Q&A / 

Screen Porch

All you have to do is come to my old neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio any month of the summer, and you can see why a screen porch is a great idea. The mosquitoes and flies are ferocious and make life miserable. The second home Kathy and I owned had a marvelous screened porch that we would sit on for hours by ourselves and then with our first child Meghan when she entered the world. It was also a wonderful place to relax with our friends and relatives.

Screen porches are popular in many areas of the USA. They are called by different names in different regions. For example, in Florida you might call one a lanai or a lanai enclosure. If you've never seen a Florida lanai, they are something to behold. Many are fabulous two-story screened enclosures that provide a wide-open feeling as if you're in the real outdoors sans bugs! Many Floridians install these screened enclosures over their swimming pools as well.

To screen a porch, you have to have a certain amount of skills assuming you want to do the job yourself. If that's not your plan, all you need to do is have a professional give you an estimate. There are many ways to achieve this, some of them very unique. One method I saw years ago consists of custom-measured screens that fit the openings on your porch. They attach to the horizontal beams and vertical posts with Velcro TM. This allows you to remove them when the screens are not needed. It also allows you to have a better view, as even the best and finest screens limit clear vistas.

This Velcro TM system also offered clear-plastic panels in case you wanted to cut down on wind and try to use the outdoor porch as a three-season room. That was a very nifty idea in my book.

You may want to discover how to screen a porch. To build a screen porch from scratch is a big task. One of the best ones I ever did started out as an ordinary outdoor deck. The architect drew the screen-porch plans with a treated-wood deck up off the ground about 30 inches. This way the floor of the screen porch was even with the first floor of the home. I then installed 4x4 wood posts at each corner and intermediate posts on each wall. On top of those were beams that supported a spacious hip roof that was left exposed. When painted a light gray, the underside of the roof look very good.

Screen porch designs are virtually unlimited. If you can dream it, in all likelihood it can be built. If you decide to go with a traditional design that calls for wood frames, be sure these frames are primed and painted on all sides and edges before the screening company installs the screening. A common mistake is to allow the frames to be screened then painted. If you do this, water will flow down the screens and soak into the  unpainted wood. This will cause premature failure of the paint and possibly wood rot.

An aluminum screen porch is probably the best way to go. They require virtually no maintenance, and they can be fabricated at a factory. Typically a salesman takes measurements of what you want, and then the screen panels and any support structure is computer designed. Your screen porch comes as a kit that professional installers can install in a day or less. The aluminum comes in different colors, so you can usually match just about any color scheme you have on your current home.

When you start to settle on your screen-porch design, don't make the fatal error I've seen so many times. All too often people make their screen porches too small. When you look at a plan and see what appears to be a massive 10-foot by 12-foot space, you think that's a great size. In reality, that's very small.

The best way I've discovered to size a screen porch is to take existing chairs and tables that you have and set them on your patio. If you desire to have a table with chairs, set that up as well making sure you love the arrangement and there is comfortable space between all the furniture. Then take a tape measure and see what the dimensions would be around this assortment of furniture. My guess is that you'll quickly discover that a screen porch should probably be 14 feet by 18 feet in size.

No matter what outdoor screen porch you build at your home, get ready to enjoy it. Be sure to plan for electric and some way to install an overhead paddle fan or other fans to move air. If you live in a humid environment, you'll want to be able to create a cooling breeze in the event Mother Nature takes the night off.

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