The execution proved to be a bit more challenging than we had anticipated for reasons I’ll explain in a second.
But first, here’s a look at my current concrete porch so you can remember exactly what we’re working with…
The ramp on the side was removed after I took that picture, and unfortunately, I failed to get a picture of the whole porch without the ramp before we got started. But I do have this one that I took the day it was removed showing just a portion of the front porch…
If you look at that first picture, you’ll see the issue. Over the 70 years since the concrete porch was poured, the porch has moved and sunk a bit on the left side (towards the front door) and is no longer level. If you follow the white trim board at the bottom, it’s pretty obvious how unlevel the porch is.
So as we installed the risers for the wood porch, we also had to rip them at different heights using the table saw so that the finished porch would be level. For the risers, we used pressure treated 2 x 4’s that are rated for ground contact.
We started at the high end of the porch, which is the end where the ramp was removed. That end, from the house (back) to the yard side (front) was level…miraculously. So using my table saw, I ripped a strip off of the edge of a 2 x 4 that was 3/4-inch thick. Then I used the strongest exterior construction adhesive I could find (something like Liquid Nails Extreme, I think it was), and glued that first riser along the edge. Then I used my Ramset (i.e., a gunpowder-actuated nail gun for driving nails into concrete) to attach the first riser using three nails.
And immediately, we saw that it wasn’t going to be as simple as we had hoped. The nails weren’t going in all the way. The nail gun was leaving about an inch of the nail exposed.
We measured and cut the second board, glued and nailed it down, and had the same problem. That time it also split the wood and cracked a very top thin layer off of the concrete, meaning that the nail wasn’t actually embedded into the concrete.
This was the same Ramset that we used to nail the plywood subfloor over the newly-poured concrete in the breakfast room (you can read more about that here), and it worked perfectly for that project. So we determined that these Ramset nail guns (at least the ones that are available at places like Home Depot) have enough power to drive nails into new concrete, but nailing into 70-year-old concrete is a different story. So we decided to abandon that idea.
I had purchased Tapcon concrete screws just in case the nail gun didn’t work out, but I didn’t realize that those required a hammerdrill, which I didn’t have. So with just two risers down, and just an hour or so into our project, we had to stop working and make a trip to Home Depot. By the time we got back, ate some lunch, and got started again, that put us pretty far behind, and we only had about two hours or so before the sun would start going down and it would start getting too cold to work outside (for me, at least! 😀 ). But we did manage to get eight of the fifteen risers installed.
Once the first riser was in place, we measured and marked every 16 inches for placement of the rest of the risers. In order to measure and cut the next riser, my brother would hold the level so that one end was on the previously installed riser and the other end was hovering above where the next riser would be placed. Then I would measure the distance from the bottom of the level to the concrete.
I took that picture just for demonstration. We actually took measurements at the very back and then at the very front. Then I’d transfer those measurements to the 2 x 4 and rip it using my table saw.
This was a bit challenging because the measurements would be different at the front and back, meaning that I couldn’t just rip an even strip down the board using the guide fence on the table saw. At the front, the board might need to be 1.5 inches tall, while at the back, it might need to be 1.75 inches tall. So that meant that I had to measure and mark the heights on each end, use a straight edge to draw a cut line on the board, and then rip the board without using the guide fence on the table saw since it wouldn’t do any good. I just had to eyeball the line as I ripped the boards. It was challenging, and we certainly didn’t get any of them perfect, but they were good enough to do the job that needed to be done.
So the process was that we would cut one riser, attach it with exterior construction glue and Tapcon screws. Then using the level, we would take measurements at the back and at the front for the required height of the next riser. I would transfer those measurements to the next 2 x 4 board, use my table saw to rip it to the right height, then we’d test it to be sure it was the right height by putting it into place and checking with the level at the back, middle and front. On a couple of boards, we’d have to take it back to the table saw and trim off an eighth of an inch or so. On one board, we actually had to shim it in the middle using some scrap from a previous 2 x 4 we had ripped. But once the dry fit was level, we’d glue and screw that board down. Then it was on to the next riser.
The Tapcon screws didn’t work perfectly either, though. Even though I was using a hammerdrill, and I pre-drilled the holes with the drill bit that came with the Tapcon screws, some of those screws just didn’t want to go in all the way. I might just have to replace those with shorter screws. Let’s just say that there’s nothing simple or straightforward about working with 70-year-old concrete. 🙂
But the eight risers that we got installed look pretty darn good. I placed a 2 x 4 on top along the back so that I could see how it looks. That looks pretty level to me! Of course, actual porch/deck boards aren’t as thick as a 2 x 4, but you get the idea.
So we have about seven more risers to install, which should go much faster now that we have the right tool and we know the process. Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating, so I have no idea when we’ll be able to get the rest of them finished.
Once those are done, I will still need to install spacers on the front and right side of the concrete to attach the white trim board to. (Skirting board? Fascia board? I have no idea what it’s called.) Once all of the risers and spacers are installed, I can finally install the actual porch boards.
I am wondering if I might need to paint the concrete and risers black before I install the porch boards, though. The porch boards will have tiny little spaces between them, and I really don’t want concrete and unfinished riser boards to show through. So I might need to add that step also.
And if all of this is clear as mud, hopefully it’ll become much clearer as this project progresses. 🙂