A friend sent me this video from Matt Risinger on the exterior details of a house they finished 5 years ago. It’s a testament to how thinking things, though, and getting the details right can affect both the aesthetics and function years later. And it got me thinking about the value of a front porch.
The use of natural materials in the right applications is right out of the design school curriculum. Unfortunately, those of us who did automotive design so find that natural materials are not practical when you manufacture products by the million. But the philosophy stays with you, and when it comes to designing or building a house, there is ample opportunity to put it to work.
Let’s go through some of the details mentioned in the video.
- The Pier & Beam foundation is an excellent way to build a foundation, especially if you want a front porch, since it’s cheap and easy to extend. One of the benefits is that you can go deeper, which will provide more stability in the event of flooding. It keeps water away from the house, and provides less opportunity for capillary wicking into the structure. If you live in an area where radon is a problem, Pier & Beam will prevent radon accumulation. If you put skirting around it for aesthetic reasons, be sure to allow for plenty of ventilation and to let water flow through freely.
- The steel skirt is an excellent idea. The surface will develop that smooth coating of rust and blend right into the environment. You could get out the spray gun and put a matte or satin coat of automotive epoxy over it. That won’t stop the rust completely, it will take 100+ years to rust through.
- I think a wide porch is an excellent idea. Homes in the Aussie outback are built like this to keep the sun off the walls and prevent solar gain on the interior. While solar gain might be a good idea in Finland or the northern US and Canada, it’s not a great idea south of the Mason-Dixon line. Risinger is correct about UV causing the damage, natural wood finishes kept in shade will last for decades.
Big porches are often seen on largish houses like this farmhouse. Personally, I think they should be used more often in smaller houses. Again, look to Japan, where extending living space outside has been used for centuries. In the US a similar design aesthetic is often seen on prewar craftsman style bungalows.
Whether you live in the north, with extremely cold winters, or in the south, with extremely hot summers, there are still six to eight weeks in the spring and autumn when it’s going to quite pleasant to enjoy being outside. And don’t forget that “porch living” provides opportunities to build a sense of community.
There are also modern wire railings that look good aesthetically. Another alternative would be low planter boxes. Planters that are 12” to 18” high should be adequate to keep people from stepping off the porch by accident, while not obstructing the view.
You have to take care that the boxes drain off the porch deck to keep the wood from rotting. There are plenty of plants that like bright shade.
Like anything else, the design and dimensions of a porch matter. I did some research and have posted some links below. Very much worth reading for anyone interested in homes that go beyond being a mere appliance. It turns out there is a testable and reliable relationship between how far the porch is from the sidewalk and how high it should be. The railing, it’s height, and how opaque it is, can also be part of that equation. Small differences can make us feel safer or more vulnerable.
I guess life and designing a home is a lot more complicated that it looks.