Green Interiors

Porch designs for outdoor living
by Pamela Portwood

Furniture changed my life - or maybe I should say my lifestyle.

Two years ago, my husband and I replaced our old metal patio chairs with comfy, upholstered chairs. Suddenly, we were practically living on our porch - eating every meal we could outside, even drinking wine and playing Scrabble at night. Of course, we invited friends over to sit outside and enjoy the weather with us.

Especially in a city with a warm climate, a porch should extend the home's living space as ours has. A porch, combined with a home's landscaping, should be livable, functional, sustainable and beautiful. Incorporating design elements like French doors on the porch can make the home interior seem larger, too.

Where to start? Think about your family's needs, both in terms of being outside and expanding your living space. How many people do you need to seat outside? Do you like to barbeque? Would you like a fire pit or a fireplace so that you can spend more time outdoors in the fall and winter? Do you want a vegetable or herb garden?

In terms of energy efficiency, one of the virtues of a porch is that it extends the house's roofline to help keep the sun from heating up your home interior. An Energy Star fan on the porch can help you feel cooler outside in the heat of the summer, too.

Recycling materials like bricks from your existing backyard design or seeking them out elsewhere will help to reduce your environmental impact and your costs. New tile and concrete that include recycled materials also are available now.

Going green with patio furniture can be tricky. You can get furniture frames that use recycled wood, certified wood or recycled metal, but what about the upholstery?

Fabrics that have sun-resistant and stain-resistant products added by the manufacturer typically contain perfluorooctonoic acid (PFA), which is now widely found in the environment, wildlife and Americans' blood. The EPA considers PFA (the key ingredient in Teflon) as a probable human carcinogen. Studies by other organizations have attributed additional health problems to other perfluorinated chemicals as well.

Some stain- and sun-resistant products that are applied to upholstery by consumers do not contain PFA, but you have to seek out fabrics manufactured without chemical additives in the first place. If you keep your furniture on a covered porch, sun protection may not be an issue.

Xeriscaping is important for desert landscaping. The basic concept of xeriscaping is to reduce the need for irrigation by using low water-use plants and designing the landscape to take advantage of existing water. While people often think of cacti as the choice for low water-use plants, there are many colorful, fragrant and beautiful plants that use little water.

Using water barrels to collect rainwater is a great way to save potable water, but it is not the only possibility. Your yard can be landscaped to divert water from your roof directly to your plants and to use gray water from washing machines, bathroom sinks and tubs to water your plants.

Now that my husband and I have let the grass we inherited with our house die, we've started planning our backyard landscape. After all, when we're lounging on our porch, we would like a better vista than a patch of dirt in the winter and a field of weeds in the summer.

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Article is reprinted courtesy of The New Southwest (formerly Tucson Green Times).


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