All About Porches


Patios and decks are great, but not when it rains or heats too much. It would be nice if there were a roof. And, if there is a roof, why not have screened walls to keep the bugs out? This logic explains why porches are so beloved.

How big should a porch be?

The function of the porch will determine the size of your porch. For curb appeal, many new homes have shallow porches. These porches are four feet deep and are a far cry from the wider porches we associate with older homes. A porch must be at least 6ft deep to allow for comfortable seating. A minimum of 10 feet is required for a table that can be used outside.

Width is dependent on the house. The porch can be partially covered by the front of the house and provide shelter for the front door. You can also extend it along the length of the house, or wrap around the front. Many back porches look like a deck and have an area that can be used for grilling.

What is the difference between a Porch & a Deck?

The construction of porches is the same, except that they have roofs. However, porch footings must be wider than deck feet. Deck footings can only support the deck’s weight and people. These things must be supported by the porch footings, as well as the roof’s weight.

Flooring is another difference. A porch can be finished with regular decking boards but that is not the preferred method. Traditional porch floors were tongue-and-groove (T&G), vertical grain fir, with a painted finish. T&G boards are made from mahogany, or another tropical hardwood, as well as T&G boards made of plastic composite.

T&G flooring has a smooth, easy-to-clean surface. Fir is moderately resistant to rot. T&G flooring is not a rot-resistant decking material. Tongue and groove flooring runs perpendicularly to the house, so rainwater doesn’t get trapped. This reveals two key differences between porch framing or deck framing. Decks are often framed at an angle so that water can drain between the boards. Porches are designed so that water doesn’t pool on the floor. Deck joists are perpendicular to the house because decking is usually parallel to it. To allow porch flooring to be perpendicular with the house, it must have its joists parallel to the house.

What about building codes for porches?

The code requirements for porches and decks must be met wherever they attach to the house. The ledger board supporting the porch framing should be installed in accordance with the International Residential Code (IRC). It must also be flashed to prevent water from reaching the house framing.

Porches, just like decks need to comply with code requirements regarding stairs and railings. A railing is required for porches that are at least 30 inches above ground. However, you can check with your local building inspector to verify this requirement. A railing’s balusters should not be more than 4 inches apart.

Your porch must meet higher standards of fire resistance if your house is located in the Wildland-Urban Interface Zone, which is an area where wildfire risk is high.

Styles of Porch Posts can vary

Structural and aesthetic, the porch roof posts are structural. They are structural and must be aligned with the posts and feet that support the floor framing to ensure a continuous load path. The loads don’t fall straight down as it might seem. Porch roofs are exposed to wind uplift. The posts must be attached to the roof framing as well as to the footings below so that the roof does not blow off. To prevent rot, they should be detailed.

The posts should match the house in aesthetics. For rustic cabins on the lake, you might only need 4x4s or peeled logs to make your posts. For more formal porches, the posts are usually wrapped in finish materials and moldings. Columns based on classical architectural styles and lathe-turned posts are also options.

Porch Ceilings should reflect the home’s style

. The rustic cabin may have exposed rafters and the T&G boards above the roof visible from below. For formal porches, a flat ceiling with beadboard will be more common. Vinyl soffit can be used as a porch ceiling if you are looking for low maintenance and budget. A budget ceiling alternative is smooth plywood, with the joints covered with lath strips.

Depending on the architectural legend you believe, porch ceilings can be painted light blue to imitate the sky or keep flies away from landing. White is another popular color that reflects light well and brightens spaces below.

Popular options include screens and skirting

A screened porch is an excellent option in areas with black fly or mosquito infestations. You can screen your porch in a number of different ways. You can buy rolls of screen, attach it to the posts using staples or wood strips. One of the aluminum strips that holds in the screening can give you a cleaner look.

For a three-season space, it is a great idea to have removable panels that can be replaced by glass ones.

Skirting is used to hide the dark spaces below porches. Skirting can be left open to allow for ventilation, which helps prevent moisture from building up and rotting the porch. Materials can include rot-resistant wood and plastic lattice.

Extra details make a difference

Ceiling fans are often used for cooling because they get the most usage in summer. Fans that are rated for outdoor use should be chosen. Many interior fans have blades made from fiberboard that can permanently sag when exposed to moisture.

A number of outlets can be installed on the wall that the house shares with the porch. We plug in many things, from fans to table lamps and phone chargers.

Porch swings can be a great way to remember simpler times. If you are planning on having one, ensure that the ceiling framing can support the weight.

Some people convert a back porch into an additional living space in the south, where it is possible to have a porch all year. Your southern porch can be transformed into a second living room with a fireplace, wet bar and big-screen TV.


Dia is the Editorial Assistant at, covering Exterior, Kitchen, home Yard, Poolhouse, and more.

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