Ask the Architect

We’d like to expand the porch


Q. We have an old porch behind our house that has been converted to a sunroom so we can use it year-round. The floor is concrete and angled toward the door. We looked at our property survey and realized there’s no porch, and it probably doesn’t have a permit. We don’t understand, because we discussed the room before closing and nobody said a word about it. Now we want to expand the porch and make sure everything is done right so we don’t have to worry. What are the steps to doing this so we can make things less of a headache? We worry that there’s more to this.

A. Typically, additions are checked for permits during a search of records at your building department, and I always recommend that people get their own information, even if the attorney and/or title company is supposed to also be doing the search. Your main objective would have been to find out sooner than later if there was an issue, and at this point it still is.
You also want to be sure you have a readable survey, where you can see all the numbers that show the distances of the house to the property lines and the dimensions of every exterior wall length. I often get these useless surveys handed over from homeowners where the survey is a “real estate” survey that mainly shows the property dimensions and no information about house size. If surveyors show the house on a survey, wouldn’t it just make sense to put on dimensions?
The survey is an important tool used as a starting point, not just a picture. Pay more for a full survey and get much more when you need to use it. Not having a dimensioned survey slows the process as we wait for the information. Unfortunately, even though we could take the measurements ourselves, it is the legal purview of surveyors to represent in the legal survey document.
It also helps if you dig a hole to find out how deep the foundation goes down into the ground, then have an architect look at the structure and assess whether the porch can be used or whether to tear it down and start over, because many porches don’t have a deep enough foundation, and the existing porch may be under-structured, meaning the size of the roof rafters and beams doesn’t meet building code requirements. The foundation must go down 3 feet deep, which is the minimum depth to get to the frost line during cold weather, when a shallow structure is heaved up during prolonged cold snaps we get nearly every winter.
The structure size must allow for the new energy-code-compliant insulation depth, so small rafters won’t make it, even if they look sound. Planning can begin with this basic information, followed by estimates, filing for permits, construction, mandatory interval inspections for foundation, framing and insulation and then final sign-off from the building inspector. Good luck!

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.