We know nothing about screened-in porches except that we want one. Help?
September 26, 2013 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Mr. DrGail and I want to devote some of our huge wood deck to a screened-in porch. We've met with a few contractors and the cost is within our price range but there are so many possible variations that we're overwhelmed. So, MeFites who have, have had, or even just know something about screened-in porches, please enlighten us: what are the design features you love, hate, or wish you'd done for your own screened-in porch. All thoughts and suggestions are welcome! The particulars: We live in the Chicago area so we have cold and snowy winters. The current deck is 20x24, about 3 feet off the ground, has two stairways to the backyard, and is accessed from the family room. The dog crosses the deck to access the backyard for his business as well as generalized squirrel chasing and other mayhem.
posted by DrGail to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Slope the roof!

Also you'll want to dog-proof the screens, they can be a bit fragile so you don't want Roofus to be able to plow right throgh them.

Having a ceiling fan and light is nice, especially if you want to sit outside in the evening.

If you can do a fireplace inside, so much the better.

Build in benches and storage. This way you can easily put everything away if there's a storm coming.

If you can arrange for blinds, so that you don't have sun in your eyes, that's nice too. Enjoy!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:25 AM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I do not have a screened in porch nor have I ever, but relatives in Buffalo which is similar in weather to Chicago do. I do not know if this is typical or something they did, but theirs is built so that they can add storm windows to it in the winter. This is a great feature. It is obviously not heated, but when they let their dog out, and mainly back in, it serves as a mudroom. Can brush the snow and dirt off the dog before he comes inside. Also, the kids were able to take off their snow pants and jackets on the way inside. (I also think it is used in the winter as the outside smoking room.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:26 AM on September 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

My family has one up at a cottage and as far as we are concerned the rest of the place could fall down and as long as the screen porch was left, we'd be happy!

Things I like about it -- every few slots on the roof are "skylight" type pieces. They are not clear, but they let light through.

We also have turf across the floor. I am torn about this. I do like it because it feels like an extra room but it also requires more effort to clean than just sweeping off the deck floor.
posted by thorny at 10:29 AM on September 26, 2013

Hell yeah! We built a house in 2007 and the design pretty much started with "We want a screened in porch in this corner of the yard. Build the rest of the house around it." We love it. You will love yours.

There really isn't much to them. A couple of things off the top of my head:

Make it big enough to have dinner in. We bought a nice wooden table that folds up to be about six inches wide. We leave the table against the wall and pull it out when we eat.

Hanging chair! Every porch should have one. We have one from Cobble Mountain Hammock. Which brings me to...

Hammock! They take up a lot of space so I have two hooks on the posts and an all cloth one that I pull out of a closet and hang up when I'm feeling hammocky. Actually I think it's some yarn one from South America. My wife got it for me so I'm not sure of the brand. It's comfy.

Some friends of ours have a screened in porch where the lower two feet of the screens are glass panels. Keeps the rain from splashing in.

Our porch has big tall screens with posts between them. Some day, and this day may never come, I'm going to get some glass panels to put up to turn it into a sun porch in the off-season. Again, I will probably never get around to this because a) they will be expensive and b) I don't have a place to store eight huge glass panels.

Seconding a ceiling fan.

Reading lights are nice, or just get a couple small clip-on book lights.

Make sure the gaps in the deck aren't too wide, otherwise you'll get a lot of bugs, defeating the purpose of having a screened in porch.
posted by bondcliff at 10:29 AM on September 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Did a giant screened-porch project exactly like you're describing at our last house. Some odds and ends for the project:

We had the wooden deck torn down and replaced with brick and concrete. For the finished floor, the contractor stained and polished it. It was built to the same level as the kitchen door (same as the wooden deck).

All external wood was wrapped in Hardi-plank and painted white to match the trim of the rest of the house. Zero maintenance except for occasional cleaning.

The roof of the porch was gabled and hipped into the existing roof, so the inside ceiling of the porch was vaulted and finished in stained beadboard. They installed recessed lighting, but we also had them install plenty of outlets outside for lamps. The screens went from floor to ceiling and stretched for the length of the walls without the need for strips in between.

The screen system they used was this one, and it's awesome. Easy to install, repair and replace if need be. You can get parts and accessories at the big box DIY stores.

Our new place does not have a screened porch but you can believe that it is project #1 as soon as funds and time make it possible again.
posted by jquinby at 10:46 AM on September 26, 2013

I'll join the chorus - I loved my screen porch when I had one. One of my favorite parts of it was that the roof was made of these corrugated polycarbonate panels that let a LOT of light through. That may not work for you, depending on how much you want to use the room in winter. But I loved all the extra light because it was on the back of the house and trees on the sides kept it shaded. And yes to the ceiling fans.
posted by lemniskate at 10:46 AM on September 26, 2013

Since you have dogs, don't screen the bottom 3' - 4'. Instead, use some kind of siding like T1-11 or similar. It serves many purposes but mainly to keep rambunctious dogs from poking through it with their heads, paws etc. The ledge inside (ours is a 2x6 creates a perfect place for setting drinks, plants etc. Here's a picture of ours.

Also, screened porches are great, but you'll want something to keep the sun out at some point. Coolaroo Blinds are the best!
posted by dukes909 at 10:58 AM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Been there, done that. Here is my learning = put in as many electrical outlets as possible. Then find space for one more. Make sure a number of those outlets are accessible from the outside, or better yet ensure there are dedicated exterior outlets placed outside the porch.

And an outlet in the ceiling will allow you to hang Christmas lights with little effort.
posted by lstanley at 10:58 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, I envy you. We had a screened porch in a temporary home we rented and spent every night out until it got too cold.

One thing to think about is how the porch will affect light inside your house and your view in the off season. We reluctantly decided against building a screened porch in our current house because it would cut off a beautiful, direct view of the woods--snowfalls, falling leaves, shafts of sunlight, etc. and cut down on the amazing light we get in two main rooms. We would also be looking at covered porch furniture and not woods the three other seasons. Still . . .

Repeating what bondcliff said. Do not leave any cracks in the floor decking or you will get bugs for sure. You may need a new, sealed floor, which is what our old porch had. Yes to a peaked roof to prevent leaks and better circulate air. I've seen pictures online of a screened openings near the peak to let in light and air.

Speaking of pictures, if you Google "deck into a screen porch," Google Images will show you dozens of examples of what you might want. I agree that an overhead light and an electrical outlet add to the ambience. We had a big, colorful paper shade covering the overhead out on our porch. And an old floor lamp for reading in the comfy lounge chair in the corner. Sigh.
posted by Elsie at 11:02 AM on September 26, 2013

Not screening all the way down is a nice way to accommodate your dogs. BUT... make sure that the side that provides the best views, the ones you'll be facing and looking out all the time has screens that go low enough to see what you want to see while seated.

My parents ended up going back and lowering the screens on their "view" side because the section of wall at the bottom, while only 3' tall, was nevertheless enough to make it impossible to see much of anything in the backyard from their seats. After they lowered the yard, they could watch grandkids play, see the dogs, watch birds, etc.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:02 AM on September 26, 2013

My parents bought their house because of the screened-in porch. It's connected to an open deck, and both face onto the back and side yards. For the bottom part of the screen, where the dog might try to get through, one thing you can do (that I think looks really nice) is put up wooden lattice inside of the screen. Sort of like this, except I think it looks better when the slats are diagonal. You can still see through and get the screen feel, but it's protected a bit more.

Nthing making it big enough to put a picnic table or something out there to eat dinner, and being able to run electrical cords out there even if you don't put in outlets. It's also a great place for hanging plants, if you put hooks in the ceiling near the corners.

Their porch is basically not used at all in winter (New England, so not exactly Chicago but still too damn cold and snowy to be outside in winter.) Keep in mind it gets really dirty/dusty out there, and needs to be cleaned like the rest of the house only much more so. And I guess you don't have hurricanes, but if you have really bad wind storms, everything on the porch will need to be brought in.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:10 AM on September 26, 2013

The siding on the lower half also gives the option of turning the screened porch into a winter sunroom. Pop in some wooden framed glass windows (I made my own) come cold weather and you can sit out there on sunny cold winter days. I suppose you could do this with the screens going all the way down to the ground, but I'd be leery of that much glass all around me.
posted by dukes909 at 11:17 AM on September 26, 2013

My grandma's screened-in porch has a tin roof. There is nothing nicer than falling asleep on the couch on the porch listening to rain on the tin roof in the summer.
posted by coppermoss at 11:19 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

In your climate it's not worth the glass option unless it faces south and there are no large evergreens that prevent the winter sun from coming in.

If it does face south and you do get glass for winter you'll probably also want to cover the floor to keep the warmth in.
posted by mareli at 11:19 AM on September 26, 2013

I don't know what your pollen season is like, but as destinationuknown points out there's a huge dirt/dust factor. That's why we glassed ours in, and now use it much more often.
posted by k5.user at 11:24 AM on September 26, 2013

I didn't know before I made the windows how well the glass windows would work but was surprised at how quickly it warms even on the very coldest days with the glass even without insulation or a floor covering, but we're also a few zones further south and the porch faces SW, so there is that. At the least it could serve as a mudroom as JohnnyGunn mentioned. I would think the seasons could be extended a good bit when it is just a bit too cold & windy to sit directly outside. My experience anyway.

Use a high quality mildew-resistant paint, regardless of what you do screen/glass wise.
posted by dukes909 at 11:27 AM on September 26, 2013

Definitely make it big enough to eat and play board games on! Big porch swings or hammocks provide the best naps ever.

Of the porches I have known, ones with floor-to-ceiling screens have best served their intended purpose. Porches with the "half-height solid wall and band of screen/storm windows" are prone to becoming household crap catchers; they're more indoors than out and always seem to wind up getting used for storage.
posted by usonian at 11:37 AM on September 26, 2013

Great suggestions above. Our two porches get very nasty during pollen season, and we like to haul the hose in there and wash them out, top to bottom, a couple of times a year. When designing our second porch we planned for this by adding an outdoor faucet nearby and sloping the floor slightly so that the water would flow on out. Also, more screened area equals more breeze and view. Personally, I'd opt for more screen and less wall.
posted by MelissaSimon at 11:49 AM on September 26, 2013

I don't have a screen porch, but it seems to me like a good place to hang a bit of laundry to dry - not a whole load, but just those few shirts that I don't put in the dryer. I would make sure to build some hooks or a solid bar near the ceiling to put some hangers on.
posted by CathyG at 11:53 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

We have a cabin in Northern Wisconsin (well, actually a trailer) with a humungous screened-in porch attached. We are finally at the point to remove the trailer and rebuild the cabin and our plans revolve around replicating the porch with some upgrades.

The current porch has removable storm windows which we remove in the spring and replace in the fall - the screened openings and therefore the windows are about 3' x 4'. Not so much fun moving those big pieces of glass around. The new plan is replacing those with large triple hung windows, so that we may keep the huge expanse of screen, unimpeded by glass, when we wish to open them up. Now, we may close them when the weather is less than desirable.

Make the floor solid, unless you want bugs coming up through the floor. I've heard you can put screening down under the decking, but then you have crap getting caught in the cracks of the deck. The current porch has (lovely 1970's orange, green and yellow striped) indoor outdoor carpeting. The new space will be tiled with outdoor area rugs.

Yes to hammock. Mr Jane has a south-american hammock, just like bondcliff. He also keeps it in a closet and hangs it up when he wants to hammock.

Make it bigger than you think you need. As we have the luxury of a big space, we have an enormous dining table AND a large seating area. We only eat inside when it's too cold.. and often, we'll just bundle up to eat outside anyhow.

Don't underestimate sun damage, if you have furniture that you care about. We currently cover the furniture with old sheets when we are gone for a while, but I plan to make curtains from drop cloths on plumbing pipe in the new space.

Our windows sit about 1.5 feet off the floor. It's a perfect height for us to gaze outside while seated and for our medium sized dogs to be able to see out the window: they've never burst through the screen, despite the squirrels frolicking in the yard. Of course, a crazier dog just might.

We have a gas stove in our porch, which is very nice - and makes sunny winter days tolerable (with the windows in place). Nights, not so much.

Yes to ceiling fans and more outlets!

I live in the Chicago 'burbs. Unless you are in a very wooded area, I don't think pollen will be a huge issue (but it is in the Northwoods).
posted by sarajane at 12:36 PM on September 26, 2013

We have a 16X22 foot main deck, with a 16X 18 foot lower deck. The lower deck is where we put our small hot tub, along with associated built in cabinets, and a small storage room. We screened the upper deck as follows:

Two hand-built screen doors on sliding tracks, one to the yard, the other to the lower deck.

A rail, 30" high along the outside of the deck. Above the rail we built screen windows, approximately 2X4 feet, and hinged at the top, so they can be raised inward and hooked from the rafters of the deck's ceiling. They go all the way around the perimeter of the upper deck. They are pinned at the bottom with a brass drop-pin, to a matching hole in the top of the rail. We can open any or all of them, depending.

The windows give us access to the box planter outside the deck, and to planters hanging from the eave of the roof, all of which give us some shade. We use bushy plants in the outside planter to help keep the sun off the floor of the deck, which faces generally southwest. The hanging planters provide more shading, plus the gives a modicum of privacy from the neighbor's house, without actually closing us in. We can see out, but it's hard for them to see in. I like this arrangement because I've created a rock-garden in the back yard that's pleasant to look at from the porch, and our view to the south and west includes the mountains on the other side of our small valley.

Below the railing, we have (I forget the term for bannister supports...vertical posts) every ten or twelve inches, backed with screening. The idea for this was to keep critters from charging through the screens. In some areas these supports are regulate by code, so that small kids can't get their heads through them--a safety issue your contractor can explain better than I can.

The winters here in southern Oregon are much more mild than in Chicago, so sunny winter days don't keep us off the porch. Rain is an issue (but not a problem for us), because screens won't keep the rain out. RedBud has built various items of deck furniture, plant dollies, and such. We put a couple of lamps on the deck that provide mild area lighting. Mostly we enjoy sitting in the dark on warm summer nights, or breakfast in the mornings on days when it's not chilly. We get cold mornings, but warm afternoons because of the position of the deck.

I mention this, because the screen windows let in a lot of sunlight, making the floor into a good heat sink. This can be a good thing in the winter, if you decide to install glass windows and a weatherproof wall. But, in the summer you need to mask these windows (we use plants), for example with drop-down shading of some sort, or louvered window shades. I personally detest French blinds, but many variations are available. A north-facing deck wouldn't have this issue. Also, you can buy screen that lets in the amount of sunlight you want. But the denser the screening, the more it interferes with the breeze. Everything is a trade-off. I should mention that all outside electrical outlets, because of the possibility of being exposed to water, ought to have GFC circuits built into them. They trip when shorted or overloaded, but you have only to hit the reset buttons to put them back in operation.

We have discussed upgrading the floor, walls and windows, to make the whole area weatherproof, but so far, for our use, it doesn't seem to be worth the trouble and expense. Our notion in this respect would be to turn the deck into a sleeping porch for summer, a thing that seems nice, but not all that compelling to us right now.

Our front porch, on the other side of the house, is small, but it's furnished with a couple of chairs and a small bench, nice for warm mornings.
posted by mule98J at 2:05 PM on September 26, 2013

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