Spring, summer, fall One space does it all

It’s summer and the Tait family is together in their secluded backyard porch, enjoying the evening breeze and a good book. When fall comes they can light a fire in the stone hearth.

The Tait’s 250-square-foot three-season porch feels like a summer cabin, with exposed cedar beams and antlers set above the mantel. With the comforts of electricity, overhead lighting and a wood-burning fireplace, it’s no wonder the family chooses to spend a majority of their summer in this room.

Two years ago, the Tait family met with Meriwether Felt, head architect at TreHus Builders, who designed the space to maximize outdoor exposure while remaining usable through fall and spring.

Originally the Taits’ wanted access to their porch via the kitchen at the back of the house, but rooflines didn’t match up and the children’s play area sat in the middle of the plans. Felt reasoned the porch would flow better off of the den, and transformed the den windows into full-view French double doors.

The Taits didn’t have to compromise on backyard space, since the north side of the yard was already a stone patio. The stones were used to surround the porch and to create paths to the kitchen and garage.

Felt chose to light the room with low-voltage monopoint lights to make it a comfortable space to read on late summer evenings. For convenience, exterior electrical outlets are hidden below the flooring with small trap doors and finger holes for electrical cords.

She chose durable materials, such as Ironwood flooring, Douglas fir, cedar and stone, and lightly stained them to pull it all together. She used copper gutters and siding, knowing it would age into a dark brown muddy color. “We wanted to pick materials that were high-quality materials, all wood and all relatively similar to give the porch a uniform appearance. It’s a really calm space,” Felt said.

She used low-maintenance materials to reduce upkeep. “If you build with durable materials, you will save money in the long run,” said Felt.

Storm windows can replace the screen panels around the room on rainy and chilly days, making the porch comfortable three-quarters of the year, even though it’s not insulated.

The fireplace is both the family and Felt’s favorite feature of the porch, and both agree they wouldn’t do anything differently.

Building your three-season space

A three-season room extends the living space of a house much like a screened porch does, but with operable windows that can be put in place during bad weather. They allow access to nature without exposing the room to the elements.

There are four categories of outdoor spaces: open-air porches, screened porches, three-season porches and four-season rooms. A porch is typically covered, but has no screens. A one-season porch has screens, and a three-season porch has storm windows. Four means you can live in it year round, because it has heating and insulation.

Unlike a four-season room, a three-season room does not require a heat source or insulation, and thus is less expensive and less time-consuming to build. That is not to say that a three-season room cannot have a fireplace or ceiling insulation — there are no specific guidelines — but most builders agree that heat sources are not characteristic of three season spaces.

A three-season porch is more comfortable in colder months — thanks to storm windows — and permits interior design options, such as indoor furniture, that would not hold up against rain and snow.

Because the porch is protected from weather, more materials are available for walls and flooring. Carpet, linoleum and wood or ceramic tiles are good flooring options, and wood, weather-resistant plywood, oriented strand board or laminate paneling are possible wall materials.

But to really create an inviting three-season porch, lighting and exposure should be the main focus.

“It is critical to have the right amount of the right kind of windows,” said Ali Awad, of Awad + Koontz Architects and Builders, Inc. “We try to design a window layout that will provide a nice breeze and cross ventilation when open. Also a sense of transparency whether open or closed is important.”

Do you really want a three-season space?

Dale Mulfinger of SALA Architects says he actually discourages three-season porches. “My experience with three season porches is that they are rarely used as such, but rather as four-seasons. And then clients wonder why their energy bills are high, or their porch so cold when it’s 10 below. And the three-season porch is never as outside as a one-season porch. The nice thing about a screened porch is its seasonality; it lets us know that summer is here,” said Mulfinger.

To avoid disappointment after the structure is built, it’s important to plan everything in advance. Some questions to consider include: How do you plan on using the three-season porch? Will the porch match and complement the house? Is it in the best location? Is it too big or too small for the yard and house? Where will the entrance be from the house to the porch? This will help you decide what you want out of a porch and how best to go about building it.

“I think the trick with a three- or four-season room is to capture the indoor-outdoor feel,” said Awad. “To be protected from bugs or rain or cold but feel like you are connected to the outside is the goal.”

Three-season porches combine the best of being outdoors with the safety of being indoors, and as for the Tait family, produces a place everyone wants to be.