While our rear veranda, a project that started in 2016, is still unfinished and requiring something to fix the woeful floor, our forgotten front veranda became in need of far more urgent attention. After returning from our weekend away and venturing onto the veranda, the floor almost gave way in some spots, clearly informing me that it was time to do something about this hidden mess. I was already aware that some of the joists were partly rotten, but it wasn’t until I removed a number of the floor boards that the true extent of the damage became evident. There was no doubt that this was a bigger task than what I could fix on my own, so I enlisted the aid of a builder who had just completed similar work on my neighbour’s house. I’m very glad that I did.
There was no hope of salvaging anything of the veranda structure, as the joists were badly rotted in many places, to the extent that none of them could be re-used. While the floor boards were not badly damaged, enough of them were sufficiently damaged and old that replacement boards would have been impossible to find. And what was clearly needed were additional stumps to support the side of the house with a new bearer and new joists for the floorboards. And I wasn’t willing to pay for Merbau, which came at more than twice the price of equivalent treated pine decking, so treated pine it was. Merbau would have looked nice, but with a bit of weathering, the treated pine colour will change and can be oiled to look pretty good.
Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with hardwood (and this lot had endured around 17 years), but the way that the veranda had been constructed with no gaps whatsoever in the floorboards, there was no way that the joists and bearers could breath and dry out when they became wet. What idiot built the veranda in this way beggars belief. The front veranda was likely built the same way, but appears to have been built later and is now fully under cover, so won’t suffer the same fate as the front veranda. A minor bonus out of all of this is that we now have a large pile of firewood for this winter, but will require careful cutting because of all the nails in the timber. These nails appear on both sides of the timber, as the builders had simply reversed the old beams and set them underneath rather than removing old nails when they put the house together after the frame was transported from Melbourne (an old Brighton school building).
The first order of the day was to remove the old floorboards and this was easy, as all but a few could be removed by hand. The more difficult ones being those under the eaves where the joists hadn’t rotted. The next order of the day was to cut and remove the rotten joists and front bearers, leaving the sound parts of the joists in place on the original stumps. The problem with the existing setup was that the old joists and bearers were 100mm (4″) and the replacement ones were 90mm (3.5″), as is the standard today in Australia. This meant that a new set of stumps had to be installed behind the front stumps with a new bearer running across the full length of the house. It was a difficult job, as digging the holes for the stumps was not easy because they had to be dug under the house. I have no idea how house re-stumpers can do this work.
Once the new stumps and bearers were in place, we could start putting in the joists. By sheer luck, I guess, the joists all came out almost perfectly level. The difficult parts had now been completed and what remained was to lay the floorboards and replace the front step. For whatever reason the front step had been recessed into the veranda, not only making the installation complex, but also robbing space from the veranda. We decided to do things differently and put the steps back so that they extended from the new veranda floor out into the front. This made the veranda larger, but also much more aesthetically pleasing and easier to lay the floorboards. The one thing that was a disappointment was that the front facade of the veranda fell down during the removal of the rotten timbers (it was holding on by a wing and a prayer) and couldn’t be saved.
The facade was made in a similar way as the rest of the exterior of the house, faux sandstone applied to a cement sheet, and it cracked apart in numerous spots when we made an attempt to lift it back. This facade was unbelievably heavy and trying to lift the full length simply sealed its fate. I wasn’t all that worried, as I had already anticipated this and given thought to some alternative solutions. I was likely going to repeat what I’d done with the rear veranda and replace the facade with cement sheeting, painted to match the house. Finding a simple solution and keeping the cost down was a priority. But this wasn’t as urgent as fixing the main flooring and could wait until the weather improved.
One thing I found out during this exercise is that there’s a worldwide shortage of timber and that the cost of new buildings and renovations is going to skyrocket very soon, anywhere from 2x to 3x the existing cost, and things are already looking grim. My builder had contacts in Melbourne and was able to get all the timber needed for this repair, but had I attempted to get the same though our local hardware store, it would have been impossible. I was completely unaware of this, but after being told and through a quick Google search, it was clear that this was a major problem. So if you’re into doing some renovations in the near future, good luck.
So after a week plus of digging, concreting, cutting, nailing and screwing, the rotted out veranda was repaired and looked pretty good. The veranda appears much larger than before, but I think that’s an optical illusion due to the fact that we relocated the stairs that were previously recessed into the veranda and placed them outboard of the veranda itself. Why this wasn’t done during the original build again beggars belief, but then that applies to a number of building decisions around the house. However, now starts another hard task and that’s cutting up all the old timber which can be used for firewood. Just in time as it turns out, as it looks like we’re in for a cold winter. But after an initial test with my cordless chainsaw, the cutting may not be as difficult as I anticipated and the hardwood burns well; nice and slow.