Material Solutions: Porches Serve Up a Slice of American Life

Porches add architectural charm and connection—both to the outdoors and between each other—to Midwestern abodes


Photo courtesy of XL Outdoor Living and Moisture Shield Decking

Many homeowners today seek a stronger connection with nature and the outdoors, and considering the many Ps—patios, porticos, pavilions, porte cocheres, and porches, for instance—there are myriad ways to blur the boundaries between indoors and out within our beloved abodes.

In fact, we’ve found homeowners more eager than ever to break down traditional barriers (literally!) to create more open and versatile living environments. And although each of the above options shares similarities, key differences in terms of their location, structure, and usage come into play. The porch, specifically, is by definition a raised space attached to the main home—usually located at the front or back entrance with a roof or an overhang for protection from the elements—that acts as an extension of the house itself. They often serve as a place for relaxation, socializing, and enjoying the outdoors while still being partially sheltered—a key consideration for the Midwest’s unpredictable seasons.

For all these reasons and more, the porch has become a symbol of American culture and quintessential family living, evoking a sense of historical nostalgia and harkening back to simpler times when people relied more on front porch interactions. In the U.S., specifically, porches gained prominence during the 18th and 19th centuries and were influenced by European architectural styles—from colonial-style homes that showcased simple porches to Victorian-era abodes with intricate woodwork and delicate detailing.

But as these architectural styles shifted and air conditioning became more prevalent, they gradually lost popularity—until more recently, that is. Today, porches are cyphers of suburban living, with American families often using their dedicated spaces for social gatherings or engaging with neighbors. This idea of leisurely living plays a central role in fostering hospitality in our homes, ultimately encouraging a slower pace of life that—let’s face it—we all need once in a while.

The recent revival in popularity can be largely attributed to homeowners seeking to reconnect with nature and foster a sense of community, well-being, and sustainable living in their modern-day lives; perhaps that’s why you’ve been (or are now) considering one. Here’s what you need to know before diving in headfirst.

Value Added

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/Natalia

Building a porch onto an existing structure or including one in your new-build plans adds value to your home—and everyday life!—both in the present and future. Whether it’s sipping morning coffee, reading a book in the fresh air, or hosting gatherings with family and friends, this indoor-outdoor connection encourages everyone to appreciate nature and create lasting memories.

Porches have additional perks beyond providing an additional outdoor living space: “Homeowners can add additional square footage while creating a pleasant and comfortable indoor/outdoor enhancement to their home,” says Peter Blattner, co-owner and COO of XL Outdoor Living. “Those who have already added a porch and are enjoying it would easily answer it adds plenty of value to their quality of life, but in today’s market, a porch can add 80% or more to any home property’s value.”

Sure, a well-designed and -constructed porch adds monetary value, but it also can significantly enhance the visual and curb appeal of your home—adding depth, architectural interest, and character to the exterior; transforming the look of your house; and making it more attractive and inviting to prospective buyers if you choose to sell down the road.

Pros & Cons Explained

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/VIS Fine Arts

While there are multiple types of porches, including wraparound porches and sunrooms, you more often hear the term “three-season porch” thrown around nearly every other day—and for good reason. Homeowners love them. But why? Three-season porches tend to be more affordable to construct compared to four-season porches, often requiring fewer structural modifications and insulation. Three-season porches also provide a comfortable space for enjoying the outdoors during spring, summer, and fall while offering protection from insects and mild weather. Their open windows and screens allow for better air flow and a pleasant cross-breeze—making them ideal for enjoying fresh air without direct exposure to the elements.

But, as their name implies, climate control in the winter can be challenging, limiting the porch’s usability. Due to their design, lack of insulation, and inevitable temperature fluctuations, three-season porches can contribute to higher energy consumption if they are adjacent to the main living spaces. As a result, heating or cooling the adjacent rooms can be less efficient due to the increased exposure and potential energy loss through the porch area.

Four-season porches, on the other hand, are designed for use throughout the year, regardless of the season or weather conditions. They are insulated, have proper ventilation, and can be equipped with heating and cooling systems. These porches provide a true extension of the indoor living space—creating more functional square footage for everyday use in the form of sitting areas, home offices, playrooms, or even guest rooms. Their high-quality windows and efficient climate control systems improve energy efficiency by reducing heat transfer, maintaining consistent temperatures, and potentially lowering utility costs.

But let it be known: Four-season porches are generally more expensive to construct compared to three-season porches, and in order to maintain insulation and temperature, they are also going to likely have fewer open windows or screens compared to three-season porches—directly affecting (and likely limiting) the connection to the outdoors.

Materials Matter

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/Iriana Shiyan

Porches can be constructed from various materials, each offering different benefits in terms of aesthetics, durability, maintenance requirements, and cost. Wood is a popular choice for porch construction due to its natural beauty and versatility, and hardwoods (like cedar or redwood) are commonly used for their durability and resistance to decay and insect damage. Wood can be stained, painted, or left natural to enhance its visual appeal, but keep in mind wood requires regular maintenance—including sealing and/or painting—to protect it from deterioration.

Available in a wide range of colors and textures and requiring minimal upkeep, composite decking materials, typically made from a combination of wood fibers and recycled plastic, are another alternative commonly known for their durability and low maintenance. They offer the look of wood but are resistant to rotting, splintering, and insect damage. Meanwhile, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a synthetic material that has gained popularity for porch construction. PVC decking and railing systems are highly durable, and resistant to moisture, rot, and insect infestation. They require minimal maintenance and are available in a variety of styles and colors. PVC also can mimic the appearance of wood while offering superior longevity and resistance to environmental factors.

When it comes to windows, “Double-glazed picture and/or double-hung windows help to open the space while providing energy-efficient, natural sunlight options,” Blattner says. For more affordable options, he adds “vinyl walls and siding are also great materials, as they cost the least, require minimal upkeep, and offer the best overall strength and insulation.”

For flooring in three-season porches, concrete is a strong and long-lasting material that offers excellent durability, requires minimal maintenance, and can withstand harsh weather conditions. Natural stone, such as flagstone or slate, or concrete pavers are commonly used for porch flooring as well. Stone or paver porches are low maintenance and can withstand heavy foot traffic.

Sought-After Amenities

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/Far Corners Photo

Technicalities aside, up the ante even more by incorporating lifestyle features, which can elevate a porch’s functionality, comfort, and aesthetic appeal. In fact, one might argue that four-season porches allow homeowners to bring the inside out. “One major trend has been creating outdoor living rooms/spaces with interior-like seating, lighting, fireplaces, wet bars, various electronics, and even movie theaters,” says Amanda Brown, CEO and co-owner at XL.

An outdoor kitchen is another popular feature for porches—the perfect touch for those who enjoy cooking and entertaining outdoors. Eliminating the need to go back and forth between indoor and outdoor spaces, outdoor kitchens can feature everything from grills and counterspace to refrigerators, sinks, and pizza ovens. Fire features, such as fire pits or fireplaces, also are often incorporated into porch designs to provide warmth, add ambiance, and extend the usability of the space into cooler seasons. (That’s why outdoor heating options like patio heaters, infrared heaters, or radiant heating systems should be considered as well.)

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for the warmer months, too. Ceiling fans are a practical addition to porches, offering air circulation and a reprieve from hot July temperatures. They help create a gentle breeze, provide relief from the heat, and deter insects. Ceiling fans are available in various styles and sizes to complement the porch design. And since we’re already talking about what’s adorning our porch ceilings, don’t forget to consider lighting. Lighting options can include overhead fixtures, wall sconces, recessed lighting, string lights, or even built-in LED strips.

From a technology standpoint, incorporating outdoor sound systems or speakers (make sure they are weather-resistant!) can enhance the porch experience by providing background music or entertainment. Oftentimes, speakers can be discreetly installed as to not compromise aesthetics.

Ultimately, the ideal porch design is one that suits your lifestyle, enhances the beauty of your home, and provides a space that brings joy and relaxation. That’s what it’s all about, after all. “We aren’t your average contractor just throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping it sticks,” Brown says. “We consider ourselves a ‘construction hospitality’ brand, valuing the homeowner’s opinion and collaborating on the project’s vision, [all] while making the process just as enjoyable as the result—for everyone.”

7 Tips for Designing the Perfect Porch

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/pics721

  • Architectural Harmony. Consider the architectural style of your home and aim for a design that complements it. Pay attention to details such as rooflines, columns, trim, and materials to create a cohesive and visually appealing result.
  • Budget & Cost. Establish a budget for your porch project. Consider not only the construction costs but also any additional expenses such as permits, materials, furnishings, and landscaping.
  • Climate Considerations. Consider the Midwest’s unpredictable weather. Factors such as prevailing winds, sun exposure, temperature ranges, and precipitation will help in determining the orientation, roof design, ventilation, and materials that can withstand Minnesota winters and summers.
  • Local Regulations & Permits. Research local building codes, zoning regulations, and permit requirements, or hire a professional to help. Ensuring compliance with these regulations will help avoid potential legal issues or costly penalties.
  • Maintenance & Upkeep. Consider the level of maintenance and upkeep required for different porch materials and features. Some materials may require regular staining, sealing, or painting, while others might be lower maintenance. Assess your ability—and long-term willingness—to maintain the porch over time.
  • Professional Expertise. Engage the services of professionals such as architects, contractors, or designers experienced in porch construction. They can help with the design, planning, and execution of the project, ensuring it meets building codes, structural requirements, and ultimately, your vision.
  • Size & Scale. Determine the appropriate size and scale of the porch in relation to your home and available space. Consider factors such as the layout of your property, setbacks, lot coverage restrictions, and any limitations imposed by homeowners’ associations (if applicable).

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