Exterior trim elements are what make a “house” a “home.” Rip the ornate porch and corbeled soffit off of a classic New Orleans Shotgun, for example, and what you’re left with might as well be a trailer. Giving these beautiful, vulnerable pieces the fortitude to stand up to the constant onslaught of nature is labor intensive and requires occasional maintenance. But experience has taught me that if you do it right the first time, they will enjoy a long and happy life.

As a case in point, I was recently asked to repair a handrail on the front porch of a 19th century Italianate home in our town’s central historic district. A unique feature of this rail was how it wrapped around the porch column, rather than simply butting up to it. Although the design was beautiful, the manner in which it was assembled had left it vulnerable to moisture intrusion; the joint where the rail sections attached to the column was obviously problematic, but it wasn’t until I excavated the damage that I discovered that the bullnose edges were separate pieces, nailed and glued on. With all of those vertical joints solely dependent on caulk or glue to shed water, it’s no surprise that rot eventually found a foothold.

Fortunately in this instance, the rot was limited to the area immediately surrounding one of the columns. In consultation with the homeowner, we decided to make the necessary repairs as durable as possible and come up with a plan to inspect the remaining porch parts on a regular basis to prevent further damage.

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