Differences in porch depth. Though 6 ft. (1.8 m) is a desirable depth for porches, 8 ft. (2.4 m) is ideal. Many homes are built with shallower depths. A 4-ft. (1.2-m) depth behind the column, as in this example, allows simple wooden rocking chairs and potted plants to face the street with just enough room to pass. To make shallower depths work, use smaller-scale furniture and fixtures that allow circulation and work with the architecture.
This porch measures about 7 ft. (2.1 m) from the face of the columns to the walls of the house and wraps around two sides. The columns measure about 8 inches (20 cm) square and are 8 ft. (2.4 m) high with a classically referenced base and cap detail. Notice how the header or lintel, the beam that spans the columns and holds the roof rafters, is set to be centered on the top of the columns. Though you might believe these specifications to be trivial, they respectfully and correctly reference classical roots. Notice also that the porch roof is a separate entity from the primary house form and sits below the top of the main walls.
Though proper detailing of classical architecture deserves volumes explaining it, the topic cannot be overlooked when considering porches on traditional-style houses. Proportion is key, and classical orders are entirely based on the relative scale of their parts. Spacing between columns as well as the detail of the column support and the area where the column transitions into the roof, known as the entablature, need careful and knowledgeable consideration.
This house exhibits several classical-style details, though many of them are simplified for economic expediency. Should you have or wish to build a porch with these details, study the subject first. The Four Books of Architecture, by Palladio, and The Ten Books on Architecture, by Vitruvius, an ancient text, are available on Kindle for 99 cents each. A recent publication, Get Your House Right, provides more accessible and modern information on the topic. It’s quite fascinating.
Notice how the entrance steps ascend between two columns spaced slightly wider than the other column bays. If each bay is a minimum of 5 ft. (1.5 m) wide and there are four, as seen here, that is 20 ft. (6 m) of length in just one direction.
Take note also that the porch roof’s eave line falls lower than the top of the windows of the main level of the house. Porch roofs placed too high can let in rain and lack the coverage that gives the area the protection that it needs.
Wraparound Porches Have Curb Appeal Covered
Steeper risers can have shorter treads, but shorter risers need longer treads. For example, make the risers 4 in. (10 cm) at minimum and couple them with an 18-in. (46 cm) tread. Local codes may determine what is allowed in your area, so be sure to follow their rules.
Notice the two ascensions in this Craftsman house. The steps to the right create a common gentle slope to the main porch, while the stone steps within the landscape at left maintain the rise and run less formally. For a rise of 36 in. (91 cm), consider that you will need a run of 5 ft. (1.5 m) to ascend six 6-inch steps with five 12-in. treads.
The height of the guardrail is now required to be 42 in. (107 cm) in many areas. It was 36 in. (91 cm) on single-family houses for many years, so your existing railing may be 36 in. (91 cm). You will need to meet the higher dimensions only if you are building new or replacing the one you have, with a permit.
Since the floor of this porch is less than 30 in. (76 cm) above the ground, the shorter railing is allowed. Another regulation for required guardrails is that a 4-in. (10-cm) sphere must not be able to pass through any opening in the railing, for safety reasons.
The floor of a porch looks different with wide-plank wood decking than with concrete or tile. Ceilings, as in this example, can be finished in beadboard, and beadboard comes in numerous sizes. The board can be as narrow as 2 in. and as wide as 8 in., with the bead detail also varying. The architecture of the main structure should dictate the type and detail of the columns. The railing can also vary greatly and be of several different types of material. Wood is just one, but you will find wrought iron, cable and steel, depending on the architecture.
As seen in this example, the detail should be in scale to the house and the porch itself.
This porch is approximately 8 ft. (2.1 m) deep and 12 ft. (3.7 m) wide. It is low enough to the ground to do without a railing. You will notice that the scale of the brick piers and the columns that rest upon them is diminutive, while the stone piers and tapered columns in the Craftsman house example are far more massive and heavy in appearance and require a much larger-scale porch.
Deep porches are wonderful, but you can create a welcoming porch with just 6 ft. too. This illustration shows what you can do with a 22-ft. (6.7-m) long porch that is 6 ft. (1.8 m) deep. Steps up to the porch are centered to the entrance door, and six posts creates five bays. In a symmetrical design like this, you’ll want odd numbers of spaces between posts, because the center acts as the entry point.