By Judy Penz Sheluk
Bringing the outdoors in and expanding living/entertaining space are at the top of many homeowners' wish lists, so it stands to reason that the addition of a sunroom is increasing in popularity.
In fact, roughly 62 per cent of all sunrooms are installed expressly for that purpose, and most consumers want that space to be comfortable - all four seasons of the year. They also expect them to be energy efficient when it comes to heating and cooling.
Not such a challenge, perhaps, in the temperate climes of Canada's Sunshine Coast, but what about places like Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Halifax, and Montreal, especially in winter? "That's the first mistake people make when they think about sunrooms, that winter is the biggest challenge. In reality, summer heat gain is far more difficult to control than winter heat loss - just think about getting in your vehicle after it's been sitting outside on a hot, humid summer day," says JAMES RUPPEL, director of corporate marketing at Four Seasons Sunrooms. "For optimum year-round use, sunrooms need to be put on their own zone, whether that's an add-on to an existing HVAC system, or a separate system. That decision is best left to an HVAC specialist."
Even more important is the type of glass used. "Glass is the most important element of the sunroom," says Ruppel. "Tempered safety glass is four to five times stronger than regular window glass, shattering into harmless rounded pellets if broken. Further, although sunrooms are not ENERGY-STAR rated, the doors and windows used absolutely should be. For example, standard insulated glass has a U-value of .49 or an R-value of 2; the glass we use at Four Seasons Sunrooms has a U value of .25 and an R-value of 4, roughly double that of standard. Certainly this isn't as efficient as 2 x 4 insulated walls, but it does improve overall energy efficiency. Additionally, sunroom glass should control UV light to reduce fabric fading and have coatings to reduce maintenance and control glare. You don't want to have to wear sunglasses inside your room."
Other factors to consider include the thermal performance of the frame members. Most companies offer three different types of framing materials: aluminum, vinyl clad aluminum, and wood or timber. Of the three, vinyl clad aluminum is the most energy efficient, and it has the added advantage of being maintenance-free.
What about shape? While strictly esthetic - that is, what works best with the home's architecture and the homeowner's personal style - in the past 10 years, the glass-roofed conservatory has become very popular. Sunroom specialists also recommend giving a lot of advance thought before going forward. Questions to ask include: how will it be used (family room, reading room, home office, TV room, dining room, etc.); type of flooring (radiant-heated flooring or thick carpet); traffic flow (back or side of house); and door placement.
A good place to start your research is the Canadian Sunroom Manufacturers Association (CSMA), a member-driven trade association established in November 2006 "dedicated to the advancement of the manufacture and construction of safe, energy efficient and environmentally conscious, code compliant sunrooms, patio rooms and solariums."
While the association's short term priority is the development of a branding strategy, long term goals include lobbying various governments in an effort to establish industry-wide standards. "The time has come for effective codes of practice, including sunroom-specific building codes for the sunroom industry in Canada," says BART BREMMERS, CSMA president and founding member.
Bremmers, who is also general manager at CraftBilt Materials Ltd. in Markham, Ontario, is quick to emphasize that "sunroom dealers will play a critical role in how our industry progresses. Through dealer surveys, the CSMA will be able to demonstrate to government, particularly housing ministries, the magnitude and the impact of poorly thought-out building policies. By setting benchmarks and working together, we believe that home builders, renovators, and consumers will make doing business with CSMA members a priority."
Builders, renovators, and homeowners should also start thinking outside the glass box. "They may be called sunrooms but, in our experience, homeowners often enjoy the space, not on a beautiful, sunny summer day, but rather in the midst of a snow blizzard or during a rainstorm," says Rupple. "There's something special about watching nature's forces at work while you stay warm, and dry."