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A good way to start planning your new porch
is with a package of graph paper.
Decide how many inches each square on the paper will
represent (the scale of the drawing), and note this at the top of your page. You will also need a sharp pencil, a straight-edged instrument (such as a ruler), and a metal measuring tape.
Armed with the aforementioned tools, we are going to draw a floor plan of your porch... not unlike one that might be prepared by an architect or building designer. A "plan" is basically a layout, drawn as if viewing your porch from directly above. See an example drawing of a
Rectangular Porch with Shed Roof plan.
With your metal tape, measure the length of the wall (or walls) of the building to which your porch will be attached. (Of course, if you are planning a porch for a building not yet constructed, you will need to use the proposed plan for this building to determine the
length of wall to which your porch will be attached.) Draw a line(s) to represent this wall(s), being careful to apply the scale you have decided upon. Locate all doors and windows and transfer them to your drawing. What we are trying to achieve is a graphical representation of existing conditions.
Next we must decide upon a tentative length for your porch, based upon existing conditions.
The overall balance of porch and main structure is the most
important factor. It is often more visually pleasing for a porch to end a foot or two short of the corner of the building to which it is attached. We are only determining a tentative length at this point, for we may soon find that slightly more or less length will work better when the spacing of steps, posts, etc. are considered. For now, it is the approximate length of your porch we are needing.
Once you determine this length, so indicate with marks on your drawing.
The depth, front to back, of your porch can vary from less than enough for sitting (for decorative purposes only!) to extra deep. We like porches that are at least eight feet deep. This allows room for swings, chairs and small tables. However, if you plan to spend much time on your porch you might enjoy having 10 feet of depth. Decide upon a tentative depth, and draw this onto your plan.
The next most important consideration is the position of the steps, both for the primary entrance to the porch, and for any secondary steps you may desire.
If the porch is to have a low concrete slab foundation, steps, in the traditional sense, may not be required. In that case, the present discussion of step location should be interpreted to mean the location of the walkway, opening in the Balustrade, if any, or opening in the flower beds that would determine the point at which one would step onto the porch.
Generally, the main entrance steps will be directly in front of the main entrance to the building, assuming this is a front porch. For side or rear porches, it is often more convenient for the main steps of the porch to be located at a position other than directly in front
of the entrance to this side of the building.
Mark temporarily on your plan the location of the primary (and any secondary) steps you would like to have. Indicate the width of opening onto the porch that these steps will require. (There is, of course, no absolute rule of thumb for how wide steps should be, but certainly the primary steps should be of sufficient width to allow two people to comfortably pass one another.)
Porch Post Placement
Now we are ready to determine the tentative placement of Porch Posts and Newel Posts. For reasons that will become apparent shortly, this is one of the most important aspects of designing your porch!
The following discussion does not take into account structural considerations. We cannot make these determinations for you, but generally, for standard porch construction, Porch Posts can be spaced up to ten feet apart. It is typically not the strength of the Posts
but the strength of the beam above that limits Porch Post spacing. If you are unsure of the structural aspects involved, please seek the advice of a qualified contractor, architect, or structural engineer.
Our goal is to have the same distance between each pair of Porch Posts but exact symmetry is seldom possible! Also, it is very typical for the Posts on either side of steps to be closer to one another than other pairs of Posts. If your porch will be a wrap-around, then it is desirable to have the same distance between Porch Posts on each side of the porch.
There are several considerations to be made in determining the proper placement of Posts:
• You must have a Porch Post at each corner of the porch.
• You must have either a full length Porch Post or a Newel Post on either side of
any steps or entryway.
• You want to avoid having a Porch Post in front of any door or window, if possible.
• It is more visually pleasing to use Half Posts against walls.
• If a Balustrade is planned, an intermediate Newel Post may be used between each pair of Porch Posts, if desired.
Please notice that the above list includes two "must haves" (Posts at each corner and at either side of steps), one "want" (Posts clear of windows or doors ), and two "options" (Half Posts and intermediate Newel Posts).
Mark Your Plan
Let's start by temporarily marking your plan with a "P" for the location of each corner Porch Post. If using them, also mark an "H" for the position of Half Posts. If you'll have Newel Posts to provide an opening for steps, then mark those locations with an "N" (otherwise mark a "P" where Porch Posts will be used on either side of each set of steps). Now, with corners and steps located, let's see if we can determine intermediate Porch Post positions that will satisfy our goal of having equal spacing between all Porch Posts, while also not having any Porch Posts in front of windows or doors. (It will usually work from an aesthetic standpoint to have between five and ten feet between Porch Posts.)
If you can easily position your intermediate Porch Post to meet all of our parameters, consider yourself lucky and move on to the next section on Elevations!
For the other 99% of all porches, let's see what can be done to optimize your somewhat uneven Porch Post spacing:
Consider making your steps a different width.
• For secondary steps, consider relocating them.
• If you've used Porch Posts to the side of your steps, consider substituting Newel Posts.
You can be somewhat arbitrary in deciding how much distance to have between these
Newels and your Porch Posts. Thus, you will have some flexibility in determining the
position of the intermediate Porch Posts.
• Consider changing the overall length of your porch.
• If your house is not yet built, consider changing the position of windows and doors.
• If your porch turns a corner, consider using a different total number of intermediate
Porch Posts, in the hope that this may help to equalize the space between Posts from one side of the porch to the other.
And after all of these consideration, if you are still unable to achieve exactly equal spacing between your Porch Posts, take heart. As long as you are reasonably close, you are probably the only one that will ever know. We won't tell if you don't!
We are available by phone or email for free personalized consultation.
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