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The End of my Sun Porch

April 27, 2013

When I first looked at this house, it had an unusual structure on the back.  It was a porch, but not exactly a porch.  Eventually, I decided it was a sun porch.  It had wood frame walls with wood siding and a corrugated fibreglass roof.  The base was a concrete slab, covered by a green indoor/outdoor carpet.  The entrance door opened into the room, with an aluminum storm door that opened outwards.  The back door of the house also opened into the room.  It had two large windows facing south.  Both were covered by a shade that rolled down from the top.  One window opened outwards, with a screen on the inside.  The sun porch seemed to be in reasonable condition, although it did need some cleaning and painting.  First impressions can certainly be deceptive.

Once I moved in, I had to decide what to do with the sun porch.  I’d never had one before.  I thought of patio furniture.  It had to be small to fit the small space.  I bought  bistro set.  It was on sale.  It consisted of one small glass-topped table and two chairs.  It looked pretty good in my sun porch.  In fact, I liked it so much that I bought a second one.  It was still on sale!  I quickly discovered that with two doors opening into the room, there was not enough space for two tables.  I had to move the second bistro set down to the basement.  It was still a bargain.

Then I had to decide how I would use that room.  I could sit out there, of course, but I could sit many other places too.  In the summer, I could sit out in the back yard in the shade of a tree, as long as the mosquitos were not too bad.  Any time of the year, I could sit inside where it was always comfortable.  I wasn’t using the sun porch at all, except as a porch.  Then one spring, I decided to try something: breakfast in the sun porch.  It was quite cool out there in the spring, especially with the window open.  I found I could tolerate the cold for long enough to have breakfast.  I prepared my food in the kitchen and brought it out on a tray.  The fresh smell of the outdoors and the sounds of birds in the back yard were quite enjoyable while I ate my breakfast.  That worked out pretty well.

Now that I had a use for the sun porch, I took a good look at it to see what I could do to improve it.  It looked shabby.  The paint on the outside was peeling.  That was easy to fix, but I don’t like painting.  There were bigger things to attend to.  The porch was pulling away from the house.  The concrete slab had settled.  That’s too big for me.  All I could do was to fill in the gap where the porch met the house with plastic strips.  It was under the eve of the house anyway.  Rain didn’t come in the gap.  One day I noticed a squirrel inside the porch, one that had made its home inside.  Chasing it with a rake didn’t drive it away.  Mothballs didn’t work either.  How was it getting in there?  I found an opening below the fibreglass roof, on the far side.  I closed it up with sheet metal.  That worked.  Of course, the room looked worse, not better.

It got even worse.  One of the windows rotted.  I repaired the wood frame.  It looked pretty good, but when I was almost finished, I accidentally broke the glass.  After a few years, it rotted again.  I repaired it again.  I had to install it so that it no longer opened.  I covered the crack with another sheet of glass held by clear calking.  This all worked, but the window looked even worse.  I’ll have to get new windows soon.  Then I noticed that the lumber framing above and below the windows was also rotting.  Here’s something I could fix.  I replaced it with new wood.  It was starting to look better.  There’s hope yet.

What else could I do to improve the sun porch?  The panelling below the windows bulged outwards.  Something was wrong there.  When I removed the panelling to have a look, I was shocked.  I expected to see vapour barrier and insulation.  Instead, the space was packed with wet soil and crawling with ants.  I cleaned it out with a shovel.  Bad quickly became worse!  The bottom plate was rotten.  The ends of the wall studs were rotten.  Nothing was holding up the windows.  The bottom plate was set right at the edge of the concrete pad, with a raised concrete curb on the other side.  There was a gap between the two where the ants were coming up.  On the inside of the of the bottom plate there was another line of concrete.  No wonder the plate was rotten.  Any rain falling on the curb would run inside and be trapped there.  Is there any way I can repair this now?

I did enjoy doing that sort of work.  When I installed a new bottom plate, I had to keep it dry and away from the soil.  I could place a line of bricks next to the curb and install the new bottom plate on top of them.  I’d have to put a flashing on the outside so that rain would stay there, instead of draining inside.  The rest was easy, beginning with new wall studs.  Still, the sun porch looked pretty bad at that time.  I stopped using it for a while.  I kept thinking about the best way to repair it, but I didn’t do anything.  Finally, I realized that it was impossible.  There was nothing more I could do.  I decided to replace it.

I felt much happier once I’d made that decision.  I could demolish the porch myself.  I like taking things apart.  I always have.  I had all the tools I needed.  This was going to be fun.  It was, except that we had several weeks of unusually hot weather.  It was nice and cool in the house, but sometimes it was unbearable outside.  I could only work on the demolition for about half an hour before I had to retreat into the house.  I took it all apart with a wrecking bar.  There were nails everywhere.  I wore gloves all the time.  I removed all the nails, just to be doubly safe.  I wound up with a bucket full of rusty bent nails.  Once the pieces of the old porch were small enough to carry, I took them behind my garage and piled them there.  I even broke up the concrete curb with a sledge hammer and took those pieces there too.  Two guys with a truck took everything away in about half an hour.  All that was left of the sun porch was the concrete base.

I wasn’t sure what I needed to replace it.  I knew I wanted it in the same place.  I knew I wanted something generally similar, something that would be both a porch and a sun room.  A few estimates helped my to decide.  It was going to be a commercial sunroom, all glass and aluminum.  Here’s how it looks now.  I think it looks wonderful.  Every second glass panel slides aside to uncover screens on the inside.  Once the tradesmen were finished, I installed power, phone, and ethernet outlets in the sunroom, with cables running under the deck and through holes I drilled in the basement wall.  I am intending to use that sunroom!  I’m still waiting for a carpet to be installed; right now it only has a plywood subfloor.  I’ll be able to get both bistro sets in there this time.  About all I have left to do now is to install blinds above the south-facing windows.  I’m sure I’ll need them on hot summer days.  All in all, the new sunroom is a wonderful improvement on the old sun porch that came with the house.


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