Living Smart: Getting your screened-in porch spring/summer ready

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

What area of the home offers the best of inside and outside living, with no downside except for the need for occasional cleaning and maintenance?

The answer: a screened-in porch. No matter how small it may be, a porch lets you live large. Few home experiences approach paradise quite like an afternoon curled up in a wicker rocker, reading a good book, or an evening of al fresco entertaining with your favorite folks.

But if you think of a screened-in porch as just a home add-on, you might not be thinking big enough. Top-rated contractors who provide outdoor living solutions say porches increasingly are becoming a focal point in many homes.

They tell our consumer services research team that porches are trending larger and more luxurious, with high-end features like well-appointed outdoor kitchens and massive stone fireplaces. Other trends include eye-catching ceilings and floors. Flooring options range from tile to tongue-in-groove hardwood. Ceilings may be finished in an open-rafter style or with wood planking.

If you’re presently porchless but crave the experience of listening to the patter of a summer shower from the cozy comfort of an Adirondack chair, be aware that adding a porch will cost from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size and style.

Meanwhile, if you have a porch but haven’t yet prepared it for the season, you may need to expend a little sweat to be sure it remains a no-swat zone. Take time to inspect the structure and screens. Consider hiring a well-reviewed handyman to re-stain the wood or repair screening. Our team found that a handyman is likely to charge $50 to $100 to replace damaged screens.

Meanwhile, here are a few ideas for decorating a porch:

—Hire a reputable electrician to add a ceiling fan and lighting, so you can use it at night and during the hotter times of year.

—Furnish it with comfortable seating and a place to dine. You can spend as much or as little as you like, with options ranging from matched outdoor furniture sets to paint-your-own garage sale finds.

—Add plants and flowers that complement your furnishings and house color.

—Consider a plug-in water fountain, wind chimes and other features that add to a porch’s sensory delights.