Done well, a verandah can be an extra living room, dining room, playroom, gym, outdoor space on a rainy day or all of the above. It can also add aesthetic value to your home, provide flatter roof-space for solar panels and keep your house cooler, even on the hottest of summer days.
“No matter how hot the day is, when you’re on a verandah, it’s cool,” says Colin Campbell, senior architect and director of OBMI Bermuda. “Why is that? Because it’s air movement. Our skin responds to air movement as much as temperature. A verandah provides this very simple engine for producing cool air movement.”
In the age of climate change and global warming, Campbell believes the role of the verandah will become so critical that not to have one would be “like building a house without a bathroom. You wouldn’t do it. Today, I suggest that anyone who has the opportunity to put a verandah on the south or west faces of their home, should do that for the simple reasons of creating comfort, keeping the house cool and providing a very good platform for solar panels to reside.
What do you need to consider when designing this critical feature? Firstly, size and use: “In designing out the verandah space, figure out how you would like to enjoy the space and the type of furniture you want to fit in there,” he advises. If space allows, the ideal width is sixteen feet because this proportion not only works well architecturally, but it is also a comfortable size for managing furniture groupings, moving around and therefore creating a room. If sixteen feet is not possible, the minimum width he recommends is eight feet between the face of the house and the inside face of any column. That will still allow sufficient room for you to walk around a dining table, for example.
In addition to columns, verandahs will likely need railings, especially if not at ground level, but should you choose wood or PVC? If you go for wood, which type is best? There are several hardwoods to choose from including teak, Spanish cedar or redwood. Accoya also works well, and requires less maintenance if unpainted, but if you do want it painted, the resins in the accoya timber mean you have to use very specific paint products. If left unpainted, however, Campbell says it will go a “satisfactory grey,” giving it a weathered look.
Looking back to what worked well in the past, he says Bermudians managed to discover the best colour for painting wood products: “Folks figured out that the forest green colour was the best colour to maintain enough heat or warmth in the wood to knock back mildew and fungus that would grow in the joints and destroy the wood,” he explains. “Black gets too hot. White or others have a tendency to not be as warm. That was the rule of thumb from the old Bermuda days.” If you don’t have the budget for wood, he says PVC is simple, requires little maintenance and “works just fine.” Other options include galvanised metal railings with wood handrail caps or even glass railings.
When it comes to the flooring, you want it to be durable, comfortable to walk on and slip resistant, as well as attractive. Wood floors, faux woods and porcelain tiles which are cast to look exactly like wood can all work really well for a verandah. What is important is that whatever you choose “isn’t too solid and has enough air spaces in it that allows the surface to dissipate heat.” If the floor gets a lot of sun, you may want to avoid dark coloured bricks, which could get very hot. There is a stone product called travertine, which is particularly cool underfoot; however, he warns it can get a bit slippery. A product called Trex, which is a plasticised wood chip product formed to look like planks of wood is, he says, “very good for a wet environment.” This type of product would therefore be ideal for ocean-front homes.
While enjoying your verandah, especially in the evenings, you will need extra lighting, but Campbell advises keeping it subtle and around the perimeter or on the tables.
When contemplating his own ideal verandah, he says it would be simple and have a view. It would also be one where you can “shed the complexities of the day” and “feel so comfortable that you can allow the environment to wash over you.”