Glass Houses Let the sun shine in

You’ll hear it said that spring is a time of renewal, baseball and sunny days. All true, but spring is also full of rain. A lot of rain. That’s one reason why covered spaces protected from the weather are so appealing.

Sunrooms take advantage of sunlight, allowing you to watch everything from amazing, snow-crusted landscapes to foliage changing color in autumn while keeping you safe from the elements. But while all sunrooms have glass, not all are designed to perform the same. The ability to sit comfortably inside while there is snow outside is what differentiates a three-season sunroom from a year-round one. Seasonal sunrooms are designed to use during tolerable spring, summer and fall months. But they get too cold in the winter. Year-round rooms deal with whatever Mother Nature brings come January and February. “We’ve found that in the last three to four years most consumers are staying in their homes and improving them instead of moving,” says Peter Allen, vice president of Four Seasons Sunrooms & Windows. “Having a sunroom is the fastest way to add additional, climate controlled living space.” Seasonal rooms tend to have thinner walls and single-pane windows, offering minimal thermal efficiency. Dual-pane windows are standard in four-season rooms, which are now also available with three-pane glass for even better performance. While both structures can be heated, the four-season room is designed with more robust insulation to hold heat and keep the temperature close to that in the main house. Typically, a seasonal sunroom starts at about $50 per square foot of wall space and a year-round room about $65.

Regardless of the efficiency, proper placement of the sunroom influences how much natural light it receives. The ideal spot faces south to get as much sun as possible. Facing north is challenging because the minimal light can make a room damp and cold. Adding a sunroom might require pouring a concrete pad with a footing or using an existing deck if it meets the weight requirements of the sunroom.

A big design decision is the roof. A clear roof made of glass or polycarbonate maximizes sunlight but also adds a layer of maintenance, especially if a nearby tree is a bird sanctuary. Most modern sunrooms are made from vinyl for its easy maintenance and contain a core of aluminum for strength. “Vinyl colors tend to stick to earth tones and clay is our most popular choice,” says Gary Winkler, vice president of Joyce Manufacturing. Simple designs can be installed in a week or two, provided all of the necessary permits, prep work and structural issues are dealt with beforehand.