Porches by any other name have no roof

HOME WORK

August 13, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

What's the difference between a porch and a deck?

That's the question from a reader in Baltimore, who notes she sees a lot of articles about deck construction, but wants to know, "Why don't I see articles about porch construction (especially since they have become popular again)?"

As for definition, we would consider a porch to be (a): an integral part of the structure of the house. It often constitutes an entrance because of characteristic (b): porches have roofs. (If they don't have roofs they're stoops or terraces). Porches are designed to protect people entering the building from the elements, though that's not their only function. The Victorians especially expanded the uses of the porch to include sitting and eating areas.

Decks, on the other hand, are fastened onto the structure, usually at the back, and often after the house has been built. They don't have roofs and their purpose is recreation.

Because they're designed into the structure of the house, porches aren't often retrofitted. It's true they're newly popular -- especially screened porches, which are making a modest comeback. One of the lavishly elegant and state-of-the-builder's-art houses in this year's "Dream Homes" expo by the Maryland Association of Home Builders, the Williamsburg model, included a screened porch just off the kitchen/breakfast nook.

We're great fans of porches, too. They're an important element in the charm of old houses. They also serve a practical purpose -- today as in the past -- in non-air conditioned houses: They expand the living space into the breezy outdoors. And the deep overhangs of the porch roof provide a cool space on the porch underneath, so air moving into the house, through screened or shuttered windows, is cooler than it would be if the sun was warming it first.

Of course, you could get the best of both worlds by building a porch/deck, partially overhung by a second-floor screened porch. That would be a great renovation.

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No matter what kind of renovation you're doing, if you are working with a contractor it's important to have a rational and fair draw schedule -- that is, a schedule of when payments will be made and how much they will be for. Contractors need regular payments, because they continually have to buy materials and pay employees (not to mention the state and the IRS); if they aren't being paid regularly on a job, they are likely to concentrate on some other job where the money is more certain. On the other hand, if the client is too generous and something goes wrong, he or she could end up paying for more work than gets done.

Randy recently met a couple who had hired a contractor to build an addition and reconstruct their kitchen. But a number of things went wrong, including a job injury, and six months later they are still without a kitchen and are out a considerable sum of money they had advanced for things such as kitchen cabinets (long before they were needed on the job).

The contractor, who was unlicensed, has left the state. The Maryland Home Improvement Commission is pursing criminal charges against the contractor for working without a license. But there is little hope that the homeowners will get any of their money back.

As a general rule, contractors should get one third of the total price of a job up front -- that's the MHIC standard. Beyond that, payment should be made for work completed and for materials needed immediately to continue work. Many contractors like to bill weekly for work completed. Homeowners who aren't satisfied with the pace of the work probably do themselves no favor to withhold payments due; sluggish cash flow is most likely the problem in the first place. It's an example of why good communication is important between contractor and client. If there's reluctance on either side to talk about money, problems are sure to follow.

And before you hire any contractor, check his or her credentials. The Maryland Home Improvement Commission, or similar licensing body in any jurisdiction, can tell you if the contractor's license is valid. Unlicensed contractors can sometimes offer lower prices, since they probably have lower overhead and may be able to work simply for labor and materials costs. But problems with an unlicensed contractor can prove expensive.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.

Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278.

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