Front Exterior & Front Yard

My Big Porch Column Mistake, How I Fixed It, and What I’d Do Differently If I Were Starting From Scratch

Well, I had a bit of a setback with my porch column project. If you missed the first part of this project, you can click here to read it…

But after I wrapped those columns and wrote that post, I had to go back and make some pretty significant changes to the columns. Remember last week when I showed you a picture of my porch columns wrapped in plastic?

I did that because I had spent the day working on them — sanding, wood filling, sanding again, caulking — and by the time the sun went down, they were ready for primer and paint. But with so much raw wood exposed, and a chance of rain that night, I decided to wrap them before heading in for the evening.

So Friday, my goal was to at least get them primed with oil-based primer, thinking that if it rained, the oil-base primer would be enough to protect them from the rain, and I wouldn’t have to keep wrapping them every time there was a threat of rain in the forecast.

Well, Saturday evening and Saturday night, it did rain. And on Sunday morning, I learned just how wrong I was about the power of oil-based primer against the rain. The bases of all three columns that I had worked so hard getting just right with the sanding, wood filling, sanding again, and caulking looked awful.

Every single mitered corner and butt joint had separated, the oil-based primer had cracked and was peeling, the wood underneath was damp all the way through, and the caulk in some areas was peeling off as well.

Needless to say, I was frustrated. And angry. And I may have thrown a little tantrum and hurled a few choice words at those columns and the rain. 😀

So after regaining my composure, and coming up with a plan, I got to work yesterday afternoon making the repairs. I started by removing all of the trim from the base of the column. And then using my Dremel Multi-Max (that’s this oscillating tool that I couldn’t live without), I trimmed the spacers and the outer wood so that it was about 3/4″ away from the porch.

Then I gave it a quick sanding with my rotary sander and began re-trimming the base in pretty much the same way that I had trimmed it out before. But this time, instead of wood, I used PVC boards and PVC trim (all found at Lowe’s) for the bases of the columns. I started by cutting pieces of a 1″ x 8″ PVC board, and this time I attached them so that they were about 1/2″ from the porch floor.

And then I cut and attached the base cap trim around the top, and the panel molding around the bottom. Again, these are both PVC trim rather than real wood. And this time when attaching the panel molding around the bottom, I left a tiny gap (somewhere between 1/16th and 1/8th inch) between the molding and the porch floor for air flow.

Looks pretty much the same, right? Right. But this will hold up much better for much longer. And since it’s plastic, it won’t be wicking up water the next time it rains.

I originally hated the idea of using PVC. There’s just something about building with plastic instead of wood that doesn’t really seem appealing to me. But when you compare them side-by-side, you really can’t tell a difference. And in fact, I like the shape of that PVC panel molding around the base much better than I like the wood version.

(FYI, my porch floor is really filthy and covered in dust from all of the sanding I’ve been doing, which is why it looks like it’s a different color. It  hasn’t faded that much over the last week. 🙂 It just needs a good hosing off.)

There were quite a few lessons learned with this one. I’m so used to doing indoor building projects, so building things for outdoor use that will hold up against the weather is new for me. I had no idea that oil-based primer wouldn’t stand up to rain. And I also had no idea that PVC boards and trim could look so pretty. And I also learned the importance of keeping real wood up off the ground (or the patio or the porch floor) because even if it’s primed, it’ll still wick up moisture. Now I know. 🙂

So if I had to do this project all over again from scratch, I’d wrap the entire column, from top to bottom, in PVC boards and trim. PVC is pretty easy to work with and doesn’t require any special tools. You can cut the boards and trim with your regular table saw and miter saw, and you can attach them with construction adhesive and finishing nails just like wood, and you can even sand them quite easily just like wood. And once it’s painted, I really don’t think anyone would be able to tell the difference.

Oh well. We live and learn. I’ll know better for next time…if there’s a next time.

UPDATE:

The porch columns are finished! Click here to see the finishing details and how they turned out.



You Might Also Like...

31 Comments

  • Reply
    Debra A Henricks
    March 19, 2018 at 9:10 am

    I understand. FYI — Porch Company techniques anything that touches the ground is either weather treated lumber or PVC.

  • Reply
    CB MacDuff
    March 19, 2018 at 9:13 am

    I feel SO bad for you! I was going to say something about the PVC boards the other day, because it’s what the hubby used for our porch columns! He also used it for the flower boxes he built. He even built a frame for our TV on the porch so the birds can’t build nests on or behind it.

    He SWEARS by this product and goes back to it time after time after time for any outdoor products!
    Your columns look wonderful!

    • Reply
      Ann
      March 19, 2018 at 10:39 am

      I was also going to recommend PVC last week but since you had already done the work I didn’t want to rain on your parade. We also tried to wood route on a porch column and changed it out for PVC a few years later.

  • Reply
    Mara
    March 19, 2018 at 9:22 am

    I’ve actually used PVC quarter round inside our home (bathroom) because it was not only cheaper, but I thought it would hold up better to water and moisture. No one can tell a difference and I found it was actually easier to install and paint, than traditional wood trim.

  • Reply
    Theresa P
    March 19, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Oh my goodness! So sorry for your frustration. Way to get it together and move forward. They look great (again)!

  • Reply
    Cyndee
    March 19, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Now I’m sorry I didn’t say something to you about your choice. I didn’t cause it was pretty much already done in wood. PVC is the way to go for outdoors in my humble opinion. Fences, railings, posts etc. maybe keep in mind when you do new stair railings?

  • Reply
    CathyR
    March 19, 2018 at 9:42 am

    My neighbor’s columns sit on a little ( for lack of better term ) metal base that keeps them up and air circulating underneath. My wrought iron was imbedded in the porch concrete and eventually rusted away; some totally floating!!
    I want wood wrapped columns too but wonder, will they look icky like white resin chairs over time?

    • Reply
      MommaOfTwins
      March 19, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      I did my brick mould around my big garage door a few years ago and it still looks great. I did not paint it but they said that you can if you are worried about it yellowing out. It’s a different porousness than the chairs in my opinion. I have it all around my floor trim too, been going great since 2005.Now, what I have noticed is that the nails used, even galvanized, cause dark or rust spots so I have used a foam new eyeshadow applicator to dot on rustoleum primer and then paint and not to bad unless someone is looking that close, which few rarely do.

  • Reply
    Mrs PoP
    March 19, 2018 at 10:06 am

    When using the pvc, is there anything special in terms of screws or nails that you use to put things together? Or just typical exterior grade screws? This looks really cool for building small planter boxes outside!

  • Reply
    Margo
    March 19, 2018 at 10:07 am

    Ouch! So sorry to hear this…..but super glad you shared this info! I have 14 columns I’ll be doing this to, sometime this year (I hope). I used a plastic/foam like crown and baseboard in my laundry room earlier this year. So, I will definitely be using the PVC for my columns. Have you made a decision about your skirting yet?

  • Reply
    Dottie
    March 19, 2018 at 11:19 am

    Wow, your ability to keep on keeping on is amazing! I would have had to take a vacation somewhere warm and sunny just to get over that kind of set-back. Even though I wanted wood, we elected to use PVC for our deck railings and posts, and I wish we had used a non-wood product for the deck itself. After 4 years, the treated wood deck is warping a bit here and there, even though we treat it every spring. The PVC looks pristine, new, and elegant!

  • Reply
    Alta Craig
    March 19, 2018 at 11:23 am

    A frustrating experience for sure, but, hey, at least you learned quickly that the wood was not going to work. Now that they’re all done for the second time, you’ll be able to make the right choice for your steps and rails the first time. Onward and Upward!

  • Reply
    Lisa D.
    March 19, 2018 at 11:30 am

    Kristi, I don’t know what part of the country you live in, but after all the devastating fires we experienced in California, I was watching something on TV about a retired fireman who lived in a remote, hilly area of the state with lots of trees. He talked about fire prevention and one thing he mentioned was that he had a deck made from some sort of composite – not real wood. Although wood is beautiful, and we think of anything that tries to resemble wood as not as attractive, what he did made a lot of sense. Also, the exterior of his house was stucco, which I wouldn’t say is fireproof, but almost. He also talked about keeping his roof and gutters free of falling leaves and debris. Often times this is how fires spread. Burning embers are blown and land on dead leaves resting on one’s roof. (I don’t remember if he mentioned what his roofing material was.) Although there is no guarantee what will happen in a fire, it turned out his house was spared from burning while his neighbors were not as fortunate. I guess the only downside to PVC or other manmade building materials, is that they are not very earth friendly – they don’t decompose. Oh well, it’s a compromise. (Your porch and house look great!)

  • Reply
    Julie
    March 19, 2018 at 12:08 pm

    Curious, but maybe I’m confusing with old style products….. are there any issues with oxidation, graying or decomposition with this PVC product? did you choose a specific product brand/line?

    Am needing to do some deck work. A pal’s deck of some alternative wood product perpetually builds up some gray dirtiness, needing scrubbing. Sort of defeats the low maintenance and environmental elements. Also some have degraded with sun/hot/cold/wet exposure, once sat on some only to stand up with a striped bottom.

    Assume you have chosen a line that avoids these challenges.

    • Reply
      Gwen
      March 19, 2018 at 12:38 pm

      Your willingness to persevere in the face of setbacks is inspiring! I also prefer the shape of the new PVC panel molding around the base. Looking good!

      Reader tip: the laminate sample chips you can pick up at the big box stores make great spacers for projects like this. Less likely to slip through cracks or roll away like coins. 🙂

  • Reply
    Sharon C
    March 19, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    So sorry to hear the heartbreak about your columns after the rain and all your hard work, but so pleased you were able to find a new solution so fast and now the ‘new again’ columns, again are looking great already! As one of the other comments said, this PVC product would be good for your future window planter boxes. One question though, can you paint this product any color?

  • Reply
    Sue
    March 19, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    We all make mistakes and you caught this one and figured it out. It’ll work out really well with the PVC.

  • Reply
    Rebecca B
    March 19, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    Yup I feel the same way about PVC. Its just not like real wood but what an amazing resilient product.

  • Reply
    chiflipper
    March 19, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    I cringe every time I see a porch or deck post resting directly on a cement form…rot awaits. Sorry you had to go through this particular section of the outdoor construction learning curve. The new PVC looks just as good as the wood. Great job.

  • Reply
    Stacy Z
    March 19, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    My husband and I have used the PVC product and love it.
    Just remember, since it’s a plastic product, sawing it produces plasticdust, not sawdust. I wonder what the neighbors were thinking when I was out vacuuming the lawn to clean up all of the white mess, lol!

  • Reply
    Brette
    March 19, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    I didn’t like the idea of using PVC either, but it saved the day when I needed trim to go around my U-shaped kitchen island. It was flexible enough to be bent into a U shape. Otherwise, wood trim would have had to be soaked and bent. When the old countertop was torn out, I should have had enough foresight to have the installers save the original wood trim. When a carpenter followed up, he seemed clueless as to what to do to replace it. I was hoping he was enough of a craftsman to soak and bend some wood, but no such luck. I got a scrap piece of PVC from another project and told him to try it. He made some tiny little cuts on the inside to improve the flexibility and it worked.

  • Reply
    Bonnie
    March 19, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    I commend you for always going back and fixing things when they aren’t turning out the way you want them to. (remembering your beautiful linen closet). I actually had PVC molding replace our wood molding along the floor in our basement after a heavy rain with water on the floor. I would like to replace all the trim around our outside doors with pic as I am tired of scraping wood filling and painting every year. Your porch is really Perfect!

  • Reply
    Elaine Ness
    March 19, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    It appears to me that Kristi is open to any anticipatory observations from those who have experienced problems or prevented them. So, it might be a good idea to voice them. Some commented that thought crossed their mind to do it, but didn’t. In this case, it could have helped.

    I sure learned a lot from Kristi’s fix and from so many of you who added more information. I’m impressed. Thanks to you all and to you, Kristi.

    So, by reading of this progression, I am having the fun of vicariously remodeling a house I don’t have. (Oh, you should see how they build things here in Ecuador. Bamboo scaffolding tied together with rope just got put up across the street. Daredevils will ascend soon. eek!)

  • Reply
    sharon
    March 19, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    I also was going to mention pvc from experience. I live in MA and used white pine to trim around our porch post bases. It also warped and curled. The paint didn’t peel. I always use water-base primer and have good luck with it. Our house peeled over oil based primer but hardly peeled after it was chemically stripped by me with a razor blade scraper and stripper and re primed with latex BM primer.
    So sorry that you went through all this work only to have to remove it and start over. I only wish I had spoken up but thought maybe my issue was due more to the fact that we get bone chilling cold, followed by thaw, followed by more bone chilling cold, rain and snow.
    Other than that your progress is amazing. And your taking the time to blog about all your various projects in such detail is greatly appreciated. You should be really proud of all of your skills and all that you have accomplished 🙂

  • Reply
    Phyllis E
    March 19, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Kristi,
    Sorry you had all these problems after all your hard work. Water infiltration is the number one problem that causes lawsuits against contractors and architects– believe me–I used to be an architect. Believe in Murphy’s Law when it comes to water’s ability to cause problems–if there is a way it can get in, around, under or condense inside of a structure–it will!! Believe me, architecture isn’t all just fun designing buildings and drawing floor plans–its LOTS and LOTS of boring flashing details, along with other water and moisture infiltration mitigation details (like weep holes in brick veneer, but I digress.) LOL!!! If you haven’t already done so, I would like to recommend that you google “porch column flashing” and look up some details on the various ways you can flash porch columns and deal with moisture infiltration. You may have noticed that traditional porch columns have a small opening on the sides of the bottom trim base, and also up at the top of the columns, to allow for air flow –so that when moisture gets in there (and it will) it can dry out. I will link to just one of the many web sites out there showing some ways to deal with porch columns to prevent rot: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/green-basics/decks-and-porches There are lots of details that will come up. Hope this helps.

  • Reply
    Betsy
    March 19, 2018 at 8:41 pm

    I wouldn’t have known any of this either. In a few weeks when it warms up here in the northeast, I had planned to trim out my brother’s porch columns much like you have done, since his current ones are rotting. Thank you for letting me learn from your mistakes, as you have saved me from almost certain frustration.

  • Reply
    Kimberly
    March 19, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    ” … I may have … hurled a few choice words at those columns and the rain …” I wonder if they were the same choice words *I had* when I saw what happened?! That’s so unfair — you worked so hard on those columns and they were so beautiful! However *deep breaths* and I hate to say this, but it appears this is one of those lucky accident type of things, and even though it cost you more time, money, and work, the end result is likely going to last a lot longer than the original wood build would have. And it likely happened at the right time, too, so that you were able to intervene now and possibly save the future of at least the whole bottom part of those columns now (vs. having to re-do them later). I do admire your ability to take a set back and keep going though!

  • Reply
    Mrs Mike
    March 21, 2018 at 7:04 am

    We used the PVC baseboards in our kids bathroom. The existing baseboards were already rotted out (there was no exhaust fan in that bathroom either!) when we bought the house, and with four teenagers using that bathroom, there was no way I wasn’t upgrading. They have held up beautifully and I’d like to go through and replace every room with them as they clean up SO much better than wood baseboards. I’m so sorry you had to do the extra work!

  • Reply
    Lorin Small
    March 21, 2018 at 9:09 am

    I didn’t known you can paint those PVC boards but it make sense because I paint the pipe all the time. Can you use regular latex? I’ve only used can spray paint before.

    • Reply
      Kristi
      March 21, 2018 at 10:17 am

      I think it actually depends on the brand of paint. I read the label on my Sherwin Williams Duration paint, and it said that for composite board (which is similar to PVC since composite contains lots of plastic as well as other materials) to prime first with an exterior oil-based paint. So that’s what I did. I think most exterior paints will tell you exactly how to prep various materials before painting them. But for interior use, I’d just sand lightly and then paint with latex. One website I read said not to prime, and to use 100% acrylic paint. I know that Behr paint is 100% acrylic, and I’m pretty sure that Lowe’s brands are also.

      • Reply
        Lorin Small
        March 21, 2018 at 1:48 pm

        Thanks for the important info.❤❤❤

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.