Robert Lamoureux: balcony railing replacement and support post safety

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Question No. 1

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your column. I read it faithfully. I’ve even been able to help my husband with things I’ve learned from you. So, I need to have all the trim and the balcony railing redone. We are determining if we should use PVC material — our fence and gates are made of this. Or would it be better to enclose it with stucco? Some of our neighbors have done this. What do you think is the better alternative? And, of course, can you make recommendations for a reliable company?

We’ve been at this home for 23 years. As we approach 70, our days could be numbered in a two-story house. We’ve enjoyed the size, pool and location.

Thank you for your help.


Answer No. 1


Thank you for being a loyal reader of The Signal. Either way you go, you must get a permit. If you do stucco, the city has to inspect the nailing for proper support of the lath due to the weight of the stucco. The rail will need to be framed properly to accept the weight of the stucco. At the top of the rail — should you decide stucco — be sure they apply a waterproof membrane to cover the rail cap. This will prevent rot as the paper fails. It seems that your framing is not strong enough. If you decide to go with vinyl fencing, the city also has to be involved for the proper installation of the new product being this is a two-story balcony. Some cities will accept only pre-approved manufactured systems or they require engineering specs.

As far as choice, this is a personal decision for you. Either way you go, this will look nicer than the dated slats.


Question No. 2

I have a home in Canyon Country that dates back to the 1970s. I’m an avid reader who’s learned a lot from you. Thank you for my newfound knowledge and confidence. I’ve opened up a wall and found a 4×4 post that had two 2x4s nailed together and resting on top of the 4×4, supporting another horizontal piece of wood. My question to you is: Should I leave it like this? Is this proper and even structurally safe/sound? Shouldn’t those two 2x4s be one solid 4×4, due to earthquake safety?


Mike B.

Answer No. 2

Mike, you are 100% correct. This needs to be a proper repair for safety. There is no way an inspector would pass such a thing. You’ll need to shore this up first. If you have read my articles, you’ll know how to do this. If not, let me know, and I can walk you through it. Go to your local big box store or lumber yard and show them a photo of the situation. They’ll let you know which connector you’ll need. They’re typically called a Simpson Clip or Simpson Connector. Get this all changed out and use the proper connector for the application, and you’ll have a new, secure structure. Be sure that the new 4×4 is in tight, you do not want any play that will cause drywall cracks in the future. Even if you have to jack this up slightly to get the new post in tight, do so. Do not, of course, raise this area at all, but you may have to play with it a bit to get it wedged in there good and tight. Use proper lags to secure it with the Simpson Clips.

If you have any questions along the way, feel free to reach out.

Good luck,


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