The porch beckons to every generation. For a child, it is
a dry place to play when it is raining. For a young couple, it is a quiet
spot to catch
up on each
other’s day. Busy professionals find it a low-stress answer to
casual entertaining. Retirees enjoy their morning coffee and the newspaper
the porch. Upon occasion, Nancy Moore of the Porch Company in Nashville,
even includes a special ledge for the family cat.
Size and Location
A shallow front porch can bring a warm, welcoming sense to a home. But Design
Basics Custom Home Designer Carl Cuozzo reports most people want their
back porches to be 8 - 10 feet deep, so they can easily arrange a table
According to Moore, the average porch today runs between 300 and 350 square
A south-facing porch may be ideal in a cooler northern state, but foolish
in Arizona. “Locating a porch on the south side of a home may also reduce
the amount of direct light that enters the adjacent room,” notes Cuozzo. “You
can get around this somewhat by making the porch taller, but you need to remember
that a taller porch will offer less protection when it’s windy or raining.
Because a home receives indirect light on the north side, a northern porch
won’t affect light inside the home as much.
“The porch’s effect on the home’s view is another consideration,
especially if you want to use longer windows in the bordering room. One solution
is to design the porch off to the side so it doesn’t interfere with a
great room’s view, for instance. Of course, that’s not a big deal
if there isn’t a particularly impressive view in the first place.
“Popular in the 1920s, screened sleeping porches are enjoying a resurgence.
They offer a way to relive simpler times, enjoy fresh air and relish the great
outdoors. Of course, in our day they may require a second-story location for
security purposes and they’re more common in quiet, private settings,
away from the city.”
“Outdoor kitchens with built-in grills, refrigerators
and sinks are in demand,” Moore
says, “but I often suggest homeowners consider less permanent fixtures
than stone grills and countertops. Many of them can remember their parents’ 1950s
brick grill that sat in the back yard for 40 years before somebody finally
demolished it. So I like to build these elements out of wood that can easily
be rolled away when they become dated.”
“There are outdoor kitchen units available that function without outdoor
plumbing,” Cuozzo adds. “Just hook your potable drinking hose up
to it, and you have a sink, grill and refrigerator ready to go. Bars with stools
are also common.
“Fireplaces on porches continue to be a ‘hot’ item. Heat & Glo
makes a see-through fireplace with one side on the inside of the house and
the other on the outside. You can also put wood-burning boxes outside with
a hearth and chimney.”
Moore agrees: “We’re installing a fireplace on every third porch,
though in actuality, they provide more beauty and ambience than function. If
you get close to the fire, you’ll feel a little warmer, but you just
can’t heat a room without walls.”
Who says you’re too old for a tree house?
photo courtesy of www.AtlantaDecking.com
In addition to traditional tongue-and-groove wood floors, homeowners can
choose from a variety of flooring materials including brick, stone, tile,
composites and concrete. Budget, maintenance, the porch’s foundation
and the style of the home all need to be considered when choosing a floor.
“Pier-and-beam foundations typically support wood porches,” explains
Moore. “Masonry floors usually require masonry foundations. If you use
a wood foundation for a masonry floor, you’ll really have to beef it
up so it doesn’t move.
“For heavier tile and stone flooring, the structure needs to be specially
formed to hold the weight and sloped well to allow water run-off. An additional
sub floor may also be required. Concrete slab foundations, standard in most
new homes, are perfect for tile, stone and brick.”
“Notwithstanding foundation cost, concrete is the cheapest flooring
you can use,” notes Cuozzo. “And it’s very versatile. The
only negative I’ve heard is that stamping can get really slick because
water stays in the crevices – especially problematic in areas with freezing
temperatures. Another option is to use colored concrete with a cut pattern
and a brushed finish as accents. Of course, coloring and cutting adds to the
cost. Tile can also become slick when wet.
“Low-maintenance composites are very popular. TimberTek® now offers
expanded color choices, including the old gray ‘battleship’ color
so many porches used to have.
“In the Midwest, a lot of people still choose real cedar and put a finish
on it,” continues Cuozzo. “They like the old porch feel you get
with the ‘clickclack’ sounds.”
“Ninety percent of the time, we use a tongue-and-groove cypress floor
in Tennessee,” Moore remarks. “It looks like an interior floor;
it’s easier to maintain; and it’s low cost. The only time we don’t
use it is if the porch is really low to the ground – making a masonry
floor more appropriate.
“No matter what material you use, the floor must be sloped and have
a drainage system so that water won’t stand on it,” Moore continues. “As
long as water runs off, you can use cypress, yellow pine, spruce or cedar and
it won’t rot. Of course, we always seal our floors with a good penetrating,
Since one of the most popular times to use porches is in the evening, good
lighting is essential. The Porch Company utilizes a variety of techniques. “Because
many of the porches we do have vaulted ceilings with exposed rafters, there’s
no cavity for recessed can lighting,” says Moore. “So we mount
lights on the porch’s posts. “We usually have a collar type structural
beam on the ceiling; we put track lights on top of that column and shine
them upward. This highlights the pretty ceiling and the light shines down,
providing a nice, soft ambient lighting.
“Finally, we mount an outlet on top of the header where you can’t
see it, making it easy for homeowners to string Christmas lights. The outlet
is controlled by a switch so homeowners can easily turn them on and off. “Our
clients can create different moods because we always put the lights on separate
dimmer switches,” Moore adds.
The right furniture, properly arranged adds comfort and style to any porch.
Moore is not fond of built-ins. “Even though they work well in tight
spaces, I tend to advise against them because they limit you to one arrangement.
One of the beauties of porches is they’re so versatile. Sometimes I
set my own porch up with four small dinner tables, and other times I create
a single seating area.”
Textile companies are broadening that versatility. With new
weather resistant fabrics, homeowners no longer have to settle for uncomfortable
or pull in all the furniture every time rain threatens. Instead, the porch
easily becomes an outdoor refuge, with the comfort and style of the indoors.
A few final considerations can impact comfort. The first: to screen or not
to screen. “Open-air porches have a more formal, dressy appearance; you
rarely see a screened porch in the front of the home,” says Moore. “But
even if it’s a back porch, you may not choose to screen it if you live
in a locale where bugs aren’t too much of a problem. If you can sit out
on your porch at 5 o’clock at night and not get eaten up, then great!
Go with an open-air porch. If not, build a screened-in porch.”
Although some homeowners may
prefer permanent screened porches to keep bugs out, companies like Phantom™ Screens offer an alternative. With options for
screen doors, windows and porches, these screens can roll away at the touch
of a button to allow guests to enjoy a better view.
“Fans can also keep bugs away. Mosquitoes don’t fly against the
wind,” Moore notes. “Of course, they provide a refreshing breeze
as well. We often include both overhead and wall-mounted fans. Homeowners can
still augment them with fans on stands to get right down at the seating level.
As an added bonus, fans are now available in a wide range of stylish looks
from vintage to contemporary.”
The NanaWall® can give a porch extra flexibility. This large glass folding
system closes to create a weather-tight sunroom in the winter and opens up
to become an outdoor porch for summer entertaining. The NanaScreen, a collapsible
pleated screen system on a single floor track, complements the NanaWall; the
NanaWall brings the outdoors in and the NanaScreen keeps the insects out. Every
NanaWall is custom made to a homeowner’s specifications. Prices vary
depending on materials and design configuration.
Relaxing on a porch is a simple pastime, but with the wealth of options available
today, planning one can require some time and research. To ensure a satisfying
outcome, Moore recommends hiring a company that specializes in porch construction,
getting a fixed bid and working off a detailed set of plans.