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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


The Neat Retreat: The Benefits of Converting Your Deck Into a Screened-In Porch

Suzanne Oliver
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Susan Herin's Back Porch

 Image: Susan Herin

I’m not one for roughing it. I prefer a plush bed to a tent, a wine glass to a canteen, and a gas grill to a campfire.

Spoiled? Naturally. I like my great outdoors to look more like a five-star hotel than the rugged, rough country.

Obviously, I’m all for bringing the indoors out. All across the country, property owners are turning their back yards into luxurious retreats — an extension of their homes, complete with outdoor kitchens, shaded living rooms and activity-packed playgrounds. Why trot inside for a frosty beverage when you have a mini fridge right next to the pool? Why cash out on the couch when you can snooze on a hanging daybed swaying in the afternoon breeze? Looks like I’m not the only spoiled one determined to enjoy the finer things in life, folks.

One of those little treats is undoubtedly a screened-in porch. After building one onto the back of our old house, my parents vowed they would never again live without such a convenience. And in the South, where they live, it’s useful nearly all year-round. They outfitted their extra space with a glider, dining set, weatherproof cushions and the quintessential tiki bar. The basics, really.

Susan Herin, the blogger behind BetweenNapsonthePorch.net, is also pleased as punch with her $22,000 addition. The dilapidated deck on her 30-year-old home was beyond repair, so she had a contractor build a screened-in porch measuring 18 by 14 by 12 feet. “I wanted a traditional porch with an old-fashioned feel, the kind of porch where you could spend lazy afternoons sipping sweet iced tea with friends or alone reading, napping and enjoying the breezes,” she writes in a post. The kind of porch with sheers lining the windows, a china cabinet and white, wicker furniture.

Before: Herin’s old deck

So how do you convert a deck into a porch? First, it’s important to decide exactly what you want to do in the space. Do you want an old-fashioned porch swing? Do you want your new space to seamlessly flow from your kitchen? Just be sure to match the exterior of the porch to the exterior of your house, so it doesn’t look like an afterthought.

For Herin, her list of must-haves included lots of roomy seating and a place to dine. “Don’t follow the same exact footprint of your deck; go bigger,” she advises. No one ever wishes they had opted for a smaller porch, she adds. “It’s important to read and research a lot in the planning stage, because you don’t want to spend money adding a screened-in porch [only] to realize later you left out something you really wanted,” she writes in a post titled “9 Great Features for Your Screened-In Porch.”

“I’ve been asked before why I didn’t [just] add on a sunroom,” she continues. “That’s a little like asking a person why they bought a convertible car when they could have a hardtop. I really wanted a porch, not another cooled and heated space.”

After: Herin’s Screened-In Porch

Herin’s list of necessities also included soft lighting (meaning plenty of outlets for lamps), outdoor speakers and ceiling fans. The latter adds “so much ambiance and romance to the porch,” she writes. “Even when it’s not that hot outside, I’ll turn on the fans at their lowest setting just to enjoy their slow movement as they gently circle overhead. … Be sure to buy exterior grade fans. You can get away with interior grade fans — for about a year. But before long, the heat and humidity will cause the blades to droop. … Also, the housing and inner parts of the fan may rust and cease to work.”

These amenities are pretty standard conveniences, but others may want to splurge on a fireplace, Jacuzzi or big-screen TV. Why not add a piece of furniture that’s typically reserved for the inside, such as hutch, console table or day bed? The idea is to make it sing with personal style and comfort.

There’s one thing most homeowners can agree on — screened-in porches are a great way to avoid being eaten alive by mosquitoes. “You can sit out there any time of day and not worry about bugs,” Herin says. There is one hidden glitch though. Wooden floors have small cracks where insects can crawl up in between the boards. To combat the problem, Herin suggests the tile flooring, a popular choice these days, or what she had installed, KDAT or Kiln Dried After Treatment. The pressure-treated pine is jointed using tongue and groove, plus it won’t warp. Otherwise, you’ll have to screen under the flooring to keep the pests out, she says.

Seeing as they don’t require insulation or HVAC systems, screened-in porches are fairly simple to erect in a matter of weeks. Check with your municipality and homeowner’s association first to acquire a building permit and approval. You may want to tackle the project with hammers slinging or simply hire a contractor. Many companies can wrestle the plumbing for the wet bar and the electrical outlets all in one. It all depends on how much you want to spend and how dirty you want to get.

Screened-in porches are the epitome of a smart investment. Not only do they increase resale value and curb appeal, but you’ll also use it more than a deck or patio. Gone are the days of sweating like a pig on a spit exposed to the direct sun and its hot rays. You can enjoy the fresh air and backdoor views without having to worry about rain or bugs. And it goes without saying that the porch is a great spot to entertain, dine and simply relax.

When it comes to size, try putting the furniture you’re going to use in your yard. Then create “walls” with string. Invite some friends over to sit in your chairs or around your table, and see if your grouping allows enough room. You’ll be able to estimate how large your porch should be when the seating and table arrangements feel comfortable.

“If you have the room and your house will allow, go ‘up’ in your design. Raise the ceiling. It will make a smaller porch feel much bigger, plus it really helps the porch feel even cooler. Height will add to that airy, summer-breeze feeling you are seeking.” — Susan Herin, BetweenNapsonthePorch.net

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