Porches are the New Decks

Outdoor lounge area of a beautiful house designed and decorated in gray, white and a touch of yellow.

A recent study shows that today's new homes include more porches, like this one from Van Daele Homes at Esperanza in Morgan Hill, Calif., than decks.

If your ideal home includes a front porch where you can chat with the neighbors or a back porch where you disappear with a good book and a glass of wine, you’re not alone.

According to research by the 
National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in New England, 64 percent of single-family homes started in 2015 included a porch, while 23 percent included a deck.

“About one-fourth of the buyers we surveyed said a porch is an essential feature of a new home,” says Paul Emrath, vice president of survey and housing policy research for NAHB. “Almost 50 percent of all new single-family homes included a porch in every region of the country, but there are regional differences.”

Nearly 90 percent of the homes built in the four states in the East South Central division (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee) included a porch, but just 46 percent of homes built in 2015 in the Mid-Atlantic division (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) included a porch.

One reason for that regional disparity is the cost of land in some markets, says Mollie Carmichael, a principal of John Burns Real Estate Consulting in Irvine, Calif. One respondent to the
 Insights Panel says she didn’t add outdoor space to her home because it has a small yard. 

A recent survey of the New Home Source Insights Panel shows that 57 percent of respondents prefer their outdoor space to be covered with a roof and 37 percent want the outdoor space to include walls, as well as a roof. Screens and covers for porches are particularly popular in states with a consistent climate year round.

Simply put, home shoppers wants outdoor spaces when they purchase a new home.

“Our Consumer Insights research shows that 46 percent of new homebuyers will pay extra for a porch, with the highest number (53 percent) willing to pay extra for a porch in Texas and the Southeast,” says Carmichael. “Twenty-five percent of buyers are willing to pay $10,000 to have a wraparound porch.” 

Changing Tastes for Porches

The preference for porches has been gradually increasing since 2005, when 54 percent of new homes included a porch, says Emrath. At the same time, the number of new homes built with a deck declined slightly from 25 percent in 2005 to less than 24 percent since 2011.

Carmichael says the location of the porch depends in part on the age and lifestyle of the homebuyers.

“People with young kids often like a front porch where they can watch their children and interact with other parents and kids,” says Carmichael. “Older couples who are downsizing into a new community also like a front porch so they can meet their neighbors. A back porch is more popular with adults who want privacy and what we call a ‘mature family’ with older kids.” 

Architectural Styles and Porches

Nationally, the most popular residential architectural styles are Mediterranean and Craftsman-style homes, each preferred by 34 percent of those surveyed in the Burns’ Consumer Insights profile. Traditional brick, traditional Southwestern homes and Transitional homes are the next three most popular styles, preferred by 23 to 25 percent of new homebuyers. 

“Mediterranean homes don’t tend to have porches, but certainly they are a big part of Craftsman-style, Victorian, Farmhouse, Colonial and Traditional brick houses,” says Carmichael.

In addition to regional differences in architectural preferences, weather plays a role in designing outdoor space. 

“Buyers want to spend more time outside when they buy a home anywhere with great weather year round,” says Khoi Le, a principal of Glazier Le Architects in San Francisco. “In a lot of locations with warm weather, they want a cover for shade, which is why they prefer a porch to a deck.”

At Hale `Alani, part of the Kohanaiki development on the Big Island of Hawaii, Le designed covered lanais or porches that are accessible through sliding mahogany doors, creating a living space in which you’re not sure if you’re inside or not. 

“There’s space for a dining table for six to eight people and a seating arrangement for another group of people on the porch,” says Le. “The flooring is the same inside and outside, either coral tile or sometimes wood and stone, so that also makes it seamless.”

In a development in Mexico, Le designed 12-foot deep porches that are 18 to 20 feet wide, the width of the adjacent great room.

“The covered porches have enough space for a Jacuzzi, a fire pit and a dining table, as well as seating areas,” says Le. 

In Northern California, though, Le says in 70 percent of the homes he designs, his buyers prefer to have an open, uncovered outdoor space.

“The owners like to have a trellis or an arbor or retractable awning to provide shade in the hottest months, but they also want to be able to see the stars at night,” says Le. “Outdoor fireplaces and electric heaters are also a big part of the porch designs there, so they can be used even in cooler weather.” 

Porch Trends

While porches can be very traditional in style, some trendy aspects of porches include building them with a modern outdoor fireplace and with outlets and equipment for watching TV and listening to music outside, says Le.

“Porches are getting bigger all the time as people move more functions outdoors,” says Le. “They seem even bigger sometimes because of the blurred lines between the indoors and outdoors.”

While porches generally match the architectural style and materials of the house, some buyers opt for ipe, a Brazilian hardwood floor that’s resistant to insects and mold. Regardless of the design, there’s no question that porches have an enduring appeal.

“Given a choice, I would choose a porch for protection from the elements,” says panelist Susie Furgason of Salina, La., in response to a question by the New Home Source Insights Panel. “We get a lot of rain and hot sun sometimes on the same day. A porch allows you and the grandkids to play and enjoy the outdoors without getting sunburnt or wet.

Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades. You can find her on Google+.

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