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6 Considerations for Building a Screened Porch in the Historic Georgetown District

Posted in: Screen Porch, Screen Porch Tips, Screen Porch Questions, decks in Washington, D.C., historic deck building, Georgetown, screened porch in Washington, DC

James Moylan

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

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If you live in the Historic Georgetown District in the Washington, DC, area, building a screen porch can be a complicated, involved process. It’s certainly possible, but before pursuing a project in this area, homeowners need to be certain the red tape, expense, and restrictions are all worth it. Before you start picking out furniture and thinking through lighting options, read through this overview to get a sense of what building in this historical area will entail.

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Building in the Historic Georgetown District requires involvement from local organizations


Because Georgetown is a designated historic district within the Washington, DC, area, any permit application must go through the Old Georgetown Board (OGB). If any part of the proposed project is going to be visible from either a public street or public alley, that project must also be reviewed by the US Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), in accordance with the Old Georgetown Act of 1950 (Public Law 81-808). This review requirement is the first concept to consider when building a screen room in this area.

In this way, building decks and screened porches in Georgetown means navigating through the bureaucracy and rules of two separate organizations. While they communicate and coordinate between themselves, remember that each has its own rules and regulations to which you must comply. In general, however, the CFA is the more stringent of the two, and if the project is approved at that level, the OGB is typically going to sign off as well.

What does the review process mean for screened porch designs in Georgetown?


1. Visibilityrooftop deck in logans circle, washington, dc with porcelain deck pavers

A one-story screen room is likely to have limited visibility from the street, which works in the homeowner’s favor, but it is possible it could be seen from the Potomac Street along the rears of the houses. (Note: the CFA generally uses the provided drawings to make these kinds of determinations.) If your plans include a screen porch that’s visible from the road, know going in that neither committee is likely to approve this. When thinking about this visibility issue, being in the middle of a block of houses or at the back of an alley can both work in your favor.

2. Material and Style Compliance

If it’s determined the project won’t be visible from a public thoroughfare, the next hurdle is ensuring it’s entirely compatible with the established character of the individual property and the historic district in general. Everything, down to the materials used, has to match the designated time period. All materials are scrutinized by both committees in order to ensure this. In a project outside Georgetown, this might mean using PVC, which is durable and cost effective, but in a Georgetown project, you’d be required to use pine. Similarly, fiberglass screens are the current gold standard, but a Georgetown project would need to use less durable and more expensive copper screens. It’s important to know about these kinds of necessary concessions within the build before you get too far in the process.

3. Size

The last major consideration is the project size. The porch needs to be less than 250 square feet in overall size, including optional elements like stairs. That’s a fairly small area, so if you have your heart set on something more expansive, know it isn’t likely to get approved in the Georgetown area. Know also that there are restrictions above and beyond the 250 square foot limit. The farthest you can build off the back of your house, for example, is ten feet. A reputable, experienced design and build firm can walk you through all these limitations in the early days of the project in order to help you determine if you ultimately want to pursue the screen porch. As with potential material concessions and cost considerations, these size limitations are ideally something to be aware of before you invest a lot of money in securing a build firm and creating renderings of your desired project.

4. Additional Cost Considerations for the Build

Here are a few things to keep in mind before you undertake a project within this area:'

  • Even before you officially apply for a permit, the OGB or CFA want you to have a nearly fully rendered concept of the project, including designated sizes. This means you’ll have to come up with a small retainer for your design and build firm in order for them to create and to render those drawings. Keep this in mind when thinking about the timing of your budget for the project.
  • Georgetown is notorious for its lack of parking, which means street closure permits are almost always necessary to get materials in and out of the build site. These extra permits can drastically increase the project cost.
  • Many homes in the area don’t have back alleys or any means of access except through the front of the house. If you’re bringing in construction equipment and material through the home and into the backyard, this can increase the price in two significant ways. One, it means laying a special walkway through the house, putting down protective layers to guard the floors, and setting up dust walls, all of which costs in materials, time, and potential damage. Two, it slows the entire project down and necessitates more hours of billable labor. (One project of this nature required a large-scale excavation in the backyard, and the dirt had to be removed in individual five-gallon buckets that were walked out through the home!)
  • Have realistic cost expectations going in. If you get a quote that’s roughly comparable to a screen porch build in a non-historical area, it’s very likely the firm quoting that number is either inexperienced and doesn’t anticipate the upcoming complications and expense or is intentionally lowballing the estimate to secure the job. Either way, you can end up paying a lot more than that initial quoted number. If a quote for a project of this scope seems low, you’d be right to question it.

5. Weigh Your Desire for the Home Improvement

Given all this, every homeowner attempting to build a screen porch or similar home improvement in the Georgetown Historic District of Washington, DC, must decide whether that project is worth the associated expense, added challenges, and potential project concessions that are sure to come with it. Because of these complications and the often significant price point, a person has to be highly motivated to see the project through to completion.

If a screened-in porch or other project is desired, residents of Georgetown should be careful to choose a design and build firm with experience specific to the area. Not knowing the rigors of these jobs beforehand could lead to misleading initial estimates, costly mistakes, or severely delayed projects. To help ensure a smooth process, opt for a company that not only has done this kind of work before but specifically has done it in the Georgetown area.