Designing and Building a Back Porch

By Ren Orin , last updated January 26, 2012

Designing and building a back porch can improve your home both in the emotional realm and in terms of market value. Designing and creating a back deck yourself can be a challenging project, but one with high rewards. By thinking about your budget, the quality of your building materials and the design elements in which you’re interested, your back porch is sure to be well built and suited to your home. And with a few easy final flourishes, it’ll be a great place to show off your style as well as your skill. Before building, be sure to acquire whatever building permits you need.

Budget and Materials

The first thing to think about is your budget. Porch materials can be fairly expensive, and their cost increases dramatically with the size of your deck and the quality of your design. A small 10 by 12 foot patio is likely to cost between $500 and $1,000. However, eliminating the cost of hiring a builder saves you considerable cash, because the price doubles when you have to pay for outside help.

Your choice of building material will affect the cost of your project considerably. If you’re looking at wood, for instance, the difference between inexpensive pine or the more pricey cedars and redwoods can run $8 per square foot or more, which really adds up. On the other hand, you get what you pay for. Pine is known to splinter and crack, while cedar and redwood can last up to 20 years with perfect structural integrity.

Composite material (building material that’s a combination of different ground up woods and resins) can be a great alternative to wood. Plastic alternatives work well, too, and because they don’t rot, they can last a long time. Composites tend to run around $20 per square foot, and plastics can cost anything from $13 to $22.

When you’ve settled on your building material, think about how you want your porch to look. Are you interested in something Southern-inspired, sprawling and sunlit? Consider white railings and a wicker rocking chair. Maybe you’re interested in something more utilitarian, something geometric, compact and sturdy. Maybe design something low-lying and square with a few sturdy steps.

Whatever your design, it’s important to sketch it out. Use graph paper and precise measurements to make sure your structure is safe and will last for years to come. If you’re an amateur builder, consider showing your designs to a professional carpenter.

A Few Simple Guidelines for Building

Strip the siding of your house to about a foot above the top of where the ledger will sit. Cover that area with waterproofing material and attach the ledger.

Dig footings at 8 foot intervals, install piers and then fill them with cement. Make sure you dig well beneath the frost line. Talk with housing authorities in your area for specifics about your location. Build from the bottom up, installing the post bases, posts, beams and joists. Then add the trim and decking and finish with flourishes like benches and railings.

And as you think about your additional design elements, know that they’ll affect your budget as well. Having a contractor install a 20 by 20 foot back porch resplendent with railings, benches and steps costs on average $16,000 to $25,000, according to cost helper, which would be less if you were doing it yourself, of course, but is still quite the monetary increase.

Finally, finish your back porch with the perfect outdoor furniture pillows and blankets. Outdoor furniture makes up an entire niche of furniture manufacturing. Fit your furniture to your design. If you went with the sprawling Southern porch, think about all white wicker furniture and pale blue pillows. If your design is simpler, consider a classic picnic table and umbrella. Finishing touches go a long way. Outdoor pillows, blankets, tablecloths and napkins are available at many local hardware and general stores.

Building your own back porch is a sweaty challenge, but more than likely a great reward. Not only will the market value of your home rise dramatically, but you’ll also have created a place to relax, have an outdoor meal or sip tea in the sun, and you’ll have done it in accordance with your home and personal style. So pour yourself a drink, cut up some cheese and crackers, and enjoy the fading sunlight on your new back porch!

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