Last August, Atlanta Decking & Fence was getting so many requests for porches that the company formed a division called Georgia Front Porch to handle strictly porches and porticos. Gary Zielinski, who runs it, says he can hardly keep up with all the business.
“Porches,” he says, “are going like gangbusters.” Data from a 2000 survey by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) indicates that porches are one of the most frequently requested options on new homes.
Recently, the porch was the subject of an entire book by Washington, D.C., author Michael Dolan. (The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place, www.theamericanporch.com.)
Dolan says the interest in porches by owners of both new and existing homes is cyclical: in the last century it was big in the '20s and '30s, and all but killed off by suburban development in the '50s and '60s. Today porches are back, driven by the need many homeowners have for something he describes as “non-digital, not gussied up.” Increasingly, Dolan says, porches are going on “ramblers, ranches, split levels, and characterless brick boxes that never were intended to have them.”
Two Different Beasts Mike French, owner of Virginia Decking & Remodeling in Fredericksburg, Va., says there's a simple reason for the new popularity of porches. “Baby boomers have a deck already. They have lots of money and want to spend it on something house-related. Pools, spas, gazebos, porches.” French says he's getting two or three times as many requests for front porches as he did five years ago.
A porch can pop up anywhere on a house — upstairs, downstairs; front, back, or sides — but where it goes determines how it looks and how much time and money go into building the design. There are front porches, usually open, and back porches, typically screened. They are, says Paul DeFelice, owner of Northern Virginia Specialty Construction, “two different beasts.”
A front porch, which, Dolan says, is to the house as final touches are to a drawing of a face, can make a new structure seem several decades older than it is. It adds dimension, a feeling of solidity, curb appeal. It makes for a welcoming feel to the façade, permits homeowners to survey the streetscape relatively unobserved, and shelters doorways otherwise subject to weather. In Atlanta, Zielinski typically builds front porches costing anywhere from $10,000 to $24,000. In some markets, they can run to six figures.
Back porches serve a different purpose. Phil Brown, owner of Archadeck of Central Connecticut in Berlin, estimates that 50% of his business is now porch construction, almost all of it screened porches. “I've contracted for two of them in the last 15 hours,” he says. That would make “four in the last 10 days.”