We see a lot of concrete porches, especially on older homes (1950s-1970s for sure). If I had to guess, that’s about the time the prior owners poured our front porch. The thing is, no one likes the look of a concrete porch, so I’m often getting asked “how do we make it look better?” Here are some approaches and what I see as the pros and cons of each:
Painting the concrete porch
Cheap and easy, right? Well maybe, if it’s clean and dry, but good luck getting the paint to stick. Where people walk is going to wear the quickest, but the paint is bound to bubble and flake all over. When I was growing up, our 1950s ranch had a painted stoop. It was my job to sit there with a wire brush and get all the loose paint off so my dad could repaint it. Miserable.
PROS: cheap, doesn’t require much skill
CONS: you better like scraping and painting because you’ll be doing it every year or two
Putting stone or tile or brick over the concrete porch
Adding a veneer over the porch can look great, but you need a mason who’s good. Someone who is willing to really look at the existing conditions and will tell you if it’s a bad idea. Here’s what I look for when someone asks me if they can veneer a front porch or stoop:
- Is the concrete in good condition? If the edges are crumbling, the face is spalling or flaking off, or there are significant cracks and signs of settlement, your porch is a bad candidate for a veneer. Any issues like these will telegraph up through the mortar bed and you’ll end up with loose stones, failed joints, and sometimes even stones (or tiles) that are cracked right across the middle.
- Is the concrete pitched away from the house? You’d think you’d want the porch floor dead level, but keep in mind that concrete doesn’t let water drain through the way a deck does. If the porch is poured flat, the mason can usually make that up with a thicker mortar bed closer to the house, but if the porch is pitched towards the house – that’s a problem.
- Do we have enough room for stone under the door threshold? This is the one that no one seems to think about before they ask me. Flagstone is at least 1″ thick, and the mortar bed is at least 1/2″. If the threshold sits right on the porch, veneering the current porch is not an option.
- What does stone veneer do to the heights of the steps down from the porch? Let’s say you have three 6″ steps from your front walk to your porch. We add flagstone on a mortar bed, and now as you walk up to your porch, your steps are 6″, 6″, 7.5+”. Can’t do it. Code requires the steps be within 3/8″ of each other. So we add stone to each of the steps, right? Now they’re all 6″ steps again EXCEPT for the first step (which is 7.5″). Know that you may need to redo your steps or modify your front walk to make veneer work.
- What do the sides of the porch look like? If you keep the sides concrete, you’ll see concrete all the way up, then an ugly mortar joint, and then the stonework. For your “new” porch to look its best, you need to consider veneering the sides as well.
PROS: looks amazing, can hide some sins in the concrete pour
CONS: expensive, requires skilled labor, base has to be right
These are two of the most common approaches we take. I hope that helps steer your decision. If the porch is something you’re exploring as part of a project to make the rest of your landscape mah-velous, give us a call at 703-679-8550 today to schedule a consultation!