Bob Vila's Old Home Renovation
Historic Home Renovation Ideas
Bob Vila's old home renovation project is great for anyone considering renovating or
updating their existing front porch. He walks you through the historic home renovation of an 1892 home that had
once become a boarding house.
for the Front Porch
Bob explains the process of removing the balustrade (railings), porch decking, and inspecting the framing on this colonial
revival front porch in the Elmwood district of Providence RI.
Much of this content comes from a video that Bob had but is no longer available. This 1892 home has amazing oak moldings, built-ins, and an inspiring staircase but like many homes
from that era, it has been neglected over the years.
The central focus of this grand house is a front porch in desperate need of renovation.
The porch decking is pressure treated lumber but should be made from mahogany to maintain authenticity.
The balusters are not spaced correctly because many of them have been repaired over the years. (See our handy baluster spacing tips.)
The top and bottom rails have also decayed to the point where the entire balustrade needs to be replaced.
It appears the original column bases were replaced with pressure treated wood also.
Old Home Renovation Demolition
Demolition of the railings is the first step. Care must be taken, however, to
ensure section profiles are recovered intact so they can be replicated for replacement. As you can
see in the photos below, the railing section is beyond saving and must be replaced.
Only one finial remains (photo at right) and was removed in two pieces. These, too, will be sent to
the mill for replication.
Somewhat humorously, the contractor notes obvious evidence of lots of putty and paint
which was used to repair and cover up imperfections on the balustrade over the years
"putty and paint makes the job what it ain't".
Several balusters (photo below) are removed to send to the mill works for replication and replacement.
There are also obvious signs of rotting, lots of putty, and damage to the bottom rails as seen
in the photo below. Most of the damage was caused by placing the bottom rail directly on
the floor boards. The bottom rails must
be replaced and positioned off the floor to avoid water damage in the future.
Once the pieces to be milled are saved, the remaining balustrade is removed as part of the
old home renovation process - as depicted in the photo below.
Column and Column Bases
The next step is to jack up the roof so the porch columns can be removed for stripping and repair.
Note that the porch columns are solid with an opening through the center. Without the hole for air flow,
the columns would rot from the inside out.
Column bases must also be replaced due to rotting and they are not structurally correct to carry the load.
Porch Decking Removal
The existing porch decking is made from treated lumber and did not stand the test of time. Each board
is removed to expose the framing underneath.
It is extremely important to inspect the framing when conducting an old home renovation. It is noted that insufficient nails and joist hangars were
used to construct the frame for this porch. This needs to be corrected before new decking is installed.
The porch flooring was supported by an inadequate span supported by a piece of wood on the ground. A new
Sonotube footing needs to be poured and the framing needs to span the distance from the house to the
outside foundation wall.
This concludes Part 1 of a four-part series of this Elmwood District old home renovation.
Bob Vila, the Dean of Home Renovation and Repair Advice, is well known for his television
show "This Old House". Now you can access Bob's myriad tips and advice, ask questions and
receive video responses, and catch up on the most innovative ideas for home improvement all
through his website.
See more of Bob Vila's renovation of this wonderful home and other projects at
Our Home Renovation Tips
Here are a few old home renovation ideas to consider when remodeling or renovating your home:
- Determine what features need to be replicated and take great care when removing them
- Determine what can be recycled, reused, or discarded
- Determine how local building codes may affect your renovation
- If paint is involved, ensure extra paint is left for touch-ups
- Get everything in writing; do not assume anything
- Find a reputable contractor
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for informational purposes only.
Because every project is different and individual DIY skills vary, it's best to consult a licensed contractor about your specific project.
How To Build a Porch
Old Home Renovation
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