Home inspection findings by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck, Professional Real Estate Inspector TREC# 9073

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How to Create More Living Space with Porches

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Creating living spaces outside your doors can be a way to extend your house without building another room. Porches also happen to be traditional in Texas to deal with the heat.

I was taking an early morning walk in a community in the Texas Hill Country when I saw a stunning house with porches. The sun had not risen, and the lights coming from the windows is what drew my attention. Then I thought about the porches. The home had a lower and upper porch. I took the picture below later in the day. In a way, this home’s design is a play off of a traditional one in Texas. A rectangular home with porches wrapping around the house was common. The porch provided additional usable space that could become a breakfast nook, or where guests could relax. In another style of home common in Texas, the dog trot, the porch became the family work/dining area during the summer months. Other homes, frequently built during the the twenties and thirties, used a front porch like a foyer, while a back porch might be used as the utility room or additional space for the kitchen. After World War II, homes were being built quickly for the returning soldiers, and air conditioning was becoming more common, so you would see homes that did not have porches designed to be part of the home.
    Coming back to this house in the photo, I mentioned that the home is relating itself to a traditional Texas design. A two story, rectangular house with porches along the longer sides provided shade for these main walls, which helped to cool the house. Stairs would be situated on one of the shorter ends on the exterior. The porches became the hallways in a sense, as well as being used by the family. Without air conditioning, the porch caught the cool breezes. In the picture you will see that the second story porch does not have a roof over it. I would prefer the roof to help make the space viable for more seasons. During home inspections, I have seen porches damaged by exposure to the weather, which in turn can damage the walls to the home. This would be resolved to a degree with a roof. The open porch became popular over the last fifty years as having you more connected to the outdoors. This open design is fine, but with more people wanting green or sustainable features in their homes, shading the walls in Texas is a good choice. Look at the photo again, and you will notice that the porch wraps around the house. What you cannot see is that this side of the house faces the lake and creek, a nicer view. The other sides of the home face other homes. Here the owner has shaded the walls with trees. Consider the view from your porch. You may want to screen a neighbor’s house, or create a garden.
    Your next step would be to decorate the porch depending upon how it will function. Looking at the home that we are examining, you will see that along the front lower portion, we have a sparse setting, highlighted by the plants. This area is really intended as a foyer. Up above, we see a sitting area for dining. There also seem to be other features meant for relaxing and enjoying the view. We also see what seems to be a storage area in a spot. Porches were used as storage areas in the past. On my own porch in the backyard, I wanted a dining/sitting area. I have the table with chairs. I built a simple cabinet to store toys, tools, and other odds and ends. The top of this cabinet is a covered space made with cement board to store food plates. I added small tables in corners, so I could have vases or planters. Outside of the porch area, I am building a new fireplace. In my front yard, I am adding a porch with the idea of having a front room.
    What kind of problems do you see with the porch in the photo? My family knows that I stare at homes when we go on our walks. I like to see the gardens, home designs, or features, but I also examine problems. Always working. Looking at this home, do you see any problems? Take a moment. I will wait……… Alright, what did you decide? The lower porch is high enough off of the ground that a fall could cause an injury. As a home inspector, I would write in my report that the lower porch would need a railing. The walk up the steps should have a hand rail.These are safety issues that you may want to consider if you have children or an older adult in the home. Yet, the design of this porch would be drastically changed by the inclusion of these features. This open design is quite nice, but I would add the railing. By enclosing the porch with this element, we could make the area more like a room; plus, I have children, and I can see them running off the porch. Did you notice another problem not connected with the porch? Hint: look at the chimney. We now know that sparks from a fire in the hearth could lead to a fire on the roof or near-by tree. This chimney has a typical covering that you find on many hill country homes. Four stones holding up a stone plate. This was to prevent rain from entering into the flue. A proper spark arrestor could be added to the top of the flue, and the stones could be left in place for that traditional look.
    A return to porches could be wonderful. As I said, the covered porch adds shade to the home, which helps lower utility bills. The porch increases our living space without having to build onto the house. Adding a room can be expensive, while adding a porch is not such an expense. One thing to remember: you cannot simply add walls to a porch to make it another room. Porches are not tied to the home like a room would be; moreover, the foundation is different. You can enclose this outdoor space with wall like a sunroom, but keep treating this as an outdoor space. Finally, plan out your design elements by considering how the are will be used. I know my children will use the front porch for storing toys, so this will be a factor in my design choices.

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© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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