Dear PoPville – contemplating a complete removal of my front porch roof

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoP,

I own a fairly traditional rowhouse in Parkview and I’m contemplating a complete removal of my front porch roof. The whole structure is a mess and it would take probably $4000-$5000 to rehab it. A couple of homes on my street were recently renovated and had their front porches removed. They look pretty good. Another issue is that I live on a pretty busy street, so I don’t spend much time hanging out on the front porch. It also is north facing, so sun isn’t much of an issue.

I’m wondering if anyone else has done this. Are there any issues to consider that I haven’t flagged? Does anyone have recommendations of folks that could do this demo?”

What do you guys think – keep the porch roof or remove it? Anyone have their porch removed?

Update: This just in from a reader – is this a good alternative?

“This is from a picture I took of a Capitol Hill rowhouse that I think looked pretty good.”

54 Comment

  • It seems minor on a sunny day but you’ll miss protection from the elements. You don’t know how much time you and guests spend just outside the front door–searching for keys, getting the mail–until you’re doing it in a downpour.

  • Owning a historical home is about being it’s caretaker. If you can’t respect or afford the property then you should consider buying something that needs less maintenace. I have been in your situation and decided to sell before I would destroy a 100 year old home.

  • I agree – owning an old home is like owning a child. If the kid came home with a broken arm you wouldn’t just chop it off because you don’t want to pay for an emergency room visit.

    • You wouldn’t chop the arm off because the eventual cost of that – tourniquets, blood transfusions, artificial limbs etc. (not to mention lawyers and lots of therapy) would clearly outweigh the cost of an ER visit to fix the broken arm.

      That is what the OP is doing – asking for other views to help him or her assess the cost/benefits.

    • Worst…analogy…ever.

  • Think RE-SALE value, a porch with a rood is a big plus… Not to mention maintaining outside historically features of the house.

    I personally believe you should invest in the porch if not now later. When we looked for a place in PV, I walked away from several house that were in great shape and competitively priced but had no porch roof.

    One of those great row houses features is just that… a great front porch.

    • I don’t know about that. I spent a lot of time house-hunting and the ones with the porches typically sold for less and sat on the market longer. They make the facade look ugly, that’s the problem.

  • okay im not going to chastise you but porches are really sweet. i live in park view too and i can’t think of any streets that are too busy to enjoy. Columbia or Irving? i could live with that. if you can’t that’s cool though, i’m just saying you should make a serious go of sitting out there from 6PM until 10PM sometime and then re-assess your decision.

    As far as demo goes, they aren’t structural at all. do you want the just the roof and column part gone, or do you also want to get rid of the pad? either way you could just sledgehammer away until it was gone. that being the case, don’t pay very much for the demo.

  • Unless there are a few other houses right next to your home without a porch roof.. dont do it. Your house will look naked..

  • brings up the question… and I’m not sure — how many houses when originally constructed had porches? It appears most were additions after the fact…

    • No… the porches were original. Look at all the old pics in the Then & Now sections.

      Remember no AC in 1916.

      • Yes, but how many of the CURRENT porches are the original ones? I’m 99% certain that the concrete and brick porch outside our ca. 1920 house is a replacement and the the original was mostly wooden. There is evidence of an old coal chute in what would have been the exterior walls of the load-bearing structure, something that would be impossible to reach with the current porch floor and walls. I’m fairly certain that the main brick columns are original, but the rest has been replaced over time. So, rabid historic preservationists, should we strip everything back to it’s original state? If so, there are going to be lots of people losing serious finished square footage as they rip the walls off the back of their houses to restore the sleeping porches. Houses, like cities, change over time. As long as renovations are tasteful and fit the neighborhood character I see no problem doing with your own PROPERTY what you see fit.

        • Whether the porch is actually the “original” wood or not does not matter. I believe it is called curb appeal.

          The look of the houses and neighborhoods are what should be kept up. Just like DC requires developer to keep the fronts when they can, home owners should do the same…

          Sure, it is your house, paint it purple, tear down the front wall because you want more air, put a hot tub in the front yard…

          – but you could also go the the corner of Georgia and NH and toss $20s out in the street.

          That at least would easier and more fun, but just as silly.

          Just my opinion.

        • there are a lot of original porches, just look at row of houses and if a bunch of the porch details match they are probably original.

  • OP here. One of the issues is that the roof is pulling away from the house, and there appears to be some structural damage to the house as it pulls away (i.e., it’s pulling some bricks with it). So it’s looking like I’d need to do more or less a total rebuild of the roof to make it structurally sound.

    The house next door to me doesn’t have a porch roof. Three houses pretty close on the opposite side of the street removed theirs.

    I don’t want to get rid of the pad, just the roof and columns.

    One more thing–up and down my street, there are a lot of porches that are in just terrible condition and I don’t see them adding much value to the house.

  • When I got my house in 09 the porch and porch roof were already removed. Out of our block we are one of the only houses without the porch still on it. It sucks not having one and I wish it was still there. So my suggestion would be to make the repairs to it.

  • Very often I find that roofs block sunlight from pouring into a room.

    I don’t what direction your house is facing, nor how it takes the elements, but, personally, I am turned off by homes that are too shady too often. I want natural light. I think the house can maintain structural integrity even if it doesn’t have the porch roof. One thing you might consider is how the porch looks without the roof — like a veranda, the windows, etc. This is what my grandparents had on their rowhouse in NW — something like a veranda, open porch with tables and chairs. Then they put an arbor with vines in the backyard for when they wanted shade.

    There is a benefit to tearing the roof off. Light coming in is a priority for lots of us. Just my two cents.

  • A house without a porch is like a face without a smile.

  • One thing I’d keep in mind is the protection a roof gives your front door from the elements (though IMO you could always add the roof back later). A friend of ours has no roof in front of her door, and when it snows a lot (which isn’t often, but it happens) she has a hard time opening the front door, had to crawl out a window last Winter. And, like an above poster commented, shelter from the rain when searching for keys, etc. Just some things to add to the pro/con list.

    • That is your argument? Seriously? I fear for our species.

      • …why the fear? We’ve figured out ways to protect ourselves from the elements.

        Seems like solid reasoning to me.

      • It was a comment not an argument, no need to get your panties in a bundle easily scared Closet King. Give your therapist a call, you’re in need of a readjustment.

    • I agree. I get a warm and fuzzy feeling on a rainy day when I arrive at my sheltered porch. I also like that we can sit out on the porch on a warm but rainy day in the summer.

  • OP again. Thanks for all the feedback. When I wrote that “sun isn’t an issue,” I meant that I don’t need the porch for shading. Removing it would help with natural light coming into the house.

    My roofer also noted that I could add back a simpler roof if I decide to remove the current one.

  • Eh. Consult a real estate agent in the area about a guess as to the added value of the porch roof. If you don’t value it and it adds no value, take it down. Ignore the people talking about historic BS. Anyone who buys your house can spend their money on a new porch roof if they so chose. Nothing’s forever in home construction.

    Regardless of whether the roof comes down, the brickwork needs to be repaired.

    At the end of the day, the marginal cost of the roof might not be that much after you factor in the repair you need to perform anyway. Also, an uncovered porch is a higher homeowners insurance deductible and your porch will weather faster leading to earlier replacement. Factor these into your decision.

  • Given what you’ve described about other houses on your block not having porches either, I don’t see any reason why you really need to keep yours.

    My house has porches (with roofs) in both the front and the back. They’re in good condition, so I’m not doing anything to them, but I really would have preferred a house without porches — more light.

  • By the time you ‘fix’ all of the ugliness created by removing the porch (by repairing/painting the brick that you say are pulling out, and where the flashing attaches), I think you’ll find that you haven’t saved much money at all. It will look particularly bad if the joists are currently set into the brick rather than just attached to a ledger board.

  • I think if you just put a small awning of some sort over the door that should solve the problem of standing in the rain looking for house keys. Also, if you use a skilled contractor, they should be able to remove the porch roof and still keep the house looking decent. As far as Parkview is concerned, a lot of the houses actually do have porches with coverings original to the construction. Just depends on the blocks. Most of the houses were built like 1-20 at a time by single builders/architects to look uniform so its not unlikely that entire blocks either all have porch roofs or they don’t. Just personal preference now. Im on a busy street too in Parkview but dang, I LOVE to sit on the porch. met so many awesome neighbors after work sitting outside.

  • all I can say is re-sale value is going to take a hit.

  • add a cheap metal awning instead!! i love those. jk

  • I know the original commenter brought up the issue about shielding you from the elements, but I feel the need to reiterate this point with a new scenario, winter weather mix, and personal experience. With a porch, you at least have an outside staging area, free of ice and snow, that you can use to tackle the ice and snow on the steps.

    When someone flipped the house next to mine, they removed that house’s porch roof. While where I grew up, this would be perfectly legal to do so without consulting your neighbor, I’m not too sure if that’s true in the District since it can have an impact on your neighbor’s property. For instance, their porch is poorly graded and their gutter system was poorly fitted to where water is now draining across my porch and down my steps. Not only will this have an impact on my porch’s structural integrity, but also in winter, this results in a sheet of ice outside my door — not the best way to make friends with a neighbor…

    As for the homeowner, their front porch has been repainted twice since December 2010.

  • OP, see picture I took of a house around the corner from Frager’s Hardware on Capital Hill. PoP just uploaded it.

    I also have a northfacing Parkview home w/ a roof in bad shape and thought about doing this. In the end, I like having the roof and actually want to eventually build a sitting area on top w/ an iron railing around the edge, so I’m going to pass on the concept. It might work for you, though.

    Btw, your estimate for replacing it is on the high end. Ask PoP for my contact info if you’d like info on licensed roofers who don’t charge an arm and leg (the demo work and hauling should have come included in those quotes btw. If not, you’re really being taken.)

    Best of luck.

  • Although most houses in the PoP metro area are more “charming” than architecturally significant, they were built with the porch as an integral part of their “curb appeal” as someone upthread noted, and removing them not only makes the affected house look wrong, it screws up the look of the whole row — both aesthetically and in the sense that it makes the neighborhood look like absentee landlords are just letting their crackhouses go to shit. It’s the urban equivalent of putting a car on cinder blocks out front.

    I’m not a Historical district Fascist — you want to put in vinyls window sashes it’s OK by me (note — a front porch may protect those expensive window sashes)but I’d be pissed if a neighbor ripped down a porch.

  • I live in Parkview and recently rehabbed my whole porch. The contractor was great – and from Petworth – Glen Sperling I would trust his advice in addition to any other advice you get. My neighbors have given us many compliments on the work on our porch — a great one from my elderly neighbor was just how incredibly quiet, respectful and efficient he and his workers were.

  • There’s another factor here–surface water management. That porch keeps a lot of water away from the front of your house, and away from your basement. If you are going to remove the porch and have no sort of roof at all, you have got to take a very serious look at drainage and grade all around the front of your house. All the water that porch roof funneled into a downspout will now be soaking into the ground, and could be making its way straight for your basement walls. So, you have three projects here–the porch removal, replacing it with whatever you’re going to replace it with, and focusing on the drainage and surface water management like your bank account depends on it. Because it does.

  • I cannot count the number of times I wish I had a porch – during snow (esp last year) and rain are the biggest.

  • Taking down 100% of the porch because 20% of it is in disrepair doesn’t make much economic sense. But to each his own; it’s a matter of taste. I just think it’s ghetto taste. When looking to buy a house, if I saw a block of houses where that happened alot, I’d classify the block as “bad neighbors” and move onto another listing.

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