Eichler Beam Repair

One of the hallmarks of Eichler homes is the post-and-beam construction.  When it’s in good shape, it’s a nice architectural feature.  However, when neglected, the beams can quickly deteriorate.  Some of the beams in our house were in such bad shape they needed to be replaced (like in the office and above the garage door).  Others only had a little bit of rot and could be saved after a little beam surgery.  Hopefully we are finished replacing beams and can devote ourselves fully to beam repair.

Here’s the beam over the garage on the corner of our house- my first attempt at beam repair (much of the rotten part is actually inside the garage in a hard-to-see corner).  It’s the same corner that had a serious leak when we moved in and everything but the beam was replaced when we replaced the garage door.  It’s actually a pretty short beam- it only runs about 4 feet into the garage- I think it’s mostly decorative and not so structural.

This is the exterior side of the beam which is still exposed, even with the roof extension.  You can see the bottom was in pretty bad shape (I scraped out some of the soft wood with a putt knife).  The other side of the beam was actually in worse shape.  Luckily it’s now covered by the roof extension (and the roof is no longer leaking).

On the recommendation of our neighbor (another Eichler home owner), we used the Rot Doctor’s Restor-It system.  All together it was about $60 from Jackson’s hardware in San Rafael- but considering the severity or the rot, I don’t think my trusty “everyday”  Elmer’s wood filler ($8/tub from Home Depot) would hold.  Also, $60 is very reasonable in comparison to the cost and labor involved in replacing a beam (and doesn’t require big strong men nor a kitchen table on the front yard).

The first step is to apply the Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer- it’s a 2-part mixture (I mixed equal parts in a glass measuring cup reserved especially for chemicals).  It’s supposed to stop further rot and also harden the existing wood.  In theory, if you don’t stop the rot, there could be mold spores in the wood that continue to rot the wood after you fill it, causing a continuous repair cycle.  I know this because I read the entire brochure that came with the sealer.  It can also act as a primer for rotted wood, which I haven’t tried yet.  I can say from experience that paint bubbles when you cut corners and paint directly over rotted wood- even if you use primer first, so I’ll probably be testing this priming feature pretty soon.

You are supposed to apply it with a natural bristle brush (I used a foam brush which it says NOT to use, but I didn’t see that instruction until after I did it- everything seemed ok though).  When you apply it, it soaks in quite a bit and leaves the wood looking wet:

It really stinks (I used a respirator when applying it) and takes a few days to dry.  At this point you could prime and paint- but it wouldn’t be pretty given I dug away the soft wood with my painter’s tool … so the next step is to apply the flexible epoxy filler.  Again it’s a 2-part system where you mix equal parts from 2 separate jars:

I used a plastic putty knife and eyeballed approximately equal amounts of the two parts (cleaning the putty knife in between), applying it to a piece of scrap wood (my palette).  It says you can be off by up to 10% in your 50/50 (by volume) mixture, so it seems to be an inexact science.  The cream colored part (A) has a plasticy texture and the blue part (B) is a little more paste-like.  I used the putty knife to thoroughly mix the two together.  For some reason, I’ve been afraid of using a 2-part wood-filling system, but I actually like it a lot- every time you mix up some new filler it’s like getting brand new container of filler (no crusty old filler)!  It is a little bit more work though- you have to mix each time you need more (In the end, I used about 4-times what is shown in the picture, so I had to mix it in about 4 batches- the instructions warn against mixing more than you can use immediately- I really took that to heart).  Application is very similar to any other wood filler- I just used my metal painter’s tool (a putty knife with a funky shape)- though my neighbor uses a plastic sheet and a squeegee.  The texture is a bit more like bubble gum or silly putty than regular wood filler, but it takes enough time to dry that you can really work with it without worrying about it hardening on you right away.  It dries a bit harder than regular wood putty (which I guess is a good thing)- but that means it’s more work to sand.  I used my trusty Rigid R2300 random orbital sander and it seemed to work pretty well.  Here it is after I applied it:

On this side of the beam where the hole to be filled is a little deeper, I considered filling it in 2 stages, letting the first filling dry first before doing a second filling- but because it’s mostly hidden once the siding is installed (the left/back part of the beam is inside the garage), I just did my best with one application and the sander.  Here it is after sanding, priming and painting:

Here’s the other side of the beam:

It definitely looks much better- and I have high hopes that it will stay looking this good for a long time.  As we continue to replace the siding we’re finding spots in the fascia that need the same treatment, so maybe I’ll try our neighbor’s squeegee method next!