Planning for and Building a Winter Sunroom
Decide whether you'll build the winter sunroom as a completely new addition or remodel an existing room. Many homeowners decide to turn a patio or attached deck into a sunroom as opposed to creating a whole new room. If you have the money and time to pursue a brand-new building project, however, the sky's the limit for you.
Sketch out and design the sunroom of your choice with a pencil and sketch paper. Look at photos in home improvement books and on the Internet for sunroom designs that catch your eye and would be ideal in your home. Jot down or sketch the features you find most appealing and figure out how to incorporate them in your design. Consider features that would be comforting in the winter, such as a fireplace or other effective heating method for the days when the sun isn't shining.
Plan your construction method and materials. Sunrooms are typically built on a slab foundation (a base of concrete) with a built-on frame attached. The best option is to build a base with materials that contain high thermal mass such as brick, stone or concrete. Items with high thermal mass both store and conduct heat or cold that enters the room, then release this energy back into the room. Brick, for example, stores the heat while the sun is out and releases it once the air is cool and the sun has disappeared. Pressure treated wood and aluminum are popular choices for the frame since both hold up well under varying temperatures.
Select the style and type of windows you plan on using as well as their location in the room. Look at the U-value of a window before making the purchase. This value gauges the amount of heat conducted by the material. A lower U-value means less heat escapes from the windows resulting in a warmer, more energy-efficient room. U-values typically range from 2 to 2.5 with the lowest being the most efficient. Also, when window shopping, look for double glazed windows. These are perfect for the winter months since they are highly insulated and help reduce glare caused by the sun and snow.
As mentioned, the sunroom should face the sun which means the main windows must face what is known as "solar south." Contact your local weather service (see the link in "Resources" below) to find out which way solar south points in your area as it is different than on a compass. If the room is not facing perfect solar south, try to build or use a room that is within 15 degrees of south on a compass to get the most sunlight.
Purchase a do-it-yourself sunroom kit (available at retailers like the Home Depot, Amazon and Sears) if you're especially handy with construction, or hire a professional crew to do the job. Be sure to look at all of your options and select the best design for your particular setup. Buying a sunroom kit is an excellent way to save money on installation costs since kits provide step-by-step instructions for avid "do-it-yourselfers." The only drawback is that, since it's a kit, you may not find the particular design you're looking for. This is where hiring contractors comes in handy. Many contractors have specific specialties when it comes to home additions and improvements so you may find a crew whose specialty is sunrooms. The best way to find these contractors is via a search on the Internet for local sunroom contractors.