replacing large porch columns - source, difficulty

maisoui1September 23, 2005

The columns on our front porch are peeling. Paint has bubbled up on it and you can see that it is several layers that are coming off. GC says the wood is rotted out underneath and they need to be replaced... too much to sand all down etc and still won't be perfect he says. The columns are round, smooth 16ft high and 2ft wide. They are weight bearing but they hold up a small porch roof off the main roof. I'm getting sticker shock over the prices for the columns. Any good sources for fiberglass columns of that size that will ship to NY. We would have the GC do it but how involved a job is this - I don't want to find part of my house on the ground when I come home.

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uhhhhhhhh.. first... check them.. for your self.. are they REALLY rotted or does he just want to do it the easy way??? Stripping lots of paint sucks and he might just not want to do it. Unless they are totally trashed there are a million ways so save such old wood details and I would do what I can before ever thinking fiber glass.

If in fact they are rotten.. look in the back of Fine Homebuilding mag... they list soureces for such things...


    Bookmark   September 23, 2005 at 8:49PM
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Columns, because they are so costly to replace, are one the things that people often use epoxy and consolidant products to repair. I suggest you get the booklets from John Leeke which deal with the topic of doing epoxy repairs. That will give you some good base info to consider when evaluating a replace/repair in situ choice.

There are at least a couple of column builders that ship everywhere. IIRC, one Chadsworth, has a couple of grades of columns, perhaps even synthetic ones. (I haven't looked at their offerings for a few years.)

There are also ways to dry out columns, allowing them to be repaired in place. PLus the load-bearing function can be taken over by concealed interior supporting members.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   September 23, 2005 at 9:45PM
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I didn't necessarily want to replace them but they are really embarrassing looking. In some areas the paint is peeling - you can just grab a piece and it comes off like when you are removing wallpaper. In some areas, which I haven't tried to remove, the parts that are coming off are as thick as a credit card. The damage is more in the lower half but still seems like a large area to use epoxy to fix. Any info on doing an on-site repair? I've given the GC a ton of work on the house so his fee would be $1K to replace both columns - which sounds reasonable enough to me. To paint would be half that but he cannot guarantee the work. The sellers of the house had it painted before we moved in and it didn't even last 3 months. For what it's worth I don't think the prep work could have been very good - I don't know if it is because they didn't try hard enought or if they couldn't get it any better.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2005 at 11:23PM
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Five hundred bucks to paint columns? A thousand bucks to make repairs? Then the reapirs aren't that complicated.

Don't worry about the peeling paint, in fact, getting it off there would allow you to see what the problems are. If the rot is the lower parts, then you defintely need better flashing and drainage.

Paint often fails when it is enclosing humidity and when it gets too thick. The cure is removal, inspection and ventilation of the shafts, before repairing and repainting.

I doubt very much your columns are solid, so epoxy (and not the hardware store stuff, the real "professional" stuff is what I mean) sounds like it could be the ticket. Plus you may be able to repair some pieces with dutchmen (depending on the damage). You just won't know until you've removed the paint and had a good look.

You may just need new bases, or at least base vents There are several references about column repair that I could suggest.

One of the sad things that happens with columns is that they are often replaced (mostly for economic reasons, but sometimes just out of ignorance) with skinnier ones which look awfully dinky. Yours, at two feet in diameter, sound lovely. What style are they (smooth, fluted,) and what do the capitals and bases look like, and are they tapered, etc.


    Bookmark   September 24, 2005 at 2:19PM
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Molly, the $1K would be to replace then not to repair them. He doesn't think it is worth doing anything other than replacing as he doesn't think it will last.

Yes the columns are very beautiful. We would replace them with the same size. They are smooth. I think it is the one they call Tuscan style. They doesn't seem tapered but I would go with the tapered if I changed them.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2005 at 4:16PM
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Whether you repair or replace the columns, it would be a good idea to consider some sort of concrete footing, to keep the base of the column dry. Wooden columns usually begin to rot at the base.

It might be possible to erect a temporary support for the porch roof, remove the column, and repair the damaged column. But the time and labor involved is considerable. Installing new columns sounds like a better plan to me.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2005 at 7:54PM
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Don't replace real with fake! Ever!

Paint peels -- why are you "embarrassed"?

Of course workmen want to rip everything out. It's easy. And he won't worry that you talked behind his back and said he didn't do it right.
But fiberglass columns look like crap.
Just tell him "I know it's not going to be perfect. Just do the best you can." That's all he wants to hear.

Owning an older home is a responsibility -- you rip those out and it'll cost a mint for the next person to replace. Don't do it.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 10:50AM
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I should also point out that fiberglass and vinyl also decay and damage easily when bashed, and look way worse than peeling wood. I've seen fences and planters and other things made out of these materials that looked horrible after just a couple of seasons.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 10:57AM
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I can't imagine you could get two (or more?) 16 foot high 2-foot wide wooden columns installed and painted, etc. for $1,000. Last I looked wooden columns were very expensive so if your workman is offering that, I'm almost postive that wouldn't be wooden columns, unless he happens to have a source for recycled ones.

I join the other posters in hoping you will simply have them repaired, new bases made for ventilation, etc. It would be a shame to down-grade your house by replacing them with much cheaper materials.

Sometimes, things like peeling paint or a repair-in-progress looks messy for a few weeks. But that happens when caring for an older structure. I bet that even at the White House or Mt. Vernon, there are days or weeks, when things are looking less than pristine while repainting or repairs are done. As long as the work site looks tidy, I wouldn't find it embarrassing. If you have some important event planned (weddng, party, house tour, etc.) which would coincide with this work, you could slap a quick coat of white paint over the peeling part. A bit more work to remove later, but that would take care of any temporay shabbiness due to a repair project.


    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 1:48PM
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I never thought of just getting new bases. I'll look into that as well. One part of one base is so rotted it isn't even holding on any more. I don't have a picture of that. I have posted some pictures of the columns so you all can see if they really can be saved. Yes, unfortunately if I did replace them they would not be with wood as I can't afford it at all. It would have to be fiberglass or something like that.

It is embarrassing to have it peeling like that because it doesn't look like it is being worked on but more like 'geez, can't she take care of her house? ... or, do they have money problems?'

I want to have a few parties before the end of the year - one of which is for christening my baby son ... an I want everything to be just right for that.

Here is a link that might be useful: column pictures

    Bookmark   September 27, 2005 at 5:11PM
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I posted on your other thread about the columns and didn't know then about the rot, but I'd still try to salvage as much as I could.

I know it's hard to have a house with peeling paint, especially if you live in an area where housing prices are high and maybe everyone you know is buying a new 4500 sq. foot new home (like NY!). We've owned our house over 4 years and it probably hasn't seen a paintbrush in 30 years, but we've had other things to do inside that were more important. I sometimes get myself crazy thinking about what everyone who passes thinks, but I keep telling myself how beautiful it will be in the end. Plus, I'm hoping the assessor still thinks it's a rat trap! LOL Enjoy your child, have a party, and tell everyone all the great plans you have for the house.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2005 at 11:00AM
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If you will consider repairing the columns, I think you might not spend any more than the carpenter's estimate, and you will retain something much more valuable than new fiberglass ones would be. I will try to get to my desk-top to look at your pics. I think new bases might very well be the ticket.

Often contractors are not terribly restoration-minded because they have a build-new mindset. That's OK, except when repairing and retaining is what the owner wishes to do. It's hard to know, sometimes, if it's truly time to replace, or if that's just a particular tradesman's bias. One of the wonderful things about old houses is that they were made to be repaired, more often than not, and certainly more often than many modern materials and techniques could be (like fiberglass columns!) Your house was probably built before anyone coined the term "throw-away" society.

I know you want everything spiffed up for your parties, but by late in the year everybody will be hustling in to stay warm and be focused on your party, your baby and not on your house.

I have two sets of "best china": My own wedding set, which I've kept in perfect condition since 1980 when I was married; and my truly "best china" which is my husband's great-aunt's wedding set purchased in 1890. Great-Aunt Anna's (fortunately, very large to begin with!) set has been somewhat depleted by the ensuing century plus of use, and by now shows some evidence of wear: worn gilding, and the odd tiny chip. But it is Anna's dishes that I bring out for really best occasions, despite the small blemishes, because it has an unmistakable beauty due to its age and history. Your house is the same way and no one will mind (or even notice) a bit of peeling paint, or repairs underway.


    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 11:24PM
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Honestly, if the peeling in the photos is the worst you have, you really shouldn't even consider replacing the columns. You should consider having the paint stipped, You should probe the base for localized rot. You should introduce venting. You should make sure they use mildew retardant paint. But those are beautiful columns which are actually in pretty good condition. Consider yourself lucky. Enjoy your baby: they grow up very quickly!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 12:00AM
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Hey I think you took a picture of my front porch columns.

Really though, my front porch columns are very similar and have similar paint issues, whether it be bubbling, crackling or alligatoring, however you want to describe it. My columns are 150 years old so they are not going to look like new and there will be some paint issues, the question is what is the cause?

GC say rot and that may be the case -- simple way to find out is to poke the areas with a screw driver. If the wood is rotted, the screwdriver will likely sink into the wood pretty easily -- The paint peeling could also just be from a poor slapped on paint job by the sellers -- moisture and dirt at the time of painting can cause problems quickly as can using the wrong paint.

Just some further thoughts for ya.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2005 at 2:41PM
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Check the other posr, but moisture/rot would blow all the layers of paint off, nit just the very top one.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2005 at 3:03PM
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You've mentioned several times how embarassing it is to have the peeling paint on the columns because it doesn't look like it's being worked on or that people will think you have money problems. So until you plan on what to do, just tie some yellow "caution" tape around the columns to make it look like a work-in-progress.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2005 at 4:10PM
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Your picture didn't show bare wood. I've seen a few old painted sheds that had peeled down to the rotten wood - those looked like they needed work. The columns look a bit shabby but not really bad. I'd be inclined to go along with poor prep - slap a coat of paint on it so it will sale. You only got 3 months that doesn't say much good about the seller's paint job.

You could do some sort of crafty decorating thing ala HGTV. Maybe drape party fabric around it as a temporary fix just for the day. Several yards of sale fabric would be inexpensive, give you a visual fix and allow you time to investigate your options without pressure.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2005 at 6:00PM
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Glassquilt, you know I love your idea of draping the fabric around the columns for the party. I could do it to match the decor. I actually think it could work.

I came across something called CHIC liquid coat (a poly vinyl urethane) that apparently is widely used in Canada. They still do the prep work or sanding and priming but then they put this coating over it which looks like paint but is technically not paint. It is guaranteed for 20 years.

I must have misunderstood the contractor but to strip, sand, prime and paint the two columns it would be $1200 plus he would paint the soffits for me. The CHIC thing would be $5100 but would include 4 more columns that I have on the side porch. Apparently there were a couple of lawsuits against a company that claimed they did that but according to this company that other company used a poly vinyl chloride based prodcut which is different from what they offer.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2005 at 5:14PM
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There is a builder on our area who rebuilds them by using treated lumber as the post and then building a hollow frame around the post. The real weight is then on the stronger member. This keeps the cost down and still make the piece more authentic than fibreglas

    Bookmark   October 9, 2005 at 9:50AM
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I have a large home, 105 years told, with approximately 20 ft high, 23'" diamater columns in the front (2). Think Southern Colonial. They support a small enclosed second porch, not to mention the upper and lower roofs. The entire porch is collapsing. These wood columns are rotted through and through. I had a brace put on one side of the porch and some wood replaced in the porch itself to get through the winter, but now the other, unbraced side it worse. The fancy scrollwork capitals have all fallen, and there is a 7 or 8 inch gap between the top of the rotten, hollow column and the upper porch roof. It is sagging fast. Three separate estimates are $35,000, and this is with replacing the columns with fiberglass. I can't even get anyone to help me enough repair to make it structurally sound. We've tried everything, city historic funds, grants, insurance for hidden defects, loans - nothing is coming through. Any suggestions for at least something I can do so I don't get woken in the middle of the night by a loud crash an no outside wall or porch?

    Bookmark   March 13, 2011 at 1:15AM
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