Favorite room: A formerly uninsulated front porch that is now a comfortable space for year-round living.
Created by: Handy homeowner Hector Fernandez, Minneapolis.
The back story: Fernandez, his wife, Celia Kohrman, and their young son were living in a house that was a compact 800 square feet. It felt small for three people, especially during the pandemic lockdown, with everyone spending more time at home. There was also a front porch with windows on three sides, but it was not insulated.
"It was great but not great for Minnesota," said Fernandez. "The idea of insulating it was a bit daunting, so I put it off." Several months into the pandemic, he lost his job in trade-show management and had more time to tackle projects at home. "Once COVID unemployed me, the first thing I did, I reroofed my house, by myself," he said. Then he resolved to get the porch done before he started an education program to learn a new career, in web development.
The starting point: The porch was a long, narrow space, about 9 by 26 feet, that extends across the entire front of the house. The door inside the porch leads directly into the living room, with a small bedroom off to one side that was used by the couple's son. "The original thought was we would remove the window between his room and the porch and put in a sliding door; it would become an extension of his room, a playroom. We'd have the back of the house." But once Fernandez started working on the project, his wife said she liked the porch space and would enjoy spending time there, too. So the porch room became an extra room for the whole family.
How he did it: Fernandez has building know-how from his previous careers as a theater set designer and a decade spent working in the construction industry. For this project, "The trick was windows and heating," he said. "We have hot-water heat and a super old furnace." Instead of trying to install a radiator on the porch, he chose a gas fireplace and a ceiling fan with a heater. He also insulated the porch walls. "Spray foam is expensive," he said. Instead, he cut pieces of rigid foam to fit between the studs, then used spray foam to seal the gaps.
The porch was fitted with new custom vinyl frame windows from Home Depot.
Fernandez was able to use the existing porch flooring of fir wood. "It had been painted five or six times and was in pretty beat-up shape," he said. He sanded off the layers of paint, revealing some water stains and nails with large heads that had left small rust spots in the wood. Still, refinished with polyurethane, the floor has great character. "Fir floors are so pretty, with a beautiful grain," he said.
Fernandez also added some built-ins, including a cabinet for storing their son's toys, and a bench. He furnished the room with a futon and a table and chair set built by a friend. "He gave it to us. It's perfect for the room," he said.
Budget: Upgrading the porch cost about $10,000, Fernandez estimated, including $4,000 for the windows and $3,000 for the gas stove. "And a whole lot of my labor," he said. "It took me a long time — two months — to get it done."
The payoff: "It's a fantastic room — the nicest space in the house," he said. With windows on three sides, the room is filled with natural light, which he appreciates. "I have a hard time with winter in Minnesota. To have all this light! I'm always sitting in the futon in front of the fire." He also likes that they can open the windows between the living room and the porch, along with the door, and connect the two spaces. "It makes the house feel so much bigger."
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