We’re refreshing the front of our Chicago home’s exterior! Today we’re breaking down the updates we’re tackling, and the few that we’re skipping.
When we first saw the house that what would eventually become our Chicago home 8 years ago, we were immediately struck by the front porch. While stoops and small landings are pretty common around here, a full-fledged front porch with room for more than two people to sit and relax, let alone a porch swing, is a pretty rare commodity!
A Brief History of the Porch
While the structure of the front porch was relatively sound, the detail and finish work on and around it left a bit to be desired. The siding above the porch didn’t quite meet up with the roofline. The front staircase needed to be completely rebuilt. The concrete pad was jagged and crumbling. But we saw through the tricky spots to appreciate the home’s potential nonetheless!
Now, eight years later and without a major renovation on our hands, we’re finally able to focus on the details that we wish we could have tackled all along. First, let’s talk about the work that our GC and his team (more on that later) will be tackling…
Exterior Refresh | Contractor To Do:
- Brand new roof (complete!)
- All new gutters, downspouts and soffits
- Repair flaws in vinyl siding
- Raise sagging roof corner
- Add ceiling light fixture
- Install wood tongue & groove ceiling
- Wrap roof support beam in PVC trim
Since the existing brakemetal that wraps the support beam will be removed and PVC trim boards will be installed, we’ll take this opportunity to add a bit of detail to the area. It’ll be subtle, but much like installing new baseboards inside a home, it’ll elevate things nicely.
Exterior Refresh | Kim + Scott To Do:
In addition to hiring our contractor to handle the heavy lifting, we’ll be tackling some of the more manageable portions of the project ourselves. Here are the items we’ll be knocking out.
- Repair damaged railing components
- Touch up paint railings/lattice/aprons
- Touch up porch floor stain
- Install PVC trim and crown to posts
- Stain tongue & groove ceiling
Items We’re Putting Off for Now…
When we first started discussing this multi-faceted project, the intended scope was significantly larger. Originally, our ambitious plan included all of the items above, plus the following:
- Replace vinyl siding on front and sides of home with LP Smartside to match the rear
- Blow additional insulation into wall cavities from exterior
- Install 8 new windows (approximately half have been replaced already)
- Replace front stairs and railings
- Replace porch floor with Trex or similar composite decking
…And Why We’re Putting Them Off
We reached out to around ten exterior contractors to ensure that we were receiving comparable quotes and took a half dozen meetings to discuss the project. We were shocked by how many contractors simply turned down the opportunity to bid on the work! Different contractors told us everything from ‘your house is too close to the houses next door‘, ‘the porch will need to be completely torn off’ and that our house ‘looks like crap’. What?!? Sure, we’ll give it to you – it’s not the prettiest house on the block (yet!), but that’s why we called you… and subsequently didn’t hire you.
We get it. Chicago is unique. Our houses are close together. And many of them are old. Like really old. Our home was built in 1887 and taking care of it is a unique process that takes a lot of patience and understanding and a lot of help from the right people. In the end, the idea of a summer-long project that would require a substantial investment just wasn’t in the cards for us this year.
After 2020 pelted all of us consistently with curveballs and uncertainty, we decided to keep the scope of this project manageable. We’ll now be able to get the work completed in time to enjoy lazy morning coffee and warm summer evenings as we watch the world go by from out front. We’re confident that we made the right decision for us, for now.
Yet Another Note on Working With Contractors
As we mentioned, finding a trustworthy contractor can be tricky. There are good apples and bad, and even the best among them have their quirks. They’re people, after all. We’ve written about the process (more than once!) in the past and needed to remind ourselves to take our own advice! In the end, we scaled back the project to a more manageable size and hired the team that saw us through the majority of the Two Flat renovation. They work efficiently at a fair rate and they live in our neighborhood, so we’re also supporting the local economy, which is very cool.
As you may have noticed earlier, the work has already begun! Our contractor called us frantically a couple of weeks ago to let us know that the roofer had a cancellation and could start on our house the next day! We jumped at the opportunity to get the biggest, messiest portion of the work out of the way early. We chose dual black architectural shingles and are thrilled with how it looks. No more inconsistent patches or missing shingles! The remainder of the work is slated to kick off next week and we’ll be posting progress reports here and on instagram, so keep an eye out! We’ll be sipping our morning coffee out there in no time!
Thank you for reminding folks contractors (and their support staff) are people too! Of course don’t put up with garbage behavior but we are people with heavy work loads, sick kids, vacations, and all the stresses of work/life just like you the client.I can’t wait to see your refresh, especially the porch updates :)
Indeed you are. ????
I have had a similar experience on the NW side of the city with folks declining to bid or simply not returning calls to discuss projects. Sometimes it seems almost impossible to find someone who is available or interested given how much demand there is at the moment. Smaller projects are even tougher. It stinks when it is something you can’t or don’t want to DIY but also want to invest in for your home (or worse need repaired). As you said though, I have had the best experiences with folks in the neighborhood and it feels good to spend money there. We’ll definitely appreciate following along as we have been focusing on exterior updates also in the midst of all of this!
It can feel like a full time job trying to find someone, we feel you.
We are finally dealing with our poorly built front porch this month too! It’s been 9.5 years in our house and we always knew we’d need a complete rebuild, an amateur definitely “built” it. So many contractors wouldn’t take it on or quoted us way under (like less than materials would cost?!?) or so much it was impossible. We have a skilled craftsman starting next week! I am beyond excited!
Shoot, wish we would have known and we could’ve traded recommendations!
Actually I thought your house was very attractive, you pay such attention to the details. That being said, I can’t wait to see the after picture of your house! I have learned so much from your blog, and you have given me many ideas and great pointers, some I have pondered, others I have put into action in my own home. Thank you!
Finding a roofing company and deciding on material was such a project I’m not sure I could handle more than that at a time, haha. Once we decided on a metal roof and a company, the work itself took less than a week. I learned that the real hard part is finding the right people.
You’re absolutely right!
Given the current cost of lumber and long lead times, perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise to put those things off!
Also I have to comment on the little toy that is peeking out your tiny window at the top of the house :)
It’s our space man! https://yellowbrickhome.com/the-attic-window-blockormore/
I’m so excited to watch this progress! I love that you shared the process & your pivot too.
Do you share your preferred vendors for other locals? Would love to know who you went with.
Send us an email, we’re always happy to pass along contractor information if we love them!
It seems like you guys have had more than your fair share of extremely rude tradespeople this past year. I’m so sorry! I can’t wait to follow along for these updates!
Although not ideal for you, it’s so interesting to be able to read about your experience and thought process on dividing the project. It’s also exciting to see you take this on after living and loving your house for years rather than right away. Nothing wrong with doing it right away, but I certainly don’t have the means to fix everything right away, and it’s inspiring to see you guys continually improving your home while loving living there.
Are there any projects on your current list that will have to be changed in the future or done differently now to accommodate the future projects? Also, what material are you using for soffits? Is there some sort of LP Smartside product for that or will it be vinyl?
Again, can’t wait to follow along and all these rude contractors can put a sock in it.
Haha, thank you for making me laugh. The soffits will be metal, it’s just a very small return, although we debated using an alternate material. Once the team shows up for the job, they may have another suggestion, but that’s where we’re leaning right now. The real showstopper will be the tongue and groove and ceiling, and finally repairing all the damaged vinyl!
I cannot wait to see how your exterior refresh turns out. I love all that you and Scott do, so this is very exciting! Side note- I canNOT believe someone would tell a homeowner that their house/porch looks like crap! We live in a suburb outside of DC with similarly aging homes and small lots, so I get it. It’s not for everyone but these neighborhoods have so much charm and character to be appreciated.
I’ll take the charm and character any day!
So excited to follow this. We’re also in Logan Square and are just now tackling our back yard. Love that you guys are a few steps ahead. We’ve learned some valuable lessons and gotten tons of ideas from this blog!
Fun to see y’all working with LP! I’ve photographed dozens of projects for them and would have been thrilled to get assigned to yours!
Currently, only the back of our house has LP, but we can’t WAIT to install it on the other 3 sides! If only it wasn’t so difficult to find an installer…
now that i am a home owner (first ever and its an old house, too – 1898) i pay more attention to these kind of projects because MY porch and front steps are likely going to need total replace (steps) and/or porch (hoping not). but its not on the cards this year. bathroom needs attention as there is major rot around the tub (what we can see is awful.. i shudder at whats behind the tile wall and under the back of the tub …) but as our houses have a similar profile …it will be interesting to see what you do.
This is so exciting. I can’t wait to see what you pick out and to follow along. Your two flat exterior turned out so well. I am about to sign a contract for our siding replacement in Chicago (replacing the vinyl with HardieBoard). Getting quotes and vetting contractors was stressful and time consuming. I’m looking forward to following along with your project.
We can’t wait until the next step of insulation and siding. Excited for you!
I’m actually surprised that you got a half dozen contractors to come out for a visit. People are so busy these days, many don’t even answer their phones. I hope the project is a success!
It was weeks – months?! – of setting up meetings. Not for the faint of heart, haha.
Of utmost importance: Get rid of the vinyl siding ASAP! The problem is you may be opening up a can of worms but oh so worth it in the end! I replaced mine with pre-painted Hardie siding and it looks amazing! Can’t wait to see the results of your exterior project.