Now, it’s easier than ever for homeowners to find their place in the sun inside their houses. Most commonly called a sunroom — but also known as a solarium, garden room or conservatory — this glassed-in room allows people to take in natural views and sunlight from the comfort of a controlled environment, says Richard Harris, vice president with Four Seasons Sunrooms and Windows, a 42-year-old company based in Holbrook, N.Y., with 300 franchises in the United States and Canada.
“As plants grow toward the light, people are also drawn to sunny spaces,” he says. “Different from a lanai or enclosed porch, a sunroom tends to not share or be contained under an existing roofline on the home. Instead a sunroom is a free-standing structure that has glass walls and often a glass roof or skylights.”
Modern-day sunrooms have their historical roots in European greenhouses and conservatories. A glassed-in room was attached to an existing building to facilitate growing tropical plants and fruits in colder climates.
The modern-day rise of the sunroom’s popularity started in the last part of the 20th century, when professional remodeling companies developed stand-alone systems to enclose a patio. For this reason, sunrooms can also be referred to as “patio rooms,” which feature engineered glass panels that are customized and prefabricated to on-site building specifications.
But before letting the sunshine in with a sunroom addition, you must first work out how you want to use it, Harris says. “If you want to use a sunroom as a dining space with a large table and chairs, or just as a place to enjoy morning coffee, the size of the room is often dictated by the configuration of furniture,” he says. “How a sunroom will be used also determines the use of electricity, and if there’s a need for plumbing.”
Whatever its use, a sunroom should be a sunny segue from the inside of the house to scenic views outside. Usually attached to the back or side of a home, a sunroom can have many uses, including: a home office, an art studio, a home gym, a craft room, a game room or just an extension of the kitchen or living room.
Whether building or renovating a home to include a sunroom, Harris says homeowners need to do their homework and check local building codes within their municipality and/or homeowner association guidelines to gain permits before breaking ground. “The site needs to be prepared and graded so water flows away from a home’s foundation,” he says. “Also the style and structure of the sunroom needs to complement your home’s architecture, but it also has to be built to endure strong winds and snow loads on the roof in colder climates.”
Sunrooms come in a variety of shapes and sizes:
▪ An angled-roof sunroom boasts the simplicity of a structure with modern appeal featuring floor-to-ceiling windows.
▪ A curved-roof sunroom — often called a solarium — has a glass ceiling that curves downward into glass-paneled walls.
▪ A gabled-roof sunroom, with an option for cathedral ceilings, can create a sense of airiness in the space.
▪ A conservatory sunroom recreates the round, classical Victorian English-style or the distinctive Georgian style, with rooftop architectural design elements.
A Four Seasons Sunroom is prefabricated with glass-paneled walls built in 3-foot increments.
“One of the most common sizes is a 12- by 12-foot sunroom,” Harris says. “But, again, a sunroom’s size depends on what it will be used for and the constraints of a home’s architecture and roofline.”
A typical sunroom can cost around $35,000, he adds, but that cost will escalate as more window/door details and square footage are added.
As technology has advanced, so has the sunroom’s energy efficiency, through the use of insulated, tinted and privacy glass. Aluminum, wood or vinyl-composite/clad frameworks can be manufactured to house immovable glass, operating windows or French doors that open into the yard.
Harris touts the next generation of sunrooms — which will have smart-room technologies including Internet-enabled capabilities, temperature control abilities and motorized screens. No matter how the room is appointed, it’s important for all its components to be dressed in their sunny-best: using fade-resistant fabrics and flooring that can be easily swept clean.
“Sunrooms aren’t just for use on picture-perfect sunny days,” Harris says. “There’s something really beautiful about watching the rain or snow come down while you’re warm and dry inside a sunroom.”