Front porches began as places to enjoy the warm weather while still being protected from the hot sun or a sudden rainstorm. By the late nineteenth century, porches had become a common design feature on many types of rowhomes. Today, they remain a defining element in many of Lancaster's historic neighborhoods. Matching porches on a row of houses help to visually unify a block. A front porch also allows social interaction with neighbors and passersby, which is an important component in building and maintaining a sense of community in our neighborhoods.
Besides their social aspect, front porches -- as well as many rear porches and upper-level balconies -- are important parts of a building's architectural design and style. Many buildings were designed specifically to include a porch, for both functional and aesthetic reasons. Porches help to balance the overall massing of a building, while providing a spot to add fanciful details such as carved columns, brackets and railings that help to enliven a façade. In Lancaster, many early Federal period rowhouses with plain façades had porches added during the Victorian era. Unless an owner is restoring a house to its original appearance, a later porch addition may have historic value in itself, and it should be retained and preserved.
Porch Maintenance and Design Tips
- Paint wood porch elements regularly, which will help to protect the wood from undue weathering.
- Porch elements that have deteriorated should be repaired where possible.
- If missing or severely deteriorated elements must be replaced, replicate them by using an original component as a prototype or model.
- If components are replaced, keep in mind the scale or size of the original. (In other words, don't replace a round, eight-inch diameter column with a 2x4!)
- When installing a new, code-required handrail or railing where none existed before, select a simple design. Metal can be appropriate for masonry buildings. Modern "deck style" railings are not appropriate on the front of older buildings.
- Rest wood newel posts or bottom steps on a concrete or stone plinth, raising them above ground level. This will prevent "wet feet" and will help to control moisture-related deterioration.
- Do not add conjectural porch ornamentation, which often conflicts with the style of the house.
- Replace deteriorated porch steps with in-kind materials. The new steps should be of the same scale and dimensions as the original.
- Do not enclose front porches. Instead, consider roll-up blinds that can be removed seasonally.