How to make sure you get the most out of a screened room

Screen porch

Is any cottage room as well used, or well loved, as the screened room? The porch, the verandah, the gazebo—its varieties are almost as numerous as its uses: spare dining room. Nap central. Games room while Grandma is sleeping. Guest overflow in a pinch. Front-row seat to a thunderstorm.

Almost any cottage can accommodate a screened room, whether you’re converting a deck into a verandah or building a stand-alone gazebo like this one—a veritable tree house cantilevered into a steep slope, looking out on the lake. With all your options, you’re going to need a little inspiration for where to start. Behold, some of the loveliest screened rooms we’ve come across and tips for planning your own.

Screens from top to bottom

A knee-high 2×4 beam helps to stabilize a floor-to-ceiling screened wall, and it doubles as a ledge for drinks or paperbacks. The space between this beam and the floor is called the kick panel area. Filling in this space with a solid “knee wall” will help protect your porch from the weather, but you’ll sacrifice some of the view. It’s a good option for cottagers with pets or little kids who might bang against lower panels of screen.

Fuss-free floors

David Ballentine, a contractor who built his own cottage on Georgian Bay, Ont., leaves his screened porch open to the elements all year long. He says the painted tongue-and-groove pine floors drain out rain and melted snow just fine. (It helps that his cottage sits out of the wind.) An indoor-outdoor rug adds a layer of protection, but he’s not fussy about his porch floor: “I’d rather replace it every few decades than spend my time installing, removing, and replacing shutters.”

Screen your options

Fibreglass screen is your cheapest choice (from $17 for a 48″ x 25′ roll), but it’s also the flimsiest material—it tears easily and fades quickly in the sun. Aluminum, at $30 for 48″x25′, is a good middle-of-the-road alternative, says contractor David Ballentine, who clad his cottage’s screened room in the stuff. If he had a bigger budget, he would have chosen brass or copper screens, which he says last longer and are more pliable. Meanwhile, Andy Banack, the head designer at Apollo Sunrooms in Edmonton, always recommends PVC-coated polyester or nylon screens for their superior durability and tear resistance. “You get what you pay for,” he says. And pay you will—up to five times more than the cost of aluminum.

Up and out of the way

The old-school porch windows in Charlotte Gray’s 112-year-old cottage on Newboro Lake, Ont., hinge at the top and swing up to latch on to the ceiling, which requires that someone climb on to the dining table. And once they’re up, they’re up—that is, until a storm hits. “Then there’s a mad rush to close the windows,” says Gray. If a little rain gets in, so be it. “It’s the one occasion when the floors get washed.” To make old windows like these a little easier to latch, hang a chain from the ceiling with a clasp or a carabiner on the end. Position it so that it dangles overhead just within reach, but high enough to keep windows out of the way.

Permit me this

Andy Banack smacks his forehead when he sees an eager DIYer walk into his store looking to build a verandah and walk out with half a roll of screen. Building a screened room can be a DIY job, but you have to invest in a complete system. “Otherwise it’s going to look slapped together, like your porch belongs on the bayou,” he says. Also, check the zoning bylaws in your municipality, and secure a permit if it’s required. Skip these steps, says Banack, and “you might have to tear the whole thing down.”

All breeze, no bugs

Perhaps the very best thing about a screened room is that it allows you to spend time in nature without being eaten alive by nature. But make sure to choose screen that does the trick. To keep out no-see-ums, those insidious little biters that can squeeze through screen with larger openings, you’ll need to buy screen with 50 percent blockage. (Higher blockage will keep out wind.) And if your floor is open decking, you’ll need a layer of screen beneath it to keep bugs from crawling up through the gaps like it’s Night of the Living Dead—likely not the vibe you’re going for.