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  • Writer's pictureMatt Weber

Screen Porch Basics

A screened porch can make a great addition to your home, providing a comfortable outdoor space while keeping out bugs and debris. Some screen porches are built for the purpose, whereas others are retrofitted onto a covered deck or existing porch. But all are constructed from an assortment of frames on which the screen is attached along the edges.

Decide on the location and orientation of your porch. Check local building codes and regulations to ensure compliance, and then secure any necessary permits. To design your own screened porch, sketch the layout and design, considering its shape, size, and the features you want. Consider factors such as roof type, ceiling height, door placement, electrical outlets and lighting.

Constructing an addition from the ground up is best left to experienced professionals, who will determine the type of foundation required based on the porch’s size, soil conditions, and local building codes. The builder will excavate and pour concrete footings to support the porch structure. Basic framing usually includes installation of a ledger board, which attaches the porch to the house. The porch frame is usually built of pressure-treated lumber. Installation of the posts, beams and joists will create the structure, incorporating framed sections built to match the size of your screen panels. Vertical screen panels can extend from the floor to the overhead beam, or some porches incorporate a “half wall” or “knee wall,” and the screen encloses the open area above it.

Consult with your contractor about the best roofing material based on your design, budget and local climate. Flooring options include composite boards, tile, stone, or exotic hardwoods that withstand the outdoor elements.

Porch designs can feature full vertical screen panels or half screens above a knee-wall to add more privacy and weather protection.

Cutting the Screen

Choose a durable screen material suitable for your outdoor environment. Choices include fiberglass, polyester, aluminum, stainless and copper (for coastal areas). Measure each section of the porch where you plan to install the screen. Add a few extra inches to each measurement to allow for the screen to overlap the frame. Use a utility knife, scissors, or metal shears to cut the screen material to the measured size for each section. Lay the cut screen material over the frame section, ensuring it covers the entire opening.

Screening the Walls

You have several options on how to install the screening material around the porch.

Screen Frames—One basic option is to construct rectangular frames on your workbench that match the frame openings of the porch. Stretch the screen over the frames, attach it securely, and then fasten the screened frames onto the porch sections. The frames can be attached to the porch by bracketing them with stop molding (like windows) or using a similar trim package. Some screen frames screw directly to the wood porch framing. Home centers and hardware stores sell screen-panel kits, and you can cut the aluminum frame rails to fit. The screen is usually attached to the frames with spline.

Spline is a flexible rubber or vinyl cord that holds the screen into a frame. The spline is installed over the screen using a wheeled spline tool, which presses it into

a groove.

You have options for construction. Bench-made screened frames can be installed as wall panels or lightweight frames can be installed like windows onto the porch framing. Alternatively, the screen can be attached to the wood framing using one of several procedures.

Screen-frame kits include four aluminum frame pieces which can be cut to

size and assembled using the included frame corners, spline, pull tabs and side

tension springs. Spline is usually included, but depending on your screen type,

an alternate size may be needed.

Staple Method—An old-fashioned DIY approach is to forgo the spline and use a heavy-duty stapler to fasten the screen along the face of wooden porch framing. With this budget-friendly method, you simply attach the screen with construction staples then cover the unsightly edges with trim. The staple method has drawbacks, however. The staples don’t always fasten the screen evenly and can cause pulls, tension and disorientation in the grid pattern. Plus, if the staple attachment gets damaged and detaches, it can tear, leaving an unsightly, ragged look.

Stapling the screen is the most rudimentary method of installation, but it works in a pinch. Install trim strips over the screen edges to hide the staples and help protect the connection.

If you’re attaching screen with staples, place the first staple at the top center of the panel and let gravity pull the remainder downward. Fold the 2-inch excess over 3/4 inch and then over again 1/2 inch to create a thick border. Staple it in place. Pull down the center of the screen tight and staple the center in the same fashion at the bottom of the frame. Stretch the screen tightly toward each side and staple near the top corners. Work downward along the sides, pulling slack out of the screen and stapling along the edges every 2 inches. Keep the staples in a line that can easily be concealed by trim strips. Inspect each section to ensure the screen is tight, without sagging or wrinkles.

If stapling the screen, follow these sequence suggestions, then apply staples every 2 inches for final attachment.

Spline Method—The spline method is more reliable for screen attachment, and it can be used with several different framing systems, including window frames and screen doors, resulting in a neater overall appearance. Lay the cut screen material over the frame section, ensuring it covers the entire opening. If hanging the screen in place, work from the top downward. Starting at a top corner, use a spline roller to press the spline over the screen, forcing it into the groove of the frame toward the opposite top corner. Hold the screen taut as you work your way around the frame, using the roller to push the spline deep into the groove so it compresses against the sides for a tight hold.

The spline method generally installs the screen more evenly than stapling. A wheeled spline tool is used to press the spline over the screen into a groove, where it compresses for a tight fit.

The spline-and-groove method works with screen doors and frame kits, and the spline is sold in different sizes to fit different groove widths. The main drawback is long-term durability. When facing strong winds, pets pushing against the screen, or footballs thrown by your kids, the spline can dislodge and require reinstallation. The repair is fairly easy—the same as installation—but repeated repairs can get tedious in a rowdy household.

Spline-Free Systems

Spline-free screen porch products are more expensive than more traditional methods, but they offer real advantages for the installer.

For example, the Screen Tight system has been installed in more than a million homes because it offers a simple three-step installation that’s easy for DIY’ers. Just attach the base track to your existing porch framing and roll the screen directly into place. Then snap on the decorative vinyl cap, which protects the screen connection and eliminates the need to install a separate trim piece over the joint. If you need to reapply the screen for repair, just remove the vinyl cap, re-screen, and put the cap back on.

For easy DIY installation, you might consider the spline-free ScreenTight system. Just attach the base track to your existing porch framing and roll the screen directly into place. Then snap on the decorative vinyl cap. Image © ScreenTight.

Another spline-free option is the ScreenEze System, which is advertised as a “self-tightening” and “self-stretching” system. The L-shaped, low-profile aluminum base channel can be corner-mounted or flush-mounted to the porch with screws. Plinth kits are included to connect the corners.

To install the screen; hold the screen fabric at the top of the opening and square it up, then attach it to the base channel by pressing or tapping the vinyl cap over the screen and snapping it onto the aluminum ridge with a rubber mallet. Seat the vinyl cap completely around the frame. The cap is sold in a variety of colors, including bronze, white, sand and clay.

As with all screen installations, trim off any excess screen material using scissors or a utility knife.

Have a large opening? The ScreenEze system is probably the best choice to cover large areas, because it can span up to 150 square feet. A traditional spline system can only go as large 60 square feet, and posts are required every few feet.

Another spline-free system, the ScreenEze system, uses an aluminum base and a PVC vinyl cap. The ScreenEze system comes in four colors and can cover spans up to 150 square feet. Image © ScreenEze.

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