The Case for the Open-Air Porch
A screened porch, John Paulin says, brings the indoors outside. An open porch brings the outdoors inside.
Lighting extends the time homeowners can, and will, use an outdoor structure such as an open porch.
All the amenities that can be brought into a screened porch—electrical outlets, lighting, fans, a fireplace—can also be included in an open porch.
The greatest advantage of the open porch over screens is a view.
In recent years, probably 75% of the projects we’ve built have included a screened porch. But recently I’m seeing significant newfound interest in open-air porches in my suburban Atlanta business. Open-air porches are currently one of the hottest requests from my clients. They offer desirable features for homeowners and sales opportunities for contractors.
Hooked on a Feeling
From the standpoint of materials and design, a key difference between a screened porch and an open-air porch is the door and screening. Eliminate fiberglass screens and screen stops and you have a small cost difference of about $5 per square foot, not including the cost of a door. On a 12-foor-by-14-foot porch, with 8-foot porch walls, for instance, the savings on an open-air porch versus one with screens would total $1,260. You also don’t need the landing and railings for the landing, which might save an additional $500.
But the real difference is in how that structure feels. With an open porch, you have an unimpeded view. You can cook there, since screens don’t hold the smoke in. The floor area — minus walls — feels bigger. If it’s connected to an adjoining deck — a project we often build — one space flows seamlessly into the next. The way I explain it to clients is this: With a screened porch, you’re bringing the indoors outside. With an open porch, you’re bringing the outdoors inside.
In the past two years, we’ve built many different styles of open porches, including porches with gable roofs, shed roofs, hip roofs, and the latest, flat roofs. Variations are numerous and typically homeowners want their porch painted, stained, or some combination of the two.
All of the desirable amenities of a screened porch can be built into an open porch, including electrical outlets, ceiling fan/light kit, TV, audio speakers, and a fireplace. Another plus is that because it’s under a roof, the floor and railing aren’t exposed to the elements as they are on a deck. That means you can specify classy woods to give the structure a natural look and feel, without the homeowner having to invest significant time and expense in maintenance.
The look is important. I urge clients to go for high-grade lumber with vertical grain. We work directly with sawmills to get that. We have it machined on the surfaces with rounded corners and tapered sides. But a roof is going to protect even the standard entry-level pressure-treated wood and extend the aesthetics for a long time. The result is a good-looking project that invites homeowners to make use of it.
Bugs & Privacy
Screens are popular because they ensure privacy and keep mosquitoes out. That doesn’t mean that without screens you’re inviting in bugs and prying eyes. If the open-air porch feels too public and your client wants a little privacy from neighbors, install a sliding curtain as a separator. A curtain adds color, texture, and versatility to a porch.
And homeowners can fend off bugs with citronella candles, as well as lighting.
Soft lights on steps, along railings, and on the porch roof will promote greater use of the deck.
We install LED lights instead of incandescent lights. Some LED bulbs do not attract bugs or they attract fewer bugs. We’ve come across a couple of LEDs that are being advertised as bug-repellent lights.
Lighting extends the time that an outdoor structure is in use. And use is the metric for success. You want that porch to be attractive and well-designed, but as much as anything, you want homeowners to feel that their money was well spent.
—John Paulin owns Tailor Decks, in Statham, Ga. Reach him at email@example.com.
More REMODELING articles about porches:
Now Screening: Screened porch designs
All Hands on Deck: Upgrading decks to screened porches
Making Room: Sunspace offers sunroom variety and customization