It seems like every tongue and groove porch floor suffers from the same problem. End rot. It makes sense that the ends of the boards exposed to the elements will take in water and begin to rot so fast it makes you want to pull your hair out.
On my house, we have a huge wrap around porch which is one of our favorite parts of the house, but with over 1,500 square feet of porch flooring that left me with plenty of rot over the years. In this post, I’ll show you not only how to repair rotten or damaged tongue and groove porch flooring, but also how to prevent the rot in the future.
The Wrong Way
I see this cheap way of repairing all the time and it drives me nuts. Folks will chop off the last 2-3 feet of the boards that are rotten and then replace just that part with a new board. Don’t do it!
It looks shoddy and it never lasts. I know that you are saving on materials by doing it this way, but really the main cost of repairing a porch floor isn’t some extra tongue and groove flooring. It’s the all the labor that’s involved.
This cut and patch method creates yet another joint where water can get in and cause issues. It’s a joint that can separate causing gaps and lifted parts of your flooring. Ultimately, it’s a cheap fix that never pays off in my honest opinion so skip it and do it right.
How to Repair Porch Flooring…the Right Way
If you’re going to do this the right way, and why wouldn’t you, then you need to completely replace any damaged boards. “But Scott, how do I avoid the rot from coming back again?” Wait, I got you covered. What’s I’m proposing will work to prevent rot even in the rainforest if you do it right!
Traditional porch flooring is typically 1×4 but some rare applications are 1×6 in size so check first. If you’re replacing porch flooring on a house built before 1930 there is a good chance that the flooring may not be exactly the same size as what is currently available. If that’s the case you may have to either modify the new stuff or simply rip out everything up to a certain area rather than lacing in new boards amongst the old.
The new stuff can vary in size from the old stuff by as much as 1/2” typically so do some checking on your house especially if it is older.
Step #1 Tear Out
Tearing out that rotten porch flooring is best done with a big crow bar. The first piece may need to come out in pieces or you can rip it out with a cat’s paw or smaller pry bar, but once that one is out you’ll find that most porch flooring is installed with just one nail per joist through the tongue of the board. This is called blind nailing and it’s how we’ll be putting things back together later.
Put the crow bar below the board and yank it up to pop the boards loose along the length. It won’t take long but it can be back breaking work if you got a lot to do like I did.
Step #2 Layout
It’s imperative that you think about two major things when it comes to layout. First, are you tying into an existing floor that needs to match. If this is the case then you’re probably best to start at the existing flooring and follow that spacing. You want to avoid a board that has to be ripped down more narrow than the rest in the middle of the field. It looks amateur. If you have a narrow board on the outside at the end that is fine, but in the middle? No way.
Second, using a framing square you need to consistently keep your boards perpendicular to the house. Porch flooring was design to run straight from the house to the outside of the porch at a 90º angle (this allows water to follow the grain of the board and slope of the porch as it flows out and off your porch). Installing boards parallel to the house is a bid “No, No.”
As you begin installing be mindful that even a spacing error as small as 1/16” can add up to over 6” out of square over 100 boards. Check each board as you install and make sure you are keeping it square.
Step #3 Installing Porch Flooring
When installing your porch flooring you don’t have to worry about the length of the boards because at the end we’ll be trimming everything evenly. So for now just make sure that all your boards are long enough to have a 1-2” overhang. It doesn’t matter if the outer ends are slightly or even greatly out of alignment at this point.
Whichever way to decide to install always setup so that the tongue is visible. This allows you to set a board in place and then blind nail one nail through the tongue into each joist. No nails showing makes for a cleaner and more water tight installation.
Push the boards tight against the house, giving an even 1/16” gap between boards for expansion and then nail it in place using a stainless steel 2 1/2” 15 ga. nail. Repeat ad-nauseam and keep the pattern steady.
Bonus: Lacing in Boards
If you’re only doing specific boards rather than a whole section then see my previous post Invisible Repairs For a Hardwood Floor on how to remove individuals boards and install only select boards. In that post I talk about hardwood flooring, but the same technique applies to porch flooring since it’s also tongue and groove.
Step #4 Trim to Fit
Once all your boards are installed you need to trim the ends to make everything line up. The easiest way to do this is by running a chalk line across the outside edge where you will leave a 1/2” to 1” (totally depends on your preference) overhang. Mark the chalk line and then using a circular saw cut everything to match that same line. If you have some posts or railings in the way you may need to use a jig saw or hand saw the finish some of the tighter spots.
Step #5 Sand High Spots
Despite you best efforts you may have a few areas where the porch floor has some lips between a few boards. If that is the case then give them a little sanding to level things out. Any lippage like that can be a trip hazard and you want to resolve this before you start painting.
Preventing Porch Flooring Rot
“You still haven’t answered my question about rot, Scott!” Ok, ok here are the steps I use to make sure my exterior tongue and groove porch flooring doesn’t rot.
Step #1 Use Treated Lumber
Most lumberyards will offer tongue and groove porch flooring in regular pine or pressure treated pine. The pressure treated costs more but lasts longer. It’s not bulletproof, but rather than rotting in 2-4 years it will last 10-15 years so that is a good place to start, but we’re gonna take it even further because we want a 30+ year porch floor, right?
Step #2 Treat with BoraCare
My favorite DIY treatment to prevent rot is BoraCare. Your mix it with some water and spray it onto all sides of the wood with a pump sprayer. Once it’s dry you install the wood as usual and prime and paint it. No muss, no fuss. This stuff protects against wood destroying rot as well as termites and other pests with a 30-year warranty. Don’t skip this step!
Step #3 Glue the Ends
Once your install is finished and you have trimmed the ends of your porch flooring so everything is lined up and pretty you need to come through with a wood glue like Titebond III and smear it into the end grain of all the porch floor boards.
End grain is like a super highway for absorbing water which leads to rot. By sealing the end grain with wood glue prior to painting you put a roadblock on that superhighway and stop the wood from absorbing water. You have just prevented rot.
Step #4 Keep it Painted
One last thing, if you keep things painted over the years you will protect your investment and make it last longer. A porch floor gets a lot of traffic so you need to keep up with the maintenance on that to prevent any pooling water or resolve issues before they become big problems.
My favorite paint for porch floors has been SherCryl by Sherwin Williams. It sticks to wood like white on rice and can handle the heavy foot traffic porch floors get.
If you’ve got rotten porch flooring like I did, I hope this post has given you the confidence to repair it. The video below will show you the whole process that I went through along with some surprises I encountered and how I dealt with them.
Don’t be intimidated by repairing tongue and groove porch flooring. It can be a lot of work, but doing it yourself can save you tons of money and be immensely satisfying work once you get to sit back and enjoy the view from a solid, rot-free front porch.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.