Porches and patios are inviting additions that allow homeowners to enjoy seasonal sunrays and backyard scenery. But what about the rest of the year, when cooler temps and stormy weather require a bit more forethought and shelter? A glass-walled sunroom is the answer for enjoying fall foliage, winter snowscapes and uncharacteristically clement mornings year-round.
Unlike porches and patios, adding a sunroom requires significant groundwork to be laid. “There has to be footings and a substantial foundation to sit on because it can get heavy with the glass and framework,” said Jim Naples, president of East Bay Builders in Center Moriches. “It’s almost like building on another room and any local municipality will require a foundation to support the structure.”
Since this is literally a room built to catch the sun, it might seem like access to sunlight is a paramount concern. But this is generally not the case. “On the south side you’re going to get a lot of sun and its not always where you want to put it. A sunroom is going to go usually situated towards the backyard, very rarely in the front, next to a patio or deck,” Naples said. That’s because the backyard offers the most privacy for an all-glass structure. And direct southern exposure, which is great for solar cells and greenhouses, could make the room too hot in summer.
If it does face south or is prone to uncomfortably high heat, “you want a vent fan that works automatically with a sensor…and you
have to calculate the [electrical power] load,” said Naples. “If people are going to have it tied in with the home’s air conditioning inside, that’s going to take much more of a load within a room that’s all glass.” And the type of glass makes a difference.
There are myriad options for glass, windows and treatments—from automatic shades that create darkroom effects and insulate, to glass with a coating that resists sun fading or decreases insulating properties and helps regulate the transmission of heat. But, Naples warns, each new feature adds to the price tag. “The most cost-effective—if you’re looking for a sunroom to use all year—is the quality of the insulated glass. It has to be a thick, heavy insulated glass—one that will work for the transmission of both the heat and the cold.” One example would be Low-E, which reflects heat while allowing light to pass through.
Another variable to consider is the flooring. Porcelain tiles and stone are best because they handle extreme temperature fluctuations well and hold the heat on days when a warm floor is desirable. Wood floors can be used and maintain a traditional look, but Naples cautioned wood really isn’t meant to handle extreme temperatures and can fade easily with exposure to the sun.
Naples recommended radiant heat. “If you put radiant heat in the floor, you can use the space comfortably through the whole winter—essentially, you are adding that fourth season to the sunroom instead of just having it be a three-season room. That’s the most efficient way to heat a sunroom.”