As the spring grows warmer and warmer, many people start to think about adding a deck to the side of their house, so they can sit outside and enjoy the fine weather. Decks are a fine way to spend time outdoors, but they do have a couple of downsides. The biggest can be usually described in one word: mosquitos.
The alternative is to add on a porch, but they have downsides, too. The biggest is usually cost, but it’s best to take a look at all of the plusses and minuses, so you can answer the big question: Which would be best for you and your house?
The open deck was a rare item until the 1950s, when they began to appear in larger and larger numbers in the rapidly expanding suburbs of post-World-War-II America. But houses were sporting verandas and porches for well over a hundred years before then (even some ancient Greek temples had a type of portico that could be called a porch), and screens began to appear soon after the Civil War. Sitting out on the front porch on a hot day to watch the world go by became a daily part of summer life.
But times and styles change, decks caught on, and people began tearing down porches or at least ripping off the screens. Now that trend seems to have evened out.
Porches provide shade, capture breezes, and – with screens – keep out the insects. Those are the big three reasons for having one. Together, they stretch the useable season at either end and can make the high summer season more enjoyable.
Additional benefits include keeping off the rain and keeping summer sun away from windows. They also provide a greater sense of privacy, particularly with screens. It’s also important to remember that the porch roof and its eaves help to reduce the exposure of the porch floor (i.e., the deck) to sun, rain, and snow, reducing the need for maintenance and eventual rebuilding.
On the other side of the balance sheet, a porch can feel more closed in and less like being outdoors (as well as making adjoining rooms seem very shaded). Screens can make the space seem too dark and cool at times. The same goes for the roof. And porches are more expensive to build. While removable screens and skylights can reduce the deep shade and the closed-in feeling, there’s little you can do to reduce the cost.
Decks put you right out there in the great outdoors, where you can get lots of good sunlight and feel the full effect of the breezes. You can safely use a grill on a deck, whereas grilling on a porch requires much more care and can trap smoke. A deck can be much more elaborate in shape and size than a porch. And there’s no denying that, given the same size and features, a deck will be cheaper to build than a porch.
On the other hand, decks put you right out there in the great outdoors . . . where the bright sunlight can get too hot for both you and the decking (see our blog article Wood or Plastic?). With a deck, windy days can mean gritty food and scattered napkins, while rain is another condition that decks don’t handle well. Then there are the mosquitos, which can drive you indoors if you’re close to woods or water.
You can counter some of the cons by building a deck big enough to take a portable screen house, and by using pop-up canopies or umbrella tables to provide a spot of shade. Since bugs, sun, rain, and wind are temporary problems that come and go with the weather and the season, many people find tents and umbrellas to be reasonable solutions.
Some period houses are built in a style that seems to go best with a porch. Victorian and Turn-of-the-Century styles are obvious examples. More modern houses seem to look more natural with a deck. But many, if not most houses will look fine either way, as long as you put them against the right wall.
In the long run, it comes down to your personal style. Which one did you grow up with? Which one looks best to you? Where would you feel most comfortable? Yes, cost can be an issue, but it’s not the only question to consider.