Everything You Need to Know About Adding a Sunroom
If you’re thinking about adding a sunroom to your home, you first need to know all your options. Use this guide to educate yourself on types of seasonal rooms, materials, budget concerns, and more!
Basic Types of Seasonal Rooms
Sunroom: Also known as a solarium or conservatory, this room type is basically a glassed-in space usually attached to the house and accessed from indoors. During mild weather, it functions as an additional living area. However, because sunrooms are not typically connected to the home’s heating or cooling system, harsh summer or winter conditions tend to make them uncomfortable.
Four-season room: Much like a sunroom, this variation is designed to be heated and cooled and can be used comfortably year-round.
Attached greenhouse: This option carries the same general structure and shell construction as a four-season room or sunroom. The difference is that an attached greenhouse offers light, temperature and humidity levels geared toward the cultivation of plants.
Screen room or porch: Featuring mesh-screen windows or walls instead of glass, this variation’s biggest advantage is fresh air without bugs and insects. It is similar to the sunroom in that it is only habitable during agreeable weather. Because of the relatively inexpensive nature of the materials, a screen room makes for a budget-friendly sunroom solution.
Deciding on the placement of your sunroom is the first crucial step when you begin planning your glass or screen addition. Things to consider include the typical weather in your area and which direction the windows will face. For example, if you live in a northern climate, choosing a location with southern exposure is a good idea as it will receive the most light each day. In the south, however, southern exposure will result in the necessity of additional cooling, which could prove costly.
To break it down further, an eastern exposure generally eases cooling requirements since the sun in the morning is balanced by shade the remainder of the day. A western exposure could bring harsh afternoon sun that must be shaded.
Northern exposure will provide reduced levels of light and partial shade the majority of the day. While this may work fine in the South, where temperatures are generally warmer, this can cause the room to be too cool and damp in the North.
When selecting what type of space is best for you, it’s also important to understand the components that go into a seasonal room.
Vinyl: As the most popular material used for the supports of a sunroom, vinyl not only costs the least, but is very low-maintenance and the best for overall strength and insulation. It is offered mainly in white. Most vinyl supports are “multiwalled,” which means there is an internal reinforcement of either galvanized steel or aluminum.
Aluminum: More expensive than vinyl and not as good of an insulator, aluminum is often used as a roof structure to add strength to rooms that use vinyl-coated vertical supports for aesthetics or extra insulation.
Wood: While wood is the most expensive structural material choice for a sunroom, it also makes the most sense for screen rooms since you can easily attach the screen mesh to the timbers. Keep in mind that periodic maintenance is required with wood.
Roof & Wall Ideas
Glass or polycarbonate (a durable, transparent thermoplastic) are used for the walls and roofs of sunrooms, four-season rooms, and greenhouses. A glass roof provides the most clarity, but is much more costly. When choosing glass or polycarbonate, be sure to look for the U-value, which measures how much heat the material conducts. The lower the number the better it is for energy efficiency, as that means less heat passes through.
Additionally, glass walls should be A-rated, silicon double-sealed, and labeled “tempered safety” in order to meet building code requirements. Here are the best choices:
- Double-glazed glass. Offers insulation, durability, and glare reduction. U-value typically ranges from 2 to 2.5. From least efficient to most efficient, common glazings include: clear, solar bronze, and opal.
- Double-glazed glass + low-emissivity (low-E) coating. The application of a low-E coating helps the glass reflect heat and ultraviolet rays. It also reduces the U-value to about 1.7, which improves energy efficiency.
- Double-glazed glass + argon filling and low-E coating. The addition of argon gas will further reduce the U-value to about 1.48.
- When considering polycarbonate components, consider these options:
- 6-millimeter twin-wall polycarbonate. This is probably the most popular glazing option in sunroom roofs today. It has a U-value of 2.3.
- 20-millimeter and 25-millimeter twin-wall polycarbonate. These thicknesses provide stronger and better insulated roof choices for all-season rooms. They typically carry a U-value of 1.6.
Heating & Cooling Ideas
If you are unable to build your sunroom in the optimum location for controlling excessive temperature swings, or if you’re looking to extend the hours you are able to comfortably enjoy your all-season room, consider these heating and cooling choices:
- Install functioning skylights that can be used to release heat when the room gets too warm.
- Mix-in prefabricated insulating roof panels among the glass or polycarbonate roof panels. Look for R-factors of R-16, R-24, or R-34 (higher numbers signify better insulation quality).
- Build walls that allow several windows to open, creating optimum air flow.
- Add ceiling fans to help circulate air. Opt for models that feature forward and reverse speeds for summer and winter use.
- For the most troublesome walls, find window treatments that can be lowered and raised as needed.
- Install roof shade tracks on the exterior to hold rigid sunscreens.
- Incorporate a small gas wall heater for colder months. Radiant floor heating is another nice touch for larger budgets.
Average Seasonal Room Costs
For a 15-foot by 15-foot room, here are the estimated costs:
- While prices vary by materials, design, region, and the amount of work required by professionals as opposed to your doing the work yourself, sunrooms made from wood and standard materials start at $15,000, with top-of-the-line aluminum and glass variations topping out at $22,000.
- Similarly, construction costs for four-season rooms will vary due to finish details, and heating and cooling demands. But in general, expect to shell out at least $20,000 for a finished room.
- A much more budget-friendly option, screened porches provide a comfortable option for a much smaller price tag — $5,000 to $10,000.