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Front porch and back porch material recommendations

Karen Miller | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

We are building a net zero, LEED Platinum home and need to decide front porch and back porch materials. Would love to get recommendations on beautiful and reasonably priced materials.. with low maintenance (at least for the porch). Too many decisions to make!
Thank you for your help, – Karen

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  1. Andy Ault, CLC | | #1


    More info please:
    - where is the house
    - what portions of the porch are you asking about specifically (roof? flooring? railings? columns?)
    - will these porches be just for egress / ingress or are they for hanging out with friends?
    - what's the style/architecture of the home?
    - will they be fully open or enclosed with screens or glass?
    - are they at grade (i.e. no railings needed) or are they more than 30" above the ground level?

    At the moment, your question is much to broad and non-desrcript....

  2. Karen Miller | | #2

    Hi Andy,
    - House is in Newton, MA
    - Need recommendation on everything
    - Front porch is for walkway to main door and will have space to hang out and back porch will lead to patio
    - Shingle style home
    - Back door to patio will have a screen
    - Both porches need railings
    Thanks again,
    - Karen

  3. Andy Ault, CLC | | #3

    You asked for “beautiful, reasonably priced, and low maintenance.” That may be a little like the old saying “fast, cheap, and high quality ... pick two.”

    The one thing you didn’t ask about was green or sustainable, but since you’re on this site, I’ll assume that’s part of the criteria as well.

    The obvious moderately priced, low-maintenance option for a porch / deck is PVC and synthetic materials (i.e. Trex, Azek, etc.). But they usually aren’t very green at all or particularly beautiful (despite what their marketing material may say to the contrary).

    A really beautiful and low maintenance product for exterior surfaces can be a product like IPE wood (aka Iron wood). With a little research you can find it FSC certified so that helps with the sustainability side. It is also so dense that it weathers extremely well and doesn’t require aftermarket stains and VOC finishes. However ... very few people would consider it reasonably priced and most carpenters upcharge for installing it because it is so @#$% hard that it kills drill bits and saw blades.

    Another, somewhat newer, option that you may want to consider is thermally modified wood. One provider is PureWood Products. This is a domestically grown and produced material (vs. woods like IPE which are imported from tropical climates) which contains no added pressure treatment chemicals but is completely safe for exterior applications. You don’t have any worries about chemicals leaching into the ground water or onto your pets, kids, etc. That also means that it is fully recyclable at the end of it’s service life which is a problem with some composite decking and all pressure treated wood.

    This product may require a little more maintenance than a composite or the IPE, but it will be more reasonably priced than either one of them. Depending on your shingle finish, it may also be able to blend very well with them. They have a full range of decking, T&G porch boards, T&G ceiling planks, handrails, balusters, etc.

    The one thing I haven’t seen from them yet is stair railing. This could be important to you because depending on how the inspectors are there in Newton, they may want you to have a “graspable” handrail on the steps. The 2x4 product they offer for the guardrails won’t meet that standard. This means you’ll either have to add a parallel railing which is smaller in diameter, or your contractor will have to field modify their 2x4 guardrail.

    Since they have the whole system, this should cover you for flooring, rails, and ceiling. Then you’ll just need to think about architecturally correct columns and your roofing material. Presumably, the roof will be the same as the rest of the house, in typical shingle style vernacular.

    For the columns, I’d suggest trying to see if you could track down some locally salvaged ones which should be architecturally correct and highly “green.” A good web site to find salvage suppliers near you is the Building Materials Reuse Association member directory.

    Alternately, if there aren’t any nearby, you could try one of the reclaimed lumber wholesalers such as Jarmark which is just down the road from you in Chelsea. They could sell you the reclaimed old-growth wood which you could get milled into the column design of your choice. A few other similar options which aren’t as close are Mountain Lumber Company in Virginia or Antique Lumber in Pennsylvannia.

  4. Steve El | | #4

    About that back porch..... I think you said its function is to lead to a patio. That sort of implies that is the only function, so assuming that is the only function, why do you have to have a PORCH to reach the patio? If the area is for mild weather use only, then you can hit all three goals (beautiful, cheap, and low maintenance) by skipping the porch and either bringing the patio to the house, or connecting the two with a landscaped pathway. I mean, why walk to the patio over a foundation, floor assembly, walls/columns, and roof when you could get through the shady tunnel of roses and grapes (or whatever)? If you are worried about roof lines and all, maybe you can address those issues with what you plant

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    In rainy areas of the country, every exterior door should be protected by a roof. That's why a porch usually makes sense -- even if it is a small porch.

  6. Steve El | | #6

    Thanks for the comment Martin.... does that mean the simple cantilevered roof over the door swing on my side entrance is a "porch" roof? Maybe in the tech-speak of architecture but as an end user I sure don't think of it that way. From the scant information I was assuming Karen's patio is farther from her door than the landing or stairs or whatever immediately in front of her door, and my post was in reference to that additional distance, if any.

  7. Guillermo Metz | | #7

    Hello. Why no mention of native rot-resistant woods that are comparable in cost to PT (particularly locust, but also larch, which untreated will last 25+ years in the case of locust and 10+ years for larch)?

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