Pitch-Perfect Porch

The more time I spend working on the repair and maintenance of houses, the more I see firsthand that water is the enemy. Water is sneaky. It trickles from chimneys and drips from plumbing hoses. It scoots under flashing and slides down walls. In certain cases, it has the audacity to enter through the door—especially when a porch or patio slopes toward the house instead of away from it.

At my house, there is not enough pitch on the back porch for my taste. In a hearty thunderstorm, like the one we enjoyed this morning, water sheets through the porch screens and slithers along the tile floor toward the back wall of the house. Hell hath no fury like the wrath of a woman mopping water off her back porch in a Tennessee gullywasher.

I dream of adding a little pitch to the back porch. One-eighth inch per foot would be nice, but I might even tilt the thing a quarter-inch per foot, just for good measure. It could be my own personal Angle Inn, a.k.a. the Tiltin’ Hilton, like at the bygone Opryland USA theme park.

I recently saw a stunning example of a pitched front porch, at the Grassmere Historic House, on the campus of the Nashville Zoo. Built in 1810 in the Federal style, the house was renovated between 1876 and 1881, when it was given the Italianate treatment, including the addition of deep front and back porches. The covered front porch at Grassmere isn’t simply tilted; it’s practically built like a pyramid with a flat top where you would, for example, lay a welcome mat. I mean, if you stood at the front door of the house—where sisters Margaret and Elise Croft lived until the 1980s—and you spilled, for example, a glass of sweet iced tea, that tea would run downhill away from the front door in every direction, so that not a drop of liquid went toward the house.

I suspect that diligent approach to water diversion is in part responsible for the longevity of the historic structure, which was renovated in 1998 by the Zoo, Metro Historical Commission and Metro Parks and stands as a dazzling architectural clue to what a landed life in Nashville might have looked like a century ago.

To learn more about Grassmere Historic House and Gardens, visit NashvilleZoo.org or the Grassmere Historic Farm and Croft House page on Facebook, where I borrowed this photo of the front porch.

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