Outdoor Rooms and Screened Porches Add Living Space

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Outdoor Rooms and Screened Porches Add Living Space

By Marilyn Pribus–

An outdoor room is a looked-for feature in a property, declares REALTOR ® Gerri Russell with Roy Wheeler Realty Co. “It’s an extension of the home and I think it adds value because people want to be outside and enjoy their lawns and gardens and flowers.”

Defining The Space
Outdoor rooms can be defined by walls, deck railings, or a floor area of wood, stone, brick, or composite. Shade is definitely a priority in our region and can be provided by pergolas, arbors, awnings, umbrellas, or roofs. An important consideration is the movement of the sun overhead because the south and west sides of the property will definitely be warmer.

Other desirable features can include privacy screens or fencing, fans for cooling, heaters for cool  nights, effective lighting when the sun goes down, and even music which can be piped into an outdoor room by your sound system.

Decks Are Popular
A deck or patio is popular for entertaining with enhancements that can include shade, a grill, built-in tables and seating, even a hot tub. Decks can also provide solutions to landscape problems. For example, it’s not easy to maintain a lawn on a steeply sloped yard and a deck built on supporting posts can be the answer.

A deck extending from an upper story can add living space to a second-floor bedroom, playroom, or den and provide a shady play area underneath. Making such a deck watertight creates a roof for a wet-weather seating area or an out-of-sight storage area for yard and garden equipment.

Pergolas
Also called trellises or arbors, pergolas can support growing vines to offer additional shade. Awnings or shade-curtains can be added, either hanging down or on wires beneath the overhead beams to provide shelter from sun or wind, or can be drawn back to allow a view of the sky. The beams can also support hanging plants, lighting, a ceiling fan, or even an old-fashioned porch swing.

A pergola can be built on a deck, above a hot tub, beside a pool, or all by itself over a lawn area. Since pergolas are open to the weather, it’s smart to include waterproof outdoor storage, such as a bench, for stashing cushions and other items.

Screened Porches
A screened porch is an economical way to add an extra room to your home for about half the year in our area, affording shade on a hot day, shelter from summer rains, and blocking those biting critters that appear at twilight.

“For many potential buyers, especially those getting ready to retire and people with children, a main thing on their shopping list for a home is a screened porch,” Russell points out. “Also people with pets so they can let their cat or dog out. In fact, I had one client who put her pet parrot on the porch and the bird just felt like it was outdoors.”

The ideal site allows exposure to breezes from several directions or, conversely, a sheltered spot if your location is constantly windy. Other factors may be the dimensions of the yard, a wish for privacy, or taking advantage of a wonderful view.

It’s also important to consider how you plan to use it. Will it be a quiet place to relax or a protected play area for children with built-in toy chests? If you will be dining or entertaining often, you may want a table or buffet that can fold down against a wall. Do you want a door from the porch to the yard?  What about access directly from the house or both? 

Some people prefer a rustic porch with exposed rafters while others want a more elegant construction that is basically a finished room with walls of screening. There might be a ceiling, outdoor carpet, attractive lighting, and at least one ceiling fan. Overhead heating or a fireplace could also be installed to extend the useful porch season.

Fire Pits
One couple, let’s call them Jane and John, had “outdoor fun for the grandkids” high on their “want list” when they built their Fluvanna County home. 

A deck from the main floor overlooks a pool and the space under the deck next to the walk-out basement provides shade for an all-weather ping pong table. “We didn’t know if a fire pit would be used,” says John, “so I started with an inexpensive stand-alone fire unit on a base of river rock.”

The family ended up enjoying it, so he laid a sand base and replaced the rocks with sturdy pavers around a heavy sunken fire ring.  “The fire ring came with a heavy-duty grill and a screen to contain embers,” he explains. The area is defined by four Adirondack-style chairs with saved sections of a big tree trunk for side tables and perches for the kids. Cushions are stashed in an outdoor storage box.

“When I light the fire,” John says, “everyone is down from the house pretty quick with the ‘littles’ hitting the s’mores.”

Whatever your choice for an outdoor room, it will add extra weeks of fun and relaxation during the year.


Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville.  When they moved from California ten years ago, they added a screened porch over a portion of an existing deck on the house they bought.

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