Finding the Right Dimensions for Your Porch
Front porches allow a transition from public to private, and can serve as a utilitarian space or a refuge for visiting, relaxing and enjoying the outdoors. To make your porch function well in all of these roles, a few key dimensions and configurations must be considered.
Width of Your Porch
There are three factors to weigh when deciding on the width of a porch: the scale of the house, your budget, and the porch’s intended use. The main goal should always be to create and maintain a clear and open space that frames and highlights the home’s entrance.
Depth of Your Porch
In general, a 6-foot-deep porch is a decent size, but 8 foot is ideal. While shallower depths are possible and many homes have them, keep in mind that a 4-foot-deep porch only allows for simple seating and a few potted plants with just enough room for someone to pass. Smaller scale furniture and fixtures are best for shallower depths.
Depth and Height of Steps
Porch steps need to rise up from the ground to the porch floor, in most cases. While steeper steps are possible, a 6-inch rise and 12-inch run are a good fit for most circumstances. Keep in mind that a 36-inch rise will require a distance of 5 feet to accommodate steps with a 6-inch rise and 12-inch treads. Be sure to check local codes that determine what is allowable in your area.
When Do You Need a Railing?
According to most building codes, a porch that is 30 inches or more above the ground require a guardrail, or railing. But depending on your porch design or how you use the space, you may want to have a railing even if the drop is less than 30 inches.
Other regulations for requisite guardrails include a new height requirement of 42” in many areas. The height requirement of a guardrail used to be 36 inches on single-family houses, so if your existing railing is 36 inches tall you will only need to meet the higher dimensions if you are building new or replacing the one you have, with a permit. In addition, a 4-inch sphere must not be able to pass through any opening in the railing, for safety reasons.
• Proportion — Is your porch mostly for aesthetic or functional purposes? How will you be furnishing it? Your porch activities and your furnishings play a big role in determining the dimensions, scale and structure of your porch.
• Details and materials — Even minute details can be important to the final appearance of a porch. Keep in mind that the detail should be in scale to the house, as well as the porch itself. For instance, the floor of a porch looks significantly different with wide-plank wood decking than with concrete or tile. The same goes for ceilings, columns and railings.
• Relationship to the road — The closer your home is to the street, the more private a higher porch will feel. And the opposite is true as well — homes that are set far back from the road can gain comfort from having your porch spill directly onto a big lawn.