Q. We’re trying to decide what to do with our covered patio. It has a roof and beams that are round and may be hard to work with, since we want to either enclose it with screening, put in a low wall and windows with screens for more year-round use, or make it a heated room. Do we have to raise the floor? Right now it’s bricks, and we like the way it looks. Do we need a building permit, since the roof is already there? Someone said it was a good idea.
A. I think you should enjoy one more summer with your open porch before you jump into this project. The answer is going to lead to a long waiting time before you can build. Your community’s building department and the building codes have many requirements, enough to make your head spin, and I can only suggest that you do this the legal way, which is to get a building permit. With all the restrictions, it’s tempting — and typical — for people to not want to get a permit, but if even one thing isn’t done to code or not filed for while the code is current (because codes and interpretations regularly change), you could find yourself making expensive modifications either when you get caught without a permit or when you try to sell and a bank wants every item to clear title before you close.
The first thing is to call things by their correct name. I was initially confused until I figured out that what you call “beams” are actually columns, hopefully with 3-foot-deep footings, the vertical supports for your roof. Beams run horizontally. The porch floor has to be insulated if the space is to be weather-enclosed, and should be raised and leveled, as an interior floor that no longer needs slope for drainage. In the process, the base of the walls can be constructed to eliminate the possibility of rainwater and insect intrusion, while preparing for insulation if the room is to be heated.
This leads to another important decision. If the room is heated, it must meet new, much stricter energy codes, with thick walls for thick insulation — yes, even if the rest of the house is the old stuff that doesn’t match. The code is the code. Also, if you enclose the room, any other habitable rooms leading to it need to be checked to be sure there’s another escape route, since the enclosed porch blocks direct access to the outside. You can’t use one room to escape from another, so windows in adjacent rooms may need enlarging if they don’t comply. Because you never worried before about a wet open porch, the roof and wall attachments have to be sealed and flashed where they meet the house, or you’ll finally notice the trickles and resulting mildew buildup in your newly enclosed space. Do it right, and once. Good luck!
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