Screened porches are making a triumphant comeback.
Across the country, they've become a welcome addition to houses being built in new subdivisions and older homes in established neighborhoods -- often instead of the now-traditional deck.
It's a renaissance that stems more from logic than a nostalgic nod to the screened porches common in older neighborhoods. People want the feeling and the view of outdoors, but they want to be comfortable, too.
"It doesn't have to be nice weather to enjoy it," said Barb Kurz, who with her husband, Phil, added a screened porch to the back of their south Kansas City home a few years ago. "Let's face it, there's limited time to be completely outside."
The couple's porch overlooks their gardens and looks like a combination patio and living room. Wicker furniture and floor lamps. Potted herbs and a sisal rug. Wall pockets of dried hydrangeas and roll-up shades. The Kurzes eat, read and entertain there.
Victoria and John Scott are adding a screened porch onto the house they're building near a lake in Olathe, Kan., largely because of health concerns.
"The bugs are really bad out there," said Victoria Scott, whose screened porch will include a chiseled limestone fireplace and French concrete furniture. "We're worried about West Nile virus and other issues with mosquitoes."
Scott said she'll also be able to enjoy the outdoors more from a screened porch than she would on a deck because of a roof: no need to clean falling leaves in the heavily wooded area.
Officials have spotted the growing number of people adding screened porches, which include not only front porches but also screened rooms on the side and in back of houses.
"I've noticed it this year more than ever," said Ken Williams, a residential plans examiner in Overland Park, Kan. "People are mentioning mosquitoes and West Nile virus. A few years ago people building screened porches were not common at all."
Window screens were invented during the Civil War, when so many horses died that their hair was used for screens, sieves and strainers, said Michael Dolan, author of "The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place." The screens later were used on porches.
Screened-porch technology varies from the decades-old style -- screens stapled to wood frames and covered with wood trim -- to aluminum-edged panels. People who want to build or repair a screened porch should consider panels because they're less expensive to replace than tearing down wood and long sheets of screen, said Paul Oxler, account manager of J&J Screens in Grandview, Mo.
Consumers are best off using aluminum or copper screens, Oxler said, because they last a long time and look good. He said many builders like to use thin fiberglass, which lasts only 10 to 15 years, because it's easy for them to roll out onto a porch.
"It doesn't take much abuse," he said. "It's the kind you see with the holes in it."
Screens come in a variety of colors. But Oxler said most people prefer charcoal-colored because it wears well.
Do-it-yourselfers can build a screened porch if they have a concrete patio as a foundation. Supplies for a 10-by-10-foot addition, including the roof and screws, would cost about $1,000, said Jennifer King, Home Depot spokeswoman. Larger, custom-designed screened porches typically cost $20,000 or more.
Home builders view the recent wave of screened porches as part of the trend to duplicate the look and feeling of old urban neighborhoods.
People tend to prefer the traditional screened versions more than three-season rooms -- a combination of glass and screened panels -- or all-glass sunrooms, say interior designers. The sun can make those rooms unbearable and limit their function. But the breeze that filters into a screened porch allows people to use them nearly nine months a year. Abbey Fields has entertained at Easter and Thanksgiving on the screened porch she added onto her Westwood, Kan., home three years ago.
Jennie VanSickle wants the transition from the outdoors into the screened porch her family is building to be seamless and fun. The ceiling will be painted sky-blue with clouds. Furniture and wall colors will be autumnal colors, such as burgundy, green and gold.
The porch, wrapped around a deck, overlooks the golf course in her subdivision. The screens will allow a view of the green but shield them from golf balls.
"I know it will be one of our favorite rooms," she said.
Alan Karlin, a Kansas City interior designer, plans to rip out his deck and add a screened porch off his kitchen. He wants it to have vaulted ceilings with fans and skylights that let in enough sun so he can grow plants.
Karlin has helped lots of clients, including the Kurzes and Scotts, plan ways to make their porches comfortable and useful. For starters, he tells them the area should include furniture for lounging and for eating. Long curtains -- which should be removed during the winter -- add privacy and atmosphere to screened porches, Karlin said.
Above all, people should remember that dirt and pollen blow in from outside because it's a screened room. "People need to be conscious of fabrics that will withstand moisture and the other elements," Karlin said. "There are a lot more fabrics these days that are mold- and mildew-resistant and easily washable."
Fields cleans the screened porch more frequently than other rooms, but she believes the effort is worth it.
"It's a great place to start the day and a great place to end an evening," she said. "It's also fun to watch lightning and rain from there because it has skylights. And when the sun is shining, I can listen to the birds -- it's really relaxing."