Porches represent an ideal of community. They are designed to extend our living space out, to give us a place to greet neighbours and enjoy each other's company. Porch construction techniques are similar to the techniques used in constructing the rest of your home. Adding on a porch can be as simple or as complex as you design it to be.
In general, porches are usually built with a foundation similar to that of the house they are part of.
Solid concrete porches are typical of mid-20th-century houses. They are usually low, with one or two steps, and not as large as wood-framed porches. They require no maintenance except occasional cleaning. The cost may be prohibitive.
Wood-frame porches take a little longer, require more maintenance, but can be built and maintained by the homeowner. If you choose a wood frame, use treated lumber in your framing and make sure your floor gets well sealed to slow down the eventual decay.
Building a stem wall foundation for your porch takes advantage of both. A stem wall is a solid or block concrete wall built to the height of the bottom of your porch frame. It keeps the wood away from groundwater. Seal your stem wall with a commercial water-proofer before adding the porch deck.
Types of Porch Roof
Porch roofs come in all shapes and sizes from simple overhangs to elaborate gables. Choose a style that suits your house.
Gables end porches can be built as an extension of the existing gable, or added underneath a taller gable. A skilled carpenter can even join them to the side slope of an existing roof.
Shed roof porches, or farmhouse porches, typically attach to a side wall of the house and angle down to the front edge like a lean-to. They are much simpler and less expensive to build than gable ends.
Lattice or pergola roofs leave the porch open to the weather while providing some shelter from the sun. They make good structures for hanging plants and if built heavy enough, can even support porch swings or hammocks.
Porch Railings and Columns
Depending on the height and size of your porch, railings will be required by code. Check with your city offices for information. Style should be chosen to match the house.
Formal porches, such as Victorians, typically have elaborate railings with turned spindles and decorative brackets. They require frequent inspections to stay on top of loose pieces and retouch paint, but are considered by many people to be lovely additions.
Contemporary porches can be railed in a variety of styles. They are typically simple, with clean, straight lines. Metal prefab railings, such as cast iron, are also common. Wood railings are usually plain, with little detail, and larger in scale than older railings.
Support columns can be done in almost any style, from round to fluted to square. Consider the structural nature of the column first, then concern yourself with style. Most columns today have steel-girder cores, with wood, vinyl or structural styrofoam on the outside to provide the look.