In our last round of metaphor abuse, I proclaimed that the Front Door is the Smile of Your Home. If so, what does the bottom of the front porch represent? Perhaps an acne-covered chin, full of warts, with little hairs poking out.
Two minutes of Googling™ revealed that the area under the porch floor is actually called “skirting.” Which has much more potential for salacious double entendre than, say, chin.
Loyal readers know that I’ve spent most of the last year agonizing about the front of our house, a condition I’ve self-diagnosed as the Google Street View Effect©.
A couple months ago, I lost my patience with the rotting, peeling, pale blue lattice skirting our porch. I tugged at it a bit, the way that one casually tugs on a scab or a loose tooth or stray body hair, JUST TO SEE HOW EASILY IT MIGHT COME OFF.* And then, I pulled a little harder, until…. SNAP….the whole panel popped off in one satisfying yank.
And since the pulling-things-apart itch is hard to fully scratch, I yanked chunks off the “cosmetic” horizontal molding.
I could have stopped there and let our UnderPorch (you know, like MiddleEarth) breath freely. But now that I could stick my whole head in there, I saw that our UnderPorch was actually the capital of a very sophisticated Rat Civilization. And smelled like it, too.**
The Easy Cover-Up Plan was to simply nail new lattice across the support beams. However, we couldn’t seal off the UnderPorch since we still needed to disinfect the pee smell, insulate the exposed house walls and keep the area permanently accessible to our colony of feral cats (more on them another time).
The best part of wearing a skirt is taking it off. So I devised a system of removable screen frames that could provide both cosmetic screening and easy UnderPorch access.
STEP ONE — BUILD THE FRAMES: Since they would be hanging from hooks, which are in turn hanging off a porch of dubious structural integrity, the skirting screens had to be extremely light. We headed to the big box store and bought 1″x2″ pressure-treated boards, plus a 50-pack bundle of 4-foot lath.
Bulk lath is flimsy, scratchy, low-quality wood — the scraps after they cut up all the good wood. Where I come from, we call it the Lips & [slang term for anal openings] of the lumber world.
The first step in any woodworking project is to borrow your neighbor’s chopsaw, which spends most of its time at our house and is very confused about who its family is. I cut the lath down to size, gave them*** a light but firm sanding, and coated them on both sides with water sealer.
While the lath dried, I cut the 1″x2″ boards to size and screwed the ends together with 2½ deck screws, leftover from our fence project. One side of our porch is bigger than the other (ladies, you know the feeling), so for the bigger side I screwed an extra vertical beam in the middle to keep the lath from sagging with time (again with the body issues).
I used a pneumatic nail gun to staple the lath to the frame.
Many of your cheap lath boards are sure to be stained or disfigured, so try to make the best of it. In the spirit of American Thanksgiving,**** I grouped the “dark meat” and the “white meat” together to give the whole wood platter a delicious sense of balance.
Finally, I screwed hooks onto the top of the frames.
STEP TWO — FIX THE PORCH: With the hooks screwed in, we needed a place to screw the eyes, or as I call them, the “hook holes,” which makes a lot more sense than “eyes,” because repeatedly sticking a “hook” into an “eye” sends the wrong message to children.
We had already purchased an attractive 1″ x 6″ x 12″ board to replace the outermost “molding” on the front of the porch. However, when we fully pulled off the rotting molding, we discovered that the structural beam under that was also rotting!
AND THEN we discovered that the structural beam housed a colony of winged carpenter ants, which look a lot like termites. It’s unclear how this porch is still standing, but for sheer willpower.
Faced with an unexpected Russian Nesting Doll of rotten beams, Scott rushed off to the hardware store and brought home this bad boy:*****
Clearly, this is not how we all planned to spend Sunday afternoon. Hey look, there’s Josh again, who always seems to wander over in the middle of a Home Improvement Crisis.
We poked and prodded til we found some solid wood to screw the beam into. And then screwed the outer beam on top of that. Looking better already!
Whew. The final step, positively facile in comparison, was to screw the corresponding hook holes into the outer beam. I held my breath as I gently slid the hooks into their waiting holes, hoping that the plan actually worked:
Fresh from his nap, my precious 4-year-old camera-destroyer came out to pose for the “after” pictures:
Google Street View,™ please update your files!
* As Scott can attest, since we’ve lived in the Babushka House, I’ve developed a particularly destructive habit of pulling on various parts of the house, “just to see what happens.”
** The smell of rat droppings is similar to cat droppings. That is, if your cat lived on a diet of rotten donuts, cigarette butts and dog poo.
*** I just decided that the plural of lath is lath. Like deer or moose or fish. You know, all the recreationally hunted animals.
**** We recently hosted Canadian friends for Thanksgiving dinner and learned that Canada is a different country with its own proprietary Thanksgiving. So I developed the habit of saying “American Thanksgiving,” which both avoids confusion and makes me seem Sophisticated and Worldly. It’s fun to greet friends and family with “Happy American Thanksgiving!” or ask, “How was your American Thanksgiving dinner?”
***** Our marriage contract dictates that I must show you at least one photo of Scott’s Extreme Husbanding in each blog post.
I’m impressed that he got that beam home on a bike! I also have picked at things in both of the old homes we have owned and it kind of drives my husband crazy. It definitely starts a lot of projects though! I really like to peel paint off when it starts to chip. Or remove paint from giant pocket doors.
Always good when a bit of House Scab picking reveals scary insect action. Nice fix…
I’m thinking you need to get some yellow floral action going in that front yard to get Google Street View interested. Winter: forsythia, primroses, Spring: tulips, daffodils, Summer: sunflowers, lilies, dahlias, black eyed Susan, Fall: goldenrod, coneflower, day lilies… Lots of choice, even in your northern climate.
There is a wall in my kitchen I am itching to pick at. One day when I am home alone and feeling bored/anxious/ambitious enough, we will find out what’s inside that wall.
Yikes! I do believe there is some sort of law of nature that makes it impossible for any fixing of a fixer-upper to be simple and quick. Your cover up looks good. Hopefully that Google Street View car will return to your neighborhood soon.
The current item I am dying to pick at is our living room carpeting. It is original to our mobile home which makes it 30+ years old. The high traffic areas really don’t have any nap to them any more and there are a couple dark, spongey spots that probably mean we should be wearing hazmat suits with breathing apparatus any time we are in the living room. My husband and I have dithered back and forth for several years now about what to replace it with. He wants hardwood, I say let’s just go with vinyl that looks like wood. Our house is a mobile home that is supposed to only be our temporary residence until we can build our dream home (we’ve lived in this temporary home for 18 years) so I’m of the mind that investing in hardwood flooring is a bit of overkill. I have vowed that we will NOT have another Christmas morning of opening presents while sitting on this alien-life-form breeding ground. We may spend this winter walking on bare plywood floor, but it’s got to be a gajillion times better than living with what is thriving in that carpet! I also suspect that there are spots of the underlayment that are rotted through. I have sheets of OSB standing at the ready for patching holes so that the outdoors can’t come inside from below. Wish me luck.
I started pulling the carpet up over the weekend while hubby was at an all day firefighter training. I have been amazed at the incredible amount of sand that is under there! The carpet pad is fused to the plywood underlayment and the patches of mold are widespread. I wish I could borrow my husband’s SCBA mask and airtank from the fire department to do this job. I’m not sure a simple dust mask is enough to keep this nastiness out of my lungs!!! But I’m making progress and we WILL have a clean floor for Christmas!
The holidays are a great time of year simply because they force us to tackle all those projects that we’ve been putting off for months. Good luck with your carpet project. That stuff is nasty! Hope you’re taking pictures.
I LOVE that he went to the hardware store on his bike. 🙂
Yup. 50 bonus Husband Points for that. Actually, going to Home Depot on a Sunday Afternoon is worth 100 points in my book. Madness.
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I was at my girlfriend’s house and something made a clunk from behind the wooden wall on the stairs. I resisted the urge to pull it and see what was under there, because I wasn’t 100% certain that it wasn’t structurally-essential rats. They had a surveyor come out to look at the house and the list of things that need fixing was impressively extensive. I suspect I’d be less impressed if I were one of the people who has to decide whether or not there’s enough money to fix it, though…
Eeeek. There’s many parts of this house where I just don’t want to know. But your story about your girlfriend’s house reminds me of our next-door neighbors. They had a racoon living INSIDE their walls (between the drywall and the outer wall), and then the racoon had babies. The mama ‘coon would go out at the same time every night to get food, but our neighbors couldn’t just seal up the hole she crawled through, because the babies in there would die (sad and smelly). So, they just had to wait til late spring when the babies were old enough to head out with mom. And then, break open the wall and clean up all the mess they left behind. Apparently, racoons don’t have very good toilet habits 🙂
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