Friday, March 28, 2008
Spruce up your porch for summer
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Porches are a great way to take advantage of beautiful spring and summer weather. Whether you have a small front porch with a single chair or a big back porch that spills into the backyard, now is the time to assess its condition and get it ready for outdoor living.
While rear patios and decks are optional, everyone has a front porch. This space is important because it makes the initial impression on anyone coming to your home. The first step in assessing your porch is to go outside and walk up to it.
Pretend you are a visitor and really take a look at it. Since we go to a lot of front porches, we can report that it is not all that unusual to find snow shovels and bags of snow melt still sitting on porches this time of year. Pack it up and put it away!
Another hint: Look at your doorbell. When was the last time you cleaned it?
At the very least, every porch —front or rear — needs a good spring cleaning. An old-fashioned bucket of suds and a sturdy brush may do the trick. If your porch needs more than elbow grease, consider renting a power washer. You can rent them at most home-improvement stores or equipment-rental outlets.
Because porches sit outside in the elements, they are subject to damage from the constant exposure to wind, water and sunshine. In addition to getting a good bath, your porch may also need some repairs or updating to ensure it is in prime condition.
If the floor of your porch is wood, it is vulnerable to weather damage. If the end grain (the end of wood slats) is exposed, the wood will soak up water and eventually begin to mold and rot. End grains should be protected with a finished edge of wood molding to help keep moisture out. If you are replacing floor boards, you should paint all sides and ends with oil-based porch-and-deck enamel paint that will help keep the wood dry.
Moisture in the flooring can also impact the framing beneath the porch and the bottoms of columns and stair railings that rest on the flooring. Any rotted framing should be replaced. Natural wood should not be in contact with the ground or concrete. Rather, you should use pressure-treated or engineered wood to significantly increase the longevity of such critical pieces of your porch. Porch railings and steps should also be replaced if they have seen better days.
While our romantic image of a porch is apt to be a wood one, most porches are concrete. Porches and the steps up to a porch are often the last thing added to a home, so this can be a feature that is slighted because of the lack of remaining time and/or money in the construction process.
Use a critical eye to determine if your porch and steps are woefully undersized, as upgrading this one element can have a huge impact on the curb appeal of your home.
(While such a project admittedly goes beyond "sprucing," it may be necessary. Remember, no matter how much lipstick you put on the pig, you can't always compensate for the limitations of the underlying structure.)
But, back to sprucing: Sprucing up your concrete porch may be nothing more than a great new doormat, but there are a few other options. Concrete can be stained if you want a new look. The result can be a single, uniform color, or you can have multiple colors used to mimic a natural stone look.
You can also have grooves sawed in the concrete to give the look of tiles if you want a more drastic change. Outdoor rugs are now available that not only hide a less desirable surface but add ambiance and charm with a fairly small outlay of cash.
Psychologically, porches hark back to an earlier day when life was slower and neighborhoods friendlier. Before the advent of air conditioning, porches served as places to gather to cool off in the evening breeze, to relax with a refreshing drink and to catch up on the local gossip from passing neighbors.
Now, decades later, a new enthusiasm for porches has emerged as people look for a return to gentler times and for places to gather friends and family around them.
So, whether you are completely remodeling your porch or just doing a little porch decorating before summer, make sure it is welcoming. Remember, just a simple pot of flowers will go a long way to greeting your visitors and another summer season. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.