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.

By Michael Haigley
September 24, 2002
Because accessories should enhance, not overpower, a space, a well-placed punch of color in a not-so-mellow yellow perks up the porch without distracting from the panoramic water view.
Jean Allsopp

It's only natural to want nothing between you and the coastalview for which you're paying a premium. Until, of course, summerbugs arrive. Then you're ready to get the contractor back to screenin that open porch.

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

The porch structure. First, you need a framework that's easyto plug screen panels into. Your porch should have columns or poststhat 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 soffitthat 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 ascreened door-with 1- by 134-inch stock framing a section no morethan 3 feet wide. That way, each panel can be handled easily by oneperson, and the screening won't bulge or sag over time. Fiberglassand bronze screening stand up well in coastal conditions. We ofteninstall Kevlar screens for something a little more dog-proof?butits tight mesh admits less light. In Nantucket, we use mahogany forthe panel frames because of its stability. You'll probably want topaint the wood to match the porch trim, which adds an extra layerof protection.

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

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

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