A backyard retreat can be as simple as a garden bench, or it can be a more elaborate enclosed structure. What you choose depends on the space you have and how you plan to use it. Inspired by Japanese teahouse designs, this screen house project is large enough for a patio set and a couple of additional chairs. It features a hip roof, exposed rafter ends, an exposed-rafter-and-bead-board ceiling, cedar shingles and sliding doors.
Building a structure that features so many exposed parts and joints is more time-consuming than building a typical framed-and-sided structure. The location and appearance of every cut end, joint and fastener must be carefully considered because almost nothing is hidden. In many respects it’s more like a woodworking project than a construction project — a great opportunity to showcase your craftsmanship.
Tastes vary, and we realize you might prefer to modify the design of your structure. To make that easier, we organized this article so that separate sections describe the construction techniques for building each component. You can apply these techniques as needed to create your own structure.
Read more: Click here to download this complete article with illlustrations and photo.
Click here to link to the screen house project elevation drawings.
The illustrations and dimensions provided in the pdf version of this article (click image above) are for a 10 x 12-ft. structure. We chose this size for a few reasons. First, these dimensions lend themselves to easier calculations. Second, you won’t need any lumber longer than 12 ft. (so you shouldn’t need to special-order materials at most lumberyards). And finally, depending on the specific codes in your municipality, a 10 x 12-ft. structure may not require a building permit. (Note: The screen house that we built and photographed is actually almost 10 x 14 ft.; we increased the width to fill the space on the site. As a result, the framing spacing in the photos doesn’t exactly match the illustrations.)
Design and site considerations
The advantage of an enclosed structure, such as a screen house, is that the walls and ceiling provide shelter and a sense of seclusion. Even a 6 x 8-ft. area is large enough for a couple of chairs and a small table. Building a small structure can offer advantages: It takes less time, costs less and uses materials that are manageable sizes.
When choosing a location, think “get away.” To create a true retreat, select a site far enough from your main living or working areas that it will be a specific destination rather than a place you routinely pass through.
Build the base
We built our screen house on a freestanding deck, but you can also build a structure like this on a poured-concrete slab or paved patio. If you choose to build on a deck, you must be sure that the deck is adequately framed to support the weight of the structure as well as additional forces such as snow loads. (Check with your local building inspector for framing requirements in your area.) To keep bugs out, be sure to screen under the decking or around the perimeter. It’s also easier to apply the deck finish before you build the structure.
Build the walls
The walls of this screen house are made with individual screened panels that are attached between posts, bottom plates and top plates. We built the panels in the shop and then assembled each wall on site. We calculated a panel size for each wall by subtracting the post widths and divided up the remaining length of each wall into equal-size panels. Then we made multiple identical panels for each wall using an assembly-line process. For example, we built each set of wall panels by cutting all of the parts, staining them and then assembling each panel like a kit. Staining the parts before assembly allowed us to easily coat all surfaces before adding the screens.
Build the wall panels
The wall panels were built 1 in. narrower than the posts so that the trim does not protrude past the post faces. Rip 2x4s down to make the 1-1/2 x 2-in. panel-framing members. (Save the 1-in.-wide cutoff strips to use as molding and trim pieces.) Assemble the frame for each panel with 3-in. deck screws. Clad the bottom section with cedar lap siding attached with 1-1/2-in. ring-shank siding nails.
Next, stretch screen across the top section and attach it with 3/8-in. stainless steel staples. Rip 5/8 x 1-1/2-in. pieces of cedar to use as the screen molding to cover the top and side stapled edges of the screen. Rip 1 x 1-1/2-in. pieces of cedar to cover the bottom screen edge. Repeat the same assembly process for all of the wall panels.
Raise the walls
After you’ve assembled the walls panels, you can move them out to the construction site and build each wall. Assemble the back wall first.
The bottom plate and posts of each wall are joined with half-lap joints. Mark the post and panel locations on the bottom plate. Cut the half-lap notches in the bottom plate and posts.
Lay the posts, bottom plates and wall panels on a flat surface such as the deck and assemble them with 2-1/2- and 3-in. deck screws. Then attach a top plate to the tops of the panels and posts.
Move the back wall into position, making sure that it is plumb, and temporarily secure it with angled braces. Then assemble each side wall, raise it into position and attach it to the back wall.
The front wall is built slightly differently from the back and sides because you need to leave an opening where the doors will be installed. Separate bottom plates are attached under the two front panels, and a continuous 2x8 header fits into notches that are cut in the top inside face of each post. The header is pieced in between the posts on the front of the wall.
After you’ve constructed the front wall, raise it and attach it to the side walls. Then attach the second top plates to all of the walls, overlapping the seams between walls. Finally check that the walls are square to each other and secure them to the base. We drove 1/4 x 5-in. lag screws into the deck joists located below the decking. Use concrete anchors when installing a screen house on a poured slab.
Build the roof
Designing a hip roof (calculating the rafter layout and component sizes) is a skill that’s best left to experienced framing contractors. But if you know all of the components’ dimensions, construction is not as difficult as you might think. We’ve included illustrations and details for the components necessary to build a hip roof for a 10 x 12-ft. structure.
Frame the roof
A hip roof is made up of four main components: the ridge board, the hip rafters, the common rafters and the jack rafters. The ridge board is the top horizontal board that forms the peak of the roof. The hip rafters are the corner rafters. They bisect each corner at a 45-degree angle. If the building is square, a hip roof forms a pyramid and there is no ridge. The common rafters are all the same length and run from the ridge board to the wall top plate. The common rafters are located at each end of the ridge and along the side of the ridge. The jack rafters are the shorter rafters that run from the side of the hip rafter down to the wall top plate.
Cut the roof components to size. Begin building the roof by attaching two common rafters at each end of one side of the ridge. With the help of one or two friends, rest the common rafters on the back wall and raise the ridge until the common rafter bird’s-mouths are seated on the back wall top plate. Attach two more common rafters to the ends of the other side of the ridge board.
Next, adjust the ridge and common rafters so that the rafters are perpendicular to the ridge and the front and back walls. Then adjust the ridge height so that the bird’s-mouths are seated on the top plates and pull tight to the sides of the front and back walls. Attach the common rafters to the top plates with framing nails or deck screws.
Next, attach one common rafter to each end of the ridge board and to the center of the side walls. The ridge board is now locked in place, and you can attach the remaining common rafters, hip rafters and jack rafters.
The final step in framing the roof is to attach the blocking that closes the openings between the rafter ends and above the top plate. Cut a 13-degree bevel along the top edge of the blocks, and cut each block to fit between the rafters.
Attach the roofing
We created the look of a tongue-and-groove board ceiling with a lot less work by attaching 1/4-in.-thick bead board plywood to the rafters before we attached the sheathing. We cut and attached the bead board so that the beads run parallel to each side. Keep in mind that the panel seams must be at the center of the rafters.
Place each panel on the roof and snap a chalk line to mark the cut lines. Tack the bead board in place with 1/2-in.-wide x 1-in.-long crown staples or siding nails. Repeat the process to cut and fit 3/4-in.-thick sheathing over the bead board. Then drive 1/2-in.-wide x 1-1/2-in.-long staples or 8d sheathing nails every 8 in. to secure the sheathing and bead board to the rafters. Be careful to drive the nails into the rafters so that they are not exposed inside the structure.
Cover the entire roof with building paper. Roll out each layer across each side, starting along the bottom edge. Each row should overlap the previous row by 4 to 6 in. and the hips by 12 in.
We chose to use cedar shingles to match the rest of the structure, but you can use asphalt, synthetic or composite shingles. Note that the framing was not designed to support heavy roofing materials such as clay tiles or natural slate.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing the shingles. Many roofing contractors dip cedar singles in water-resistant sealer before attaching them to the roof to coat all the surfaces and enhance their longevity. We made a jig that butts up against the previous row of shingles to keep the spacing consistent. Attach the shingles with 1/2-in.-wide x 1-in. crown staples. Cut the shingles at the end of each row to follow the hip and ridge lines. Then make overlapping cap rows, using 4-in.-wide shingles, to cover the seams at the hips and ridge.
Build the doors
The two sliding doors are simple frames constructed of 2x6 and 2x4 boards. Assemble the door frames with dowels, pocket screws or floating tenons. The doors hang and travel on a manufactured aluminum sliding door-rail system. The bottoms of the doors feature a groove, and floor guides fit in the groove to keep the doors in alignment.
Mount the rail to the inside face of the front wall header. Then mount the roller brackets to the top of the door and fasten them to the rollers in the rail. Attach the bottom-alignment guide to the floor. Instead of using a typical latch, we opted to attach a few rare-earth-magnet washers to the inside faces of the doors. The magnets are strong enough to keep the doors closed, and they are hidden in the door frame.