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Building a Sunroom or Solarium

Building a Sunroom or Solarium

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During a long winter, most homeowners are eager to soak up all the sun they can get! Building a sunroom seems like an obvious solution to making winters at home a little brighter and warmer. But after winter is over, catching rays outdoors can still be unpalatable; cooler year-round climates may deter homeowners from venturing outdoors even on sunny days! By building a sunroom or solarium in your home, you can appreciate the comfort and warmth of natural sunlight—seasonally or all year round, and in any climate!

Building sunrooms can also greatly increase your home's value. According to Remodeling Magazine, "the resale value of a sunroom averages 89%-115% of [its] original cost," not to mention sunrooms are a top luxury home feature regularly requested by homebuyers!

What's the Difference Between a Sunroom and a Solarium?

Many people use the words "sunroom" and "solarium" interchangeably, but there are subtle differences between them. A sunroom can simply be a room addition with a great many windows, or with one wall composed mainly of glass to let in as much sunlight as possible. Some seasonal sunrooms are simply enclosed porches, sometimes called sunporches.

A solarium differs from a sunroom because it often has 3 or 4 walls made entirely of glass, and can be an open-air (no ceiling) structure. Solaria are popular room additions at a central point in the house, where they can expose interior rooms to natural light. Many hospitals and large office complexes build solaria to give indoor patients, visitors and employees greater access to natural light—which has been frequently linked to mental health benefits.

However, these differences between sunrooms and solaria shouldn't greatly affect your sunroom building plans. Since your solarium or sunroom can be customized to your tastes and home, you can build a sunroom that's tailored exactly to your needs, with the help of a trusted home contractor!

Sunroom Construction: Basics and Planning

In the planning phase of your sunroom construction project, it's important to first weigh certain variables and evaluate the pros and cons of building a sunroom. Sunroom costs, sunroom materials, the sunroom location, and sunroom designs are just a few considerations homeowners should be aware of before beginning sunroom construction. Let's briefly go over the main sunroom, or sunporch, variables right now!

Sunroom Designs

Before building a sunroom, you should determine which sunroom design best fits you and your family's personal preferences and living environment. First of all, the natural climate where you live should have a sizable influence on your choice of sunroom design.

Seasonal Sunrooms: "Seasonal sunroom" designs are primarily intended for seasonal use, during the spring and summer months. Since seasonal sunrooms are used during good weather, they typically aren't outfitted with HVAC systems or much insulation. Single paned windows, natural ventilation and/or window screens are popular characteristics of seasonal sunroom designs. Seasonal sunrooms are also appropriate to build for year-round use in warmer climates.

Four-Season Sunrooms: If your home is in the Northwest, the Midwest, or on the East Coast, where winters can be brutal, "four-season sunroom" designs are likely the better choice. When building a four-season sunroom, to be used in all types of weather, homeowners should pay closer attention to sunroom insulation, sunroom window choice and type, and sunroom construction materials.

Obviously, single paned sunroom windows will be a poor choice for a four-season sunroom design. Double or triple paned glass is highly recommended for four-season sunrooms. Multiple paned windows with an insulating gas, like argon gas, layered inbetween the panes is even better! Four-season sunrooms should be built with proper heating and cooling systems in place, to maintain comfort throughout the changing seasons.

Other design elements for sunrooms can include the sunroom roofing style. Straight, curved, conservatory (glass), or cathedral sunroom roofing are all popular choices. Homeowners may even choose to build either a full-length or a "knee-wall" sunroom design, depending on the percentage of wall they want as windows.

Sunroom Locations

While planning the building of your sunroom, the sunroom location will be a very important part of the puzzle. Once you've decided what your sunroom design will be, the location for your sunroom can influence the amount of natural light you may enjoy in your sunroom, and how the sunroom location will affect the overall ambiance and environment of your home.

There are certain benefits and downsides to building your sunroom on the north, south, east or west-facing side of your home.

  • North-facing sunroom: A north-facing sunroom will have the least amount of direct sunlight enter throughout the day. Building a sunroom on the north side of the house is more popular among homeowners in the southern states, because it minimizes the amount of heat that's absorbed as well.

  • East-facing sunroom: An east-facing sunroom will admit sunlight in the morning, and shade in the afternoon. Homeowners who are early risers, or who plan on using their sunroom mostly in the mornings might prefer building a sunroom in this location.

  • South-facing sunroom: A south-facing sunroom would admit the greatest amount of natural light and heat throughout the day, making this an ideal sunroom location for homeowners in cold, northern climates.

  • West-facing sunroom: A west-facing sunroom would admit the most natural light during the afternoon, as the sun is setting. If you are home more often in the evenings, or have a thing for sunsets, building a sunroom on the west side of your home may be best.

Sunroom Materials

Now that you've chosen your sunroom design, and have picked a location to build your sunroom addition, you should give some more thought to sunroom building materials. It's essential to choose the right materials to build your sunroom with, because these will determine how sturdy, practical, energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing your finished sunroom is!

The three main types of sunroom construction materials include:

  • Aluminum: While not the most insulative sunroom material, aluminum is very durable and should build a sunroom that will last for years.
  • Wood: Wood frame sunrooms are very attractive, and come in a variety of finishes and wood types. Wood sunroom frames also provide the best natural insulation. Building wood sunrooms can be the most expensive, since custom designs increase labor costs and wood eventually rots over time, requiring repairs.
  • Vinyl (PVC): Vinyl will be more expensive than an aluminum sunroom, but vinyl also provides better sunroom insulation and isn't prone to rusting or degrading like aluminum.

Homeowners may wish to improve their sunroom's energy efficiency further, by using coated, low-emissivity glass for the sunroom windows.

Costs of Building a Sunroom

We're sorry to say, building a sunroom isn't a cheap home improvement project. However, it provides homeowners with a beautiful, sunlit space to dine, lounge, exercise, entertain, etc., and automatically drives up the value of any home. In that respect, sunroom addition costs can be seen as a good resale investment, and as a good investment in your home's overall quality and your family's home appreciation!

According to CostHelper, sunroom costs will vary greatly by sunroom size, materials and custom features. For a modest, four-season sunroom, building costs can total $15,000-$35,000 for the entire project. The national average cost to build a four-season sunroom, complete with slab foundation, framing, insulation, glass windows with screens, tile flooring, etc., is $45,889-$55,813, according to RemodelingOnline.

For more specific sunroom pricing information, that's relevant to your region and sunroom construction project, you should consult with a licensed home contractor who's experienced in deck, patio, porch and sunroom construction. They will give you an accurate sunroom construction estimate, make recommendations for cutting your sunroom costs, and work with you to create a plan for building a beautiful sunroom addition right away—making your home a sunnier place to live throughout the year!

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