So, You Want to… Screen In a Porch
Building yourself a space that blends the best that the outdoors and indoors have to offer can be easy and affordable if you're starting with an existing porch. Just keep these key considerations and handy tips in mind as you scope out your weekend project.
A porch is an extension of a home’s living area—a place to savor a summer’s breeze, observe wildlife, or bask in birdsong at the end of the day. Since most people want to spend more time outdoors, it comes as no surprise that many homeowners would like to screen in their porches. After all, when protected from insects and blowing leaves, life on the porch takes on a whole new appeal. Just imagine enjoying outdoor meals without swatting away flies! A screened-in porch can serve as a second family room, a place to entertain friends and spend relaxing evenings with the kids.
For any lucky homeowner who already has a covered porch, the steps for how to screen in a porch are often straightforward, do-it-yourself-friendly, and speedy enough to be completed in a single weekend. But before you grab that screw gun, however, keep reading! We’ll help you decide what type of screened-in porch design is right for you and whether you should install it yourself or consider hiring a pro.
Costs and Other Considerations
The materials to screen in an existing covered porch of approximately 200 sq. ft. could run as little as $450 dollars, including the lumber needed for building screen panels, the screen fabric, screws, and paint to finish the frames to match the trim on your home. If you hire a pro for the same project, expect to add another $300 to $600 to the total cost for labor.
Looking for a little more of a middle ground between starting from scratch and hiring help? Consider the screen room kits available from home improvement stores and websites. A typical 8-foot-by-10-foot kit contains everything needed to cover an 8-foot-by-10-foot section on a covered porch and sells for around $250 to $300 per section.
Installation requires existing deck posts or walls for attaching the screen frames. Costs increase substantially when additional construction is necessary, such as the need to build a roof over an open deck or patio—which, unless you’re skilled in framing, is not a DIY job. Professional construction of a covered deck or porch could run anywhere from $5,000 to well over $20,000, depending on the size and design of the project and the inclusion of custom-built railings, windows, and other amenities.
That said, most homeowners who want to screen in their porches already have suitable covered porches on their homes. Often in these cases, all that is needed are frames to support the screens.
Screen panel size and configuration depend on porch size and individual homeowner tastes, and each style has its pros and cons.
• Smaller screen panels are relatively simple to repair if a screen is torn, though they obstruct views.
• Conversely, large screen panels provide an open, less-encumbered view, but are more difficult and costly to repair than smaller panels. Moreover, even though screen fabric isn’t weighty enough to require a substantial framework for support, it might have a tendency to sag and bulge if you live in a windy area or if children and pets bump against the bottom of the screening.
Consider the proposed use of the porch when choosing screen panel size. If you live in a high-wind region, or if children and pets will use the porch, smaller screen panels make better sense than floor-to-ceiling screen panels.
Also, keep in mind that porch floors 30 inches or more above the ground must have a railing to prevent falls. Screen panels can be installed behind the railing, but the fabric, itself, is not substantial enough to ensure safety.
Screen Fabric Options
Screen fabric has come a long way from the days when your grandparents used rigid metal screening on their screen doors. Today’s screen fabrics offer a variety of options to suit specific needs.
• Fiberglass screen fabric, available in a handful of different colors, is relatively soft and easy to work with. It won’t rust or corrode, but it can be shredded by cat claws. Fiberglass screen fabric is often what you’ll find inside a screen-in porch kit.
• High visibility screen fabric is also made from fiberglass but it features a very fine weave and thin fiberglass threads that provide optimum visibility. While some types of high-visibility fabric may seem nearly invisible from inside your porch, they are typically more fragile than lower-visibility fiberglass screens.
• Aluminum screen fabric makes a sturdy screen that withstands strong winds, but it can be difficult to install and it creases easily. Uncoated aluminum screen can corrode or rust in humid climates, and even coated aluminum screen will corrode if the coating is scratched off by an animal or scraped by metal patio furniture.
• Pet-resistant screen fabric, which is made from durable vinyl-coated polyester, is designed to withstand scratches and tears from cats and dogs. While it’s very resilient, it’s also thicker than other types of screen material so it’s more difficult to see through.
Pro tip: If pets will be an issue, consider installing pet-resistant screen only on the areas where a pet might scratch, such as on a screen door and on adjacent lower screen panels. You can still install screen fabric with higher visibility on upper screen panels.
• Solar screen fabric is manufactured from synthetic fibers and designed to block or reduce the amount of sunlight that filters through, making it a good choice for porches with upholstered furniture that might fade in direct sunlight. Solar screen may also help reduce heat on the porch as it offers a more “shaded” effect.
Codes, Covenants, and Other Considerations
In many communities, as long as you don’t change the structure of your house, pulling a permit isn’t necessarily always the first step for how to screen in your porch. Always err on the side of caution, though, call your local building authority to make sure. If you do have to build something in order to screen in your porch, such as a roof over the porch that ties into your home, you’ll almost certainly need a permit.
Since a screened-in porch will affect the exterior aesthetics of your home, additional neighborhood regulations may apply. If you live in a residential development that has covenants (binding restrictions that apply to your property), you may not be able to screen in your porch—or you may have to adhere to a specific design. Your local building authority can tell you if covenants apply to your property. Similarly, if you live in a homeowners’ association (HOA), you’ll have to submit your porch design to the governing committee for permission to screen in your porch. Covenants and HOAs exist to maintain continuity of design in specific neighborhoods.
Tips for a Successful DIY Screened-In Porch
If you’re lucky enough to have an existing covered porch, and you are familiar with basic carpentry techniques, you can save money by doing the project yourself. We’ve put together a few tips that you might find useful when working on your DIY screened-in porch:
• If you choose to install a screen in porch kit, keep in mind that individual sections can usually be cut down to fit a smaller area, but cannot be adjusted to fit a larger area. Depending on your porch dimensions and configuration, you may need to purchase multiple sections.
• If you’re building your own screen panels from wood, choose insect- and weather-resistant redwood, cedar, or treated lumber since the wood will be exposed to the elements.
• When building with redwood or cedar, use exterior-rated screws, such as galvanized screws, to prevent corrosion. If you’re building with treated lumber, use ACQ-compatible screws.