Screen a Porch

A screened-in porch lets the outdoors in -- and keeps out the bugs. Here's how to build one yourself.


Tips for Screening

+ enlarge image This formerly open porch is now a comfortable place to relax.

You can make more of your outdoors with these fresh-as-air ideas that use paint, stain, and basic carpentry skills to spruce up a plain backyard. Mosquitoes, plus the desire to enjoy spring, summer, and fall relaxing outside, prompted the owners of the Atlanta, Georgia home shown here to transform their back porch from a concrete slab to a screened-in showcase. The decision was simple; the solution wasn't quite so easy.

Though they knew they wanted to screen the existing back patio -- a square of concrete tucked under a roof overhang -- complications arose. The porch needed to blend in with the existing house and still withstand the local insects, high humidity, and scorching summer temperatures. The concrete slab had a slight drop for rain runoff, so the homeowners had to trim the inside of the frame to fit that slope.

+ enlarge image Before: The back patio prior to its conversion.

For the porch's interior, the homeowners settled on a beaded plywood paneling that combined country charm and Victorian style. They installed a fan to keep the porch cool during Atlanta's summers.

When it came to the exterior, the homeowners looked for pale yellow siding to blend with the house. They chose a hardboard exterior siding and trim made from a mixture of wood chips and resins. It suffers less than solid wood from warping, checking, and splitting caused by high humidity.

+ enlarge image The new screened porch looks right at home.

The concrete floor (the existing concrete slab) was left uncovered for minimal upkeep. The homeowners keep throw rugs handy for parties. The screens had several requirements to fulfill. They had to keep out the pests, not sag or rip, stand up to wear, and provide a clean, sophisticated look. Instead of fighting to staple the screens tightly across frames, the homeowners used a screen system with a choice of screens that simply snap into tracks on the exterior frame. During the winter, plastic can be installed in the tracks to insulate the porch.

Enclosing an ordinary concrete-slab porch requires basic carpentry skills and tools.

+ enlarge image Step 1: Cutting paneling.

1. Cut the paneling. Pre-primed 4x8-foot sheets of beadboard ceiling paneling are cut to fit.

+ enlarge image A helper makes Step 2 much easier.

2. Install the ceiling panels and fan. A nail gun makes quick work of installing ceiling panels and is easier than holding a panel while swinging a hammer. Before all of the paneling is installed, the ceiling is wired for a fan and light. The fan enables the homeowners to keep their porch 8 to 10 degrees cooler than the outdoors, while the light allows the porch to be used at night. One person held the fan while the other connected the wires then screwed the fan into place. The ceiling's finish trim hides the seams in the paneling.

+ enlarge image Step 3: Framing.

3. Frame the porch. The 2x4 frame of the homeowners' porch was sized to fit the standard-width screens that were installed later. Crosspieces can be either nailed directly through the vertical braces or toenailed in place.

+ enlarge image Step 4: Interior paneling.

4. Attach interior paneling. A staple gun secures the interior pine-and-plywood beadboard paneling. Though the panels are level across the top, they had to be trimmed at the bottom to follow the uneven concrete floor, which slopes to accommodate rain runoff.

+ enlarge image Step 5: Exterior panels.

5. Attach and level exterior paneling. The hardboard exterior panels are added one at a time, from the bottom up. The builders custom-cut the first one to follow the bumpy ground line. It took some practice tries to get the paint the same tone of pale yellow as the weathered version on the house. The weather-resistant exterior paint requires only a washing with soap and water to maintain its color.

+ enlarge image Step 6: Add the screens.

6. Finish off the screen. Vinyl grids are screwed directly into the wooden frame. The screens attach to the channels in these grids, creating a stapleless installation for fiberglass or aluminum screens. Once the screens are rolled into the grid channels using a spline, excess screen is simply trimmed off. A mallet snaps the caps over the vinyl channels and locks the screens in place.

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