You may or may not be aware of this, but I have spent much of the last three years writing Green Building: Principles and Practices in Residential Construction, the first textbook on residential green building, with my friend and associate Abe Kruger. It was finally published in January, and as of February 4th, we were ranked as high as 192,000 on Amazon’s bestseller list!
Check out our first review on Treehugger.com. There will be a full review of the book on GBA soon, but in the meantime, at my editor’s suggestion, I am going to recap some of the core concepts we cover in the book, including some of the awesome illustrations that accompany the text.
Porches and patios and decks, oh my!
Chapter 10, “Outdoor Living Spaces,” addresses the value of including porches, decks, and patios in homes. While the type of outdoor space and the amount of use they will get is very climate-specific, when they are properly designed and constructed, they can add value, save energy, and help occupants enjoy the outdoors.
Now, I realize that designing and building outdoor spaces isn’t exactly brain surgery, but plenty of people don’t consider the implications of what type of structure they are building, how it will affect the interior space, and, most critically, how to attach it to the house to avoid structural problems. One major consideration with outdoor spaces is their effect on sunlight – consider using covered porches to keep out excess sun in warm climates and on west-facing windows, but avoid them in colder climates and on north-facing windows that let in even light that doesn’t overheat the house.
Screened porches in climates with flying insects but moderate temperatures make great spots to relax – napping on a porch is one of my favorite pastimes.
Avoiding dumb mistakes
Probably the biggest issue with outdoor spaces is properly connecting them to the house in a way that doesn’t compromise the weather barrier. I have read too many stories about deck failures causing major injuries and death. Too many decks are just bolted to the house with no consideration of how to integrate them with the weather barrier to keep water out of the structure.
Another challenge that many builders don’t pay enough attention to is properly sealing open porches above living space. In my humble opinion, they should probably be completely avoided, but sometimes you can’t — so when you do build one, make sure to do it right.
Another issue with porches is making sure that there is a complete air seal where the roof connects to the house wall or roof. All too often there are big thermal bypasses that allow outside air to get into the wall or roof area, compromising the thermal envelope.
The pros of outdoor living spaces outweigh the cons, but, like any part of a home, the work must be done properly to insure long-term durability and performance. It matters less what you do, and more that you do it properly.