Screen Stars

Want to make your porch more versatile? Here's a way to enjoy open views during bug-free months and have protection when the skeeters and flies blow in.
Text by Michael Haigley

It's only natural to want nothing between you and the coastal view for which you're paying a premium. Until, of course, summer bugs arrive. Then you're ready to get the contractor back to screen in that open porch.

You can have it both ways. With the modular approach, you put in screens whenever you want them. Here's how it works.

The porch structure. First, you need a framework that's easy to plug screen panels into. Your porch should have columns or posts that allow you to anchor panels every
9 to 12 feet. Doors will have to be hinged on those posts. It's important, too, to have either a sturdy ceiling or a soffit that can accommodate a track to secure the top edges of the panels. Most porches can be retrofitted to make this system work.

The panels. We build screen panels almost the same way as a screened door-with 1- by 134-inch stock framing a section no more than 3 feet wide. That way, each panel can be handled easily by one person, and the screening won't bulge or sag over time. Fiberglass and bronze screening stand up well in coastal conditions. We often install Kevlar screens for something a little more dog-proof?but its tight mesh admits less light. In Nantucket, we use mahogany for the panel frames because of its stability. You'll probably want to paint the wood to match the porch trim, which adds an extra layer of protection.

The fastening technique. I like to create a track or slot to affix the top edge of each panel. Leave a 34-inch space between two boards nailed to the porch ceiling or soffit. Ease the top of the panel into the slot before anchoring the bottom at deck level. One barrel bolt at each base corner holds the bottom edges in place. The bolts slide into predrilled holes in the decking. A simple tie-down system is key; otherwise, you'll lose enthusiasm for putting in and taking out the panels.

The weather strip as gasket. My favorite way to bug-proof the cracks between panels is to create a gasket edge with weather stripping. Cut a groove along the frame edges in which to seat the weather stripping. Because the material compresses, it makes up for imperfect edge-to-edge fits. Put weather stripping on all four edges of each panel if you like, as long as you allow for the extra space. The strips are crucial for the long, vertical edges where panels meet porch pillars.

Endurance. The modular panels cost about 15 percent more than a permanent screened porch, but by storing them during the most punishing seasons, you'll save in the long run. Before you put them up again, just brush the screens with a broom and hose them down.