It’s not quite a return to Norman Rockwell’s Americana, but the rise in the number of new homes with porches hints at a shift in the way more Americans want to live: in smaller houses and dense neighborhoods that promote walking and social interaction.
Two-thirds of new homes built in 2011 had a porch, a trend that has been on a steady rise for almost 10 years, according to a Census survey of construction. The pace of new homes with decks and patios — more expensive construction that takes up more space, usually behind homes — has flattened.
The share of new homes with front or rear porches has grown from 42 percent in 1992 to 65 percent in 2011, Census data show.
The data also show that the percentage of homes built without a garage or carport remains at its highest since the late 1990s. At the peak of the housing boom in 2004, 8 percent of new homes had no car shelter. It hit 13 percent in 2010 and 2011.
"It says something about density and something very positive about public transportation," says Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Homebuilders, "if new construction is starting to be built closer to employment centers or transit."
"That’s what the market wants," says Christopher Leinberger, a developer and a George Washington University professor.
A partner in Arcadia Land Co. outside Philadelphia, Leinberger says the firm is building mostly townhouses with porches in Sadsbury, Pa., because that’s what buyers want.
"The front porch acts as a social mechanism," says Leinberger, also president of Smart Growth America’s LOCUS, a national coalition of developers and investors who promote walking over driving. "You sit on the porch and talk to people walking by without having to invite them in. It’s outdoor space without taking up too much space."
The desire for a more urban lifestyle is mounting as Baby Boomers become empty-nesters and Millennials, entering their late teens to early 30s, are sensitive to saving the environment and money.
The Olson Co. in Seal Beach, Calif., builds affordable homes in urban communities across Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Olson puts up homes on sites that were parking lots, warehouses or office buildings. The homes are smaller (three bedrooms in 1,300-square-foot homes or five bedrooms in 2,000 square feet) than traditional homes and usually have a front porch.
"It’s all about trade-offs," says Scott Laurie, Olson’s president. "Private open space is very important to buyers. We try to incorporate a porch on the front and a small backyard."