I want a sunroom for more living space, but I cannot afford to have one built. Are there efficient do-it-yourself kits that can help heat my home?—Sandi T.
Adding a sunroom to a house is an excellent investment and often increases the resale value of your home. The cost per square foot of floor space is much less than adding a traditional room.
By designing and locating the sunroom properly, it can capture enough free solar heat to stay warm most of the year. It may also help heat the rest of your house during spring and fall so your heat pump or furnace does not have to run as much.
If helping to heat your house is a goal, include some provision to get the solar-heated air into your house. The simplest method is to just open a window between the house and sunroom when it is warmer than the house. Installing an exhaust fan (outlet into house) high on a sunroom wall is more effective. For the most convenience, install a thermostat to control the fan.
Any orientation from southeast to southwest is adequate to capture the sun’s heat. Select a convenient location with easy access from inside your house, often at an existing exterior door opening.
But for the greatest solar heat gain, an orientation to true solar south is important. Depending on where you live in the U.S., true solar south can vary substantially from compass south. Check with your local weather service or on the Internet for the amount to adjust compass south to get true solar south for your area.
Most fancy sunrooms you see are typically contractor installed. Contractors buy the long (20 feet or more) aluminum framing extrusions and cut them to size at the job site. I actually bought 20-foot lengths and cut them myself to build my own sunroom. It took me more than a month to build. I’m told a typical contractor builds one in just two days.
Some manufacturers sell components in precut kit sizes. Do an Internet search and contact sunroom manufacturers to see if they sell products in kit form. If you are lucky, you may find a precut kit close to the size you need.
With some do-it-yourself sunroom kits, you just have to build the base for the sunroom and assemble the components. Often, you will find it less expensive to purchase the glass or plastic window panes locally.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you should be able to build an efficient sunroom from scratch. This offers the advantages of lower cost and building the precise size you need. You may find that due to the orientation of your house, topography, or landscaping, an irregular shape may get better sun exposure.
Before you begin to construct the 2×4 lumber framing, visit local home centers and building supply outlets. They often have custom-sized high-efficiency windows that a homeowner or builder did not end up buying. Look for ones with low-emissivity glass with argon gas in the gap. These are often sold at quite a discount. Once you have your windows, design the rest of the sunroom framing to fit them.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: SUNROOM ENERGY ADDITIONS
For more tips on energy-efficient sunrooms, including container gardens for humidity, saving energy with thermal mass, and the importance of roofs, go to Sunroom energy additions.
Mail requests and questions to James Dulley, Kentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com.