Porch Repair 101: How To Save $25,000
posted by Allyson Scott
I think we can all agree that the 1980s were a time of questionable design choices, but this one is particularly confusing: who would choose a fleshy, salmon-coloured coating for their front porch?!
It already had a bit of damage when we bought the house more than a decade ago, and over the years the little cracks and chips were caught by shovels and feet, and the situation had suddenly become dire.
Not only was the coating chipping off the cement porch and stairs, but it became apparent that it was hiding some significant cracks in the concrete beneath. We placed a call to Red Robin Masonry, who we’d used in the past for things like pointing and chimney repair, and asked them to come out for a quote.
Our goal was to have the old coating ground off, repair the cracks in the concrete, and apply a new non-slip coating that was as far from salmon pink as possible. However, what they told us was that the whole porch should ideally be replaced, since it was not properly secured to the house, and would continue to shift and crack. At the very least, they advised the stairs needed to be fully removed and replaced, doweled into our foundation, and then cladded with flagstone and not some “cheap coating that would only have to be redone”. Their quote was $15,000 for the minimal work, and more like $25,000+ for the Full Monty. After picking my jaw up off the ground, I called a second masonry company and received a similar answer.
Time to call in the big guns, otherwise known as my uncle, a professional engineer and former home inspector of 35 years!
He told us the porch was as solid as anything he’d seen in his 35 years of doing home inspections, that the cracks in the stairs were totally repairable, and there was no reason why we shouldn’t try the good-quality epoxy-based coatings now available.
Now all I had to do was…everything myself.
The coating had begun to actually lift and separate from the concrete in many places, so I mistakenly assumed I could chisel it off in nice big sections. This did happen in a very satisfying manner once or twice, however it was surprisingly still well-adhered to about 80% of the surface, and came off like this.
Yes, that is a stupid small wood chisel. I have a masonry chisel, but it’s much heavier and much sharper and was not better at removing the coating, just harder to use and more damaging to the underlying concrete. I tried other types of tools too, but kept coming back to the small hammer and small chisel.
I interspersed the chiseling with grinding, purchasing a small angle grinder with a masonry wheel. I thought this made more sense than a sander, since I was just trying to remove an uneven coating, and didn’t want to sand down the exposed concrete any further. In retrospect, this was my biggest mistake. A proper mid-size sander would have had the job done so much faster, and would have avoided the lumpy divots left by my chisel, and my poor attempts to smooth it with the grinder.
While we’re at it, can I just add one key word: RESPIRATOR. An N95 mask (or two) does nothing to protect your nose and mouth from this toxic dust. 🙁 (proper safety goggles also a must)
Since the exterior of the house already looked terrible, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to strip and repaint both the front doors and the garage door. Short version of that experience? Do not try the liquid paint strippers on a textured aluminum door. Sandpaper would have been the way to go.
Flash forward six months of gruelling effort (yes, you read that correctly), and the porch was finally bare. All loose bits of cement had been chipped out of the cracks, the whole thing had been brushed off, hosed down, and dried. Now for repairs before winter arrived!
First, since the area behind the steps was hollow, it would be pointless to just pour new concrete or filler into that open space. It needed to be packed with a flexible piece of foam backing that would provide a base, which I then covered with the quick-mix repair with built-in adhesive.
Before I began applying the new non-slip coating to the naked porch, I also put the angle grinder to use getting all the rust spots off the old railing, and giving it all a fresh new coat of spray paint!
The product I chose was Behr Granite Grip, which specifies the need for a 3mm adhesive roller for application – and is exactly like trying to spread glue. And why not add another challenge by trying to do this in November, when the leaves are falling and sticking to the fresh coating (and your tray, and your roller)? Seriously. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.
The problem with this stuff is that the texture particles do not disperse evenly during application, so even applying a second (and third) coat will not address the problem. I found it necessary to go over some areas with a paintbrush to try to manually achieve an even look.
I think it requires a fourth coat, however I ran out of days above the necessary temperature (and patience, lol).
Despite following the guidelines for temperature and hours to dry before exposure to footsteps or rain, this is what happened when rain arrived two days later:
I expected the coating to begin peeling, however once it dried in the sun, the surface flattened out again. The coating appears to be prone to staining as well, it shows water lines after a rain, and there are brown marks left behind when leaves and other detritus sit for a day. Again only time will tell how well this performs, so the jury is still out on whether this was the right product or not.
This was certainly a looooooong learning experience, but I proved to myself that my instincts were right. I spent about $150 on tools, $650 on materials from paint and rollers to concrete repair, and many dozens of hours. But I did not have to spend $25,000 or live through the demolition of a perfectly solid porch!