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Question DetailsAsked on 4/25/2016

Trying to estimate the scope of repairing or replacing a front porch post (load bearing) and railing section (4')

We have a water and weather damaged support post and attached railing that rotted under the weather coating. We need to replace both but I am wondering about the scope of the job. And how to accurately determine what I need before looking for bids for the job.

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2 Answers


Generally, if badly cracked or at all rotted, unless a custom section that is very labor consuming to replicate, replacing the railing section will be cheaper than stripping and refinishing, if that is all that has gone south. Probably $250-500 range for normal simple deck railing design IF done concurrent with post work - commonly about double that if a fancier woodwork or requires some routing or such to replace railing and/or spindle cross-sections.

The post - if just cracked and non-structurally split a bit, normally a good sanding and filling with plastic wood dough then repriming and painting with two coats of good quality exterior enamel will do it good.

If rotted as it sounds like yours is, then replacement can generally be done (assuming a one story post and carrying just some roof, not on overhanging house story) can be replaced and repainted for about $500-1000 ballpark for common structural wood materials (including with some built-up simple trim perhaps at top and bottom), to more like $1000-1500 ballpark commonly if requires some work on the wood to match existing routed or molded shape (but still basically a square or rectangular cross-section, just with some fanciness in grooving and bevelling and such), or can be up to several thousand if a fancy greek or italian column design post or concrete, on up intop manuy thousands if fancy real stone or exotic wood that is clear-finished or stained (think mansion).

If supporting upper level of house overhanging the lower (more than roof and possibly a lightweight roof deck or balcony), then generally going to be well over $500 and more like $1000 range for simple wood post, and in the $2000+ range for rounded or fancy flulted or non-uniform cross-section column.

Couple of things to consider -

1) if supporting more than just a porch roof you probably want a General Contractor with structural framing experience rather than just a Carpenter - Framing for this - or a Carpenter - Woodworking if fancier treatment on the wood. While a competent Handyman MIGHT be able to do this, if you are not positive of his structural framing skills and ability to determine what it takes to prop the roof up while replacing the post, don't take the chance. I have seen several misjudgements like that which resulted in substantial roof and/or porch damage.

2) if this is going to be painted heavily - to a full smooth paint coat so it does not matter what is underneath it - I would recommend using treated wood for at least the post if not the railing too, with significant resaturation of the wood at the ends to prevent future rot problems. This is especially important if the column is enclosed in a casing of 1x material or such soo any water that gets in stays in and causes rot - in which case the entire post should be ground-contact timber (the green copper coated) and be retreated in entirety (and let dry) before encapsulation in the casing. With bottom casing a nice decorative flashing can help keep the water out of the post too.

3) Almost never economic to try to save any of a partly rotted column unless just a fraction of an inch at the top or bottom - generally, if rotted replace the entire thing and associated trim, to prevent contaminating the new wood with the rot or fungus in the old wood.

4) Don't forget to check out what the post sits on - the deck framing, or a column or pier from below, to be sure there is not rot in the the materials under it. Generally, if the post is rotted but the surrounding trim and casing is not, you might have caught it in time. If the casing or bottom trim is rotten, or the post has no base trim and is rotten, then the wood below it commonly is too - which can mean some decking and/or deck framing rot too. Light damage cases can be sanded away and treated with preventative treatment chemicals, anything cracked up or visibly fungal or rotted away to voids again usually easier to just replace those pieces in their entirely.

What you need will be determined by how much is rotted - pushing a largish flat blade screwdriver into the surface is a pretty good test - if it does more than dent the paint/wood lightly, like it sinks in or feels spongy or soft when you push and goes in more than 1/32- 1/16th inch or so, likely needs replacement. Cross-check a protected spot that you are pretty sure is not damaged for comparison, not knowing how hard the wood is that was used for it.

When talking to contractors, let them look around and give thoughts on needed scope (with you keeping in mind they are likely to try to upsize the job) - and maybe have them measure and photo and probe (and likely tear off the casing around the column if any) but NOT do a bid immediately until after you talk to the two or three bidders you intend to let bid - then after talking to them, have the bidders price their bids based on how many posts, deck boards, joists, railing sections, etc you finally decide to replace. This way you will get the benefit of thoughts from several before you set the scope of work, and all will be bidding on the same scope of work. Make clear to them this is what you are doing - determining scope of work first, then having all you consider acceptable to bid be bidding on the same scope of work. Not telling them that will make them think you are juyst picking their minds and don't intend to let them bid the work and they will walk off quite fast on you or throw out a very high "courtesy bid".

Note since this is load bearing, include them getting the building permit with final inspection approval and any structural engineer plan or signoff required to do the job in their scope of work - generally that will be required to get the permit for something like this, though some areas allow roof overhang support posts to be replaced without structural engineer input. This will add probably $300-500 to the cost (engineer and permit) is required in your area.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


Hi, this is Ann from Angie's List. Here's Angie's answer found on our Solution Center

Answered 4 years ago by AGregson

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