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How to plan and build a screen porch in Virginia

You probably never gave all that much thought to everything needed to plan and build a screen porch. Build a deck, add a roof, staple some screen to the side, BAM! Screen porch. While a screen porch is still a fairly simple addition to your home, there are myriad ways in which to really make it your own. Naturally there are some questions you need to ask to determine if it’s even an option for your home.

furnished screen porch

Plan and build a screen porch: The basics

Where will it go?

Everyone thinks about cost when planning a project. When designing a framing project, the simpler the design the less it will cost. The closer to a square or rectangle that we can keep the footprint of the screen porch, the easier (and cheaper) it will be to frame. Similarly, the simpler the roof, the less costly the screen porch.

When adding a screen porch to the back of a house, we usually want to place the porch so that the door from the house brings you right into the screen porch. Since you’re building a screen porch to avoid bugs, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to walk out a door, swat away bugs, and open another door. The screen porch also provides a place to sit outside when it’s raining. Who wants to get wet to sit with their coffee?

Those aren’t insurmountable obstacles. We’ve replaced windows with doors to provide access to the screen porch. We’ve also extended the roof to provide covered access from the kitchen to the screen porch.

3d render of screen porch design

The bigger problem is that sometimes the back of the house is just too complex for a screen porch to work. Modern builders like adding all kinds of funky angles and rooflines to a home to make it seem “fancy”. All it does is make my life difficult.

How big?

If you’re going to plan and build a screen porch, the second thing you’ll need to consider is the size and layout. I always ask what the client plans on using the screen porch for, as that makes a huge difference in terms of the size needed. Hangout space for 2-4 people requires less room than dinner parties for 12-15.

I find my clients have an easier time envisioning the size of screen porch that they’ll need because a screen porch is the outdoor space most analogous to a room inside they’re home. No one looks to build a 10’x10’ screen porch for outdoor dining because they know their 16’x16’ indoor dining room feels a little tight at times. It’s much easier to build too small than too big.

Layout plays a role in how large to plan and build a screen porch. If there’s one door into the screen porch and that’s it, deciding on furniture grouping (and therefore size) is pretty simple. The second another door gets added, we have to add in enough room for someone to walk from one door to the other.

Without getting into the weeds on the details, this is the sort of space planning your designer considers. How can we maximize usable space while minimizing cost? That is why you hire a designer!

The roof

The roof of your screen porch is an important aesthetic detail that also has a dramatic impact on the cost. Generally a shed roof is your least expensive style of roof. It’s a single plane (no peaks or hips) that gets lower as it pitches away from the house. It’s also the ideal roof style if we’re building a screen porch in an “L” or an alcove, because a gable roof would be more likely to trap water and snow against the house.

A gable roof is what most of my clients want. It’s prettier, feels more like an addition than “just” a screen porch, and can provide an airy, vaulted ceiling. Because of the additional complexity of the framing, it tends to be more expensive than a simple shed roof.

Roofing material is also a cost factor to consider. Asphalt shingles are the most commonly used roofing material here in Virginia, and the least expensive. Standing seam metal roofing is a beautiful look, especially when adding on to an older, historic home. A flat roof will require a rubber membrane, much like a commercial building’s roof.

To trim or not to trim?

If you’re going to plan and build a screen porch, it’s important to have an idea of what you want the finished product to look like. The least expensive style of screen porch is just simple, exposed pressure-treated framing, either painted or left to weather. With a little thought to the design, a plain wood screen porch can still be quite attractive.

interior pressure treated screen porch
Built by Spectrum Custom Homes (click to visit)

A more attractive – if more costly – way to approach your screen porch is to wrap everything in trim lumber. These days that usually means a composite trim, like AZEK.

wrapped screen porch
Built by Spectrum Custom Homes (click to visit)

There are quite a few advantage to wrapping your pressure-treated screen porch framing:

  • Allows  us to make the posts and beams beefier and more in scale with the home (less likely to have that “chicken coop” appearance)
  • Pressure-treated lumber is prone to warping, twisting, and cracking. Even though this doesn’t usually compromise it’s strength, it’s not pretty. Trim lumber conceals this.
  • For a painted porch, composite trim is great. Because AZEK and similar materials don’t shrink, swell, or move like wood, you’ll get more years between paint jobs.

Other details to consider

The details are what will make or break any outdoor project. My goal when designing a screen porch is to make something that feels like an actual extension of the home’s architecture. These details all matter.

Trim moulding – if the home has ornate mouldings (fascia, dental moulding, etc) then those details should carry over to the screen porch.

To wainscot or not to wainscot? – Generally when we think of a screen porch we envision something with screened openings from floor to ceiling. It doesn’t have to be like that though. A partial wall with wainscoting can make it feel more like a room. It also allows us more room to hide electrical, data, and a/v infrastructure. If you have an idiot dog with a high prey drive like mine, it’ll also prevent dog-shaped holes from showing up in the screens every time a squirrel goes past.

Ceiling treatment – A ceiling of some sort can be a huge upgrade in the appearance of your screen porch’s interior. With no ceiling whatsoever, all you see when looking up are pressure-treated rafters, plywood or OSB, and lots and lots of roofing nails. Painting helps, but a ceiling is the way to go. A very traditional look is tongue and groove pine, painted to match the porch trim or with a pickled finish. The manufacturers of composite lumber also make a tongue and groove product, which looks great and requires little from you.

A ceiling also makes it easier to run lights, speakers, and a ceiling fan. Using trusses instead of traditional rafter framing can save you some money on construction costs, but their appearance dictates the use of a ceiling.

The wall of the house – When you’re facing the house, what will you see from inside your screen porch? The most common approach to this wall is to do nothing. If your house was vinyl-sided, one wall of the porch is vinyl-sided. It doesn’t have to be that way. Talk to your designer about other options.

Get help with your screen porch

If you’re in Virginia and you’re looking for help designing your screen porch, we can do that! We handle everything from a detailed site analysis, to initial design concepts, final designs, and even permit and construction documents. If your screen porch design requires some unusual or non-standard framing, we work closely with an engineer. Revolutionary Gardens doesn’t build screen porches, but we’ve partnered with several outstanding companies that do. We can also design a screen porch to be built by your preferred installer. Contact us today to learn more!


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