Q&A / 

Create a Utility Screened Porch

DEAR TIM: I have a wood deck that receives intense sunshine during the middle and late part of the afternoon. Mosquitoes and flies that call my backyard home also pester us constantly when we are on the deck. I would love to solve both problems at once but still maintain the open feeling of the deck. What would you do if you were suffering as I am? Helplessly hoping I remain, Paul S., St. Louis, MO

DEAR PAUL: Several years ago, I solved a similar problem for a woman who had the most splendid patio surrounded by a garden. She was sensitive to the sun and hated to be bothered by bugs. But, she wanted lots of light and an unobstructed view of the garden in the spring and fall when the sun and bugs were not a problem. The solution, that I devised, was a screened-in porch structure that had easily removable screens. My customer was able to transform the screened-in porch to an open air pavilion within a matter of minutes.

screened-in porch - curved screen panels

This is a very neat screened-in porch that is built on a deck. The curved screen panels add a very nice touch.

The first thing you need to do, before you embark on a project such as this, is to make sure it is okay with your local zoning and building officials. Many zoning codes permit you to install patios close to property lines but not necessarily an open structure that has a roof. Once you have obtained the necessary zoning approvals, you can proceed with your final design.

Perhaps the best way to envision this structure, without the screens in place, is a simple pole barn or a picnic shelter commonly found in many city or state parks. These structures typically have 9 or 10 foot high columns or posts that are firmly attached to the ground. This height helps produce the open feeling you desire. Simple beams span from post to post. The roof rafters rest on these beams. If you really want to brighten the inside of the structure, consider adding two or three affordable skylights that face away from direct sunlight.

This structure does not have to connect in any way to your house. In fact, a free standing structure is easier to build. You will need a screen door or two that allows you to get in and out of the structure when the screens are in place. Even these doors can be hinged, so that they are removable in a matter of minutes.

Recently, I found a product that makes the screen removal and installation process a breeze. The screens are attached to the structure with Velcro™ strips that allow you to either roll the screens up and out of the way or totally remove them for long term storage. This system was not available when I built the porch for my customer. I had custom wood screened panels built that fit in between the support columns. I attached the wood panels to the posts with stainless steel screws. The screws allowed my customer to quickly remove or install the panels as needed. The Velcro™ system has an added benefit. You can also order clear plastic panels that allow you to extend your outdoor relaxation periods. These panels are effective crystal-clear wind screens that allow you to see into and beyond your yard while you warm yourself with an outdoor freestanding fireplace or heater. These clear panels also are applied with the same Velcro™ fastening system.

vaulted ceiling screened in porch

Here is the same porch seen from the ground. Note the vaulted ceiling and the triangular screen panels that allow heat to readily escape from the underside of the roof.

The underside of the roof structure does not need to be finished. In fact, the open rafter look is very interesting. It looks much better if you paint the underside of the roof a light gray. The biggest challenge might be running electricity to the structure. I highly recommend one or two paddle fans, a few convenience outlets and possibly some soft indirect lighting that bounces light up off the underside of the roof for casual and cozy evening enjoyment. Be sure the electric is inspected by local code officials.

Be aware that this structure must be wind resistant. Use readily available metal clips that connect the roof rafters to the beams. You should also use common metal framing connectors that allow you to firmly attach the beams to the posts. Finally, use post connectors to lock the posts to the wood deck or possibly a concrete patio. Wind is a hazard with open structures. It can actually rush into the structure, push up against the underside of the roof and collapse a part of and/or the entire structure. The metal connectors will prevent wind damage.


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