Create Some Porch Appeal

If an old porch fails, and nobody hears it, does it still need to be replaced? In the case of the aging structure that served as the back entry for my house, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

Rather than build a new porch, at the time I opted for a more spacious and functional paver patio that offered easier access to the yard. However, I failed to incorporate access from my home’s rear door to the patio.

A set of steps quickly constructed from scrap materials served as a temporary fix until I came up with a more elegant permanent solution: a mini porch with simple steps that provides easy access to the house and a convenient spot to set groceries while we unlock the door. The construction techniques are simple — if you have basic carpentry skills, you can pull off this project — and with the right choice of materials, you can keep the costs quite modest.

Building the perimeter
After removing the old structure or rotted wood, you’ll begin construction with a ledger board. If the ledger board from your old porch or stairs is solid, you may be able to reuse it, but if there’s any rot or sponginess, you must replace it. Because I wanted a single step to lead from the porch to the patio surface, I made the porch 7 in. lower by using lag screws and building straps to secure a secondary 2x8 pressure-treated ledger board to the old porch’s original ledger (photo 1). If you prefer, you could simply frame the porch so that it sits on the same level as the existing doorjamb, but you’ll need to incorporate additional steps from the porch to the patio.

Lag bolts and building straps secure a secondary ledger board to the original so that there is only one step from the ground to the completed deck.

Attach the end joists to the ledger board using the joist brackets and joist nails. To support the end joists, I used the 4x4s that supported the roof of my old porch (photo 2). However, you may need to install new 4x4 corner posts to support the opposite ends of the end joists. Attach the rim joist to the corner posts, and the basic perimeter of your new porch will be established (photo 3).

After checking that the end joists are level, use angled joist brackets and joist nails to attach the end joists to the corner posts (in this case, the 4x4s that support the roof of the old porch).

Attach the rim joist as you did the two end joists to create the basic perimeter of the porch.

Installing joists and supports
Mark the locations for the joists — in this case every 16 in. OC — on both the rim joist and the ledger board, and install joist hangers at those marks (photo 4). Drop the 2x8 joists into the hangers and fasten them using joist nails (photo 5).

Mark the locations of the joists; then use joist nails to fasten joist hangers to the rim joist and the ledger board.

Drop 2x8 pressure-treated joists into the hangers and attach them using joist nails.

To add stability to the porch structure, I fastened two additional 2x8 pressure-treated supports to each of the end joists (photo 6). They are equally spaced and fitted tightly against the patio to prevent bowing.

Equally spaced pressure-treated “legs” fastened to the end joists and fitted tightly against the patio add strength and stability to the porch framework.

To frame the steps, start by building a simple box from pressure-treated 2x8s (photo 7). Cut the two boards that will form the ends of the stair box approximately 6 in. longer than the tread depth — as you slide the stair box in place, you’ll nail through those longer ends to secure the stair box to the rest of the porch framing (photo 8).

Build a box that will serve as the framework for the stairs from pressure treated 2x8s. The end boards are longer than the others — you’ll fasten through those longer boards to secure the stair box to the porch’s framework.

Slide the completed stair box into place at the foot of the porch; then fasten the stair box to the porch framing by nailing through the longer ends and into the 4x4 posts.

Cladding and decking
I clad the 4x4 posts with clear 1x cedar (photo 9) to enhance their appearance. I also attached cedar cladding to the rim joist, end joists and exterior surfaces of the stair box (photo 10).

Cover any old post surfaces with fresh cedar. In this installation, the side cladding pieces stand proud and capture the front and back cladding pieces.

Clad the surfaces of the porch and stair framing with 1x clear cedar. A putty knife helps to hold the cladding at the proper height as it is fastened in place.

Fasten cedar decking to the stair box and the porch structure (photo 11), being careful to space the deck boards so that none will have to be ripped to fit against the wall. All that’s left is to install the side railings and coat the cedar with a clear preservative or the finish of your choice.

Fasten cedar decking to the porch joists and to the stair box. Space the deck boards so that you don’t need to rip one to width to fit against the wall.

Although this project was built to suit the needs of my house, it can be easily modified to fit any structure. You can extend or shorten the porch, build more stair boxes, remove the roof or incorporate other structural elements from your home to create a similar addition to your backyard living space that is more than merely functional — one that makes the back entrance of your home as attractive as the front. After all, curb appeal shouldn’t be limited to what can be seen from the street.