Front Porch Construction
Please read the column and think about the front porches you've had the pleasure of sitting on. Then go to the bottom of the column and read what Virginia sent me. Emails like Virginia's really make me smile.
Front Porch Construction - Probably Not DIY
DEAR TIM: The house I grew up in had a covered front porch. A few of the houses I owned after getting married also had this wonderful accessory. It seems that large covered front porches are being kicked to the curb by architects and builders. How do you feel about them and why do you feel we don’t see more of them on new homes? If you were building a new house, what do you feel would be the perfect front porch? Fiona P., Nashville, TN
It appears Fiona and I had a very similar experience with homes. My childhood home had a quaint small covered front porch that measured about 10 or 11 feet wide and projected out from the front wall about 6 feet. The floor was poured concrete and it doubled as the roof of a storage room down in our basement. It was always very cold down in that room in the winter as the ceiling, walls, and floor were concrete!
I remember our insulated milk storage box next to the front door as well as the aluminum chairs with the interlaced webbing my Dad would sit on. I also have great memories of my sister and her girlfriends giggling on the porch in the summer as they gossiped about boys trying to win their favors.
Front Porches Common on Older Homes
My first two houses had wonderful covered front porches. They were pretty much standard on most old homes built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Things cost less back then. Labor was cheap.
Porches Protect Front Doors
Front porches are such wonderful things. I happen to like them because they do a fantastic job of keeping front doors dry. Water is the enemy of all wood-framed homes and doors are great places for water to leak into a home. There are all sorts of products and methods builders can use to eliminate water leaks around and under exterior doors, but more and more I see that most don’t know how to do it. It’s a crying shame.
Build a large enough front porch and you can have an old-fashioned porch swing. I don’t know that I can imagine a more delightful way to spend a summer evening.
Kids can play board games - yes, it’s still possible in today’s digital world! - on a covered porch during a soft summer rain shower. You can sit on one and listen to distant train whistles and the humming of tires on interstate highway pavement. There are countless things you can do on covered front porches that will create lasting fond memories.
Front Porch Budget Cut Victim
As to why we don’t see more covered front porches, I’m quite certain that a covered front porch is one of the first things to go when a plan comes in over budget. It’s a shame, but it happens. It’s also possible that porches have fallen out of favor of today’s architects. The reasons why you don’t see more could be as plentiful as hummingbirds around a feeder on a summer morning.
I’m a romantic when it comes to certain things in homes. A heavy sigh passes out of my lungs when I see a new home that doesn’t have an access panel in a closet that gives you access to a tub and shower faucet. I shake my head when I don’t see the top of house foundations 24 or even 30 inches up out of the ground. Old architects and builders knew the advantages of doing this. Just like they knew how covered front porches were both utilitarian and they could cast a magic spell on those living in the home.
Stop Solar Gain
A covered front porch can also minimize solar gain into houses if there’s lots of glass in the front door. The climate where you live might dictate having a covering over the door so your entrance hall doesn’t become a boiler room on hot, sunny days.
How Big Should One Be?
The perfect covered front porch will vary from person to person, but I can tell you that I’d want one that’s at least 16 to 20 feet wide and I’d want it to extend out from the front wall of the house no less than 10 feet.
My dream front porch would sport a steel-reinforced concrete slab. I might even cover it with solid thin paving brick so the surface is maintenance-free.
The ceiling would be recessed and at least nine feet tall. I’d have one or two paddle fans on it to create a breeze in the summer if it was a still night.
I’d design the porch so it could be transformed into a screened porch if I lived in a buggy area. Screened porches allow you to enjoy the outdoors without sacrificing your blood to the local insects.
You can bet my front porch would have numerous strategically placed outlets and very soft indirect mood lighting. Think of an outdoor covered porch as an interior room and you can start to see how you might like yours equipped.
I’d absolutely place a major beam in the ceiling at the right place for a porch swing. The swing would be supported by through-bolts, not suspect lag-type bolts that screw into the wood. Through bolts are the only way to ensure the swing stays where it should.
Email from Virginia Jones:
Virginia read my column in July of 2020 when it was published in the Columbus Dispatch. It evoked some strong and vivid memories in her mind and she was kind enough to share them:
My first porch was in the home I was raised in on Ardmore Rd. in Bexley. My parents were given that home as a wedding gift from my mother’s uncle, who raised her.
That front porch had an old fashioned glider. The roof was a tin roof that sounded like heaven when the rain poured down on it, or even when it was just a light sprinkle.
My next front porch was in my first home as an adult, on Bulen Ave. The porch went all the way across the front of our old wooden house. We used to sit out there when we got all the kids to bed. We had an old fashioned hanging swing on that porch.
When we built our dream house on Fair Ave. our very talented architect/ friend, took some magazine house plans and customized them to our needs. We ended up with a fabulous L shaped covered porch that was the envy of all our friends and neighbors.
My dream porch has always been a wraparound porch, but that will never happen. I am more than satisfied with the many different types of porches that I have enjoyed over the course of my long and happy life.
Virginia's daughter chimed in with some of her memories:
This is great. I remember the glider on Grandma's Ardmore porch. It was always such a welcoming place. I remember Bulen Avenue. We spent hours on that porch during the hot summers with only our diapers or shorts (depending upon what age and stage we were at the time). I have a picture of me standing on dad's feet high up in the air on that porch.
Of course, the Fair Avenue porch was a fabulous place. I remember listening to a lot of adult discussions related to the Catholic Church and its dictums for birth control, etc. Lots of fun family nights with Sheik. That porch always had a breeze.