Saturday, September 20, 2003

Screened porches make sense

Popularity of bug-free, rain-free enclosures increasing as homeowners look for extra living space

By Elizabeth Betts Hickman
The (Nashville) Tennessean

The screened porch is coming back as house styles continue to change.

In the 1950s and '60s, the screened porch fell out of favor. In later decades, decks were big before people realized that it's often too hot to really use them.

Now, according to builders and real estate agents, screened porches are becoming valuable assets when it comes to the appeal of both new and existing homes.

The National Association of Home Builders says that in 1992, 42 percent of new, single-family homes had a porch; in 2002, the figure was 49 percent.

In absolute numbers, "that's a big increase," says Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of economics for the Washington-based trade group.

We're getting a tremendous amount of requests for screened porches," says builder Gene Edwards of Nashville (Tenn.) Construction Co. "I think even on smaller houses a lot of people are wanting them. They love that scenic feeling of sitting out there and not being bothered by bugs."

Nashville architect Bryant Glasgow has designed a lot of new homes with screened porches, but he's partial to the large one he designed and had built for his own family's 1927 Tudor-style home.

He used charcoal-colored aluminum mesh. "It almost disappears," he says, and tends to hold up longer than the Fiberglas screening. There's also a ceiling fan, plenty of outlets and recessed lighting.

Glasgow says adding skylights is a good way to make a screened porch function better, and don't make the mistake of making your porch too small. It needs to be at least 12 feet deep to accommodate a seating group, and Glasgow recommends adding a broad overhang to keep the porch dry during storms.

Add plenty of multiple circuits that will accept dimmers, too. "Lamps and furniture make it feel like a room," he says.

It's also important to design the screens large enough so the porch feels open, says builder Edwards. The technology and materials are available to have spans of 5 feet or more, so he suggests finding someone who can install the big sections properly.

Porches with fireplaces are in demand, according to builders and real estate agents. Adding one often adds thousands to the cost of a porch, but the benefit is a room that can be used on all but the most bitter days.

Before you decide to build

If you're eyeing an existing space for a screened porch, keep these points in mind:

Planning pays. More than likely, you'll need a building permit and perhaps zoning permission, and you might need permission from your neighborhood association.

Start with a firm foundation. Most decks won't support the weight of a roof, wall supports and screens. A reputable builder will evaluate your deck and possibly add footers, or might even recommend tearing the deck off and starting from scratch. Make certain the new porch is properly supported and built so it won't separate from your house over time or even collapse.

Do your homework. Check builders' references and licensing, check with the Better Business Bureau, and ask to see projects similar to yours that they've completed.

Consider the roof. You always can match the material that's on the roof of your home for a seamless look, or you can choose a contrasting material (like metal) that will distinguish it.

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