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A sunroom can add living space, warmth

By James Dulley
G4F1J67OO.4Staff Photographer
Mike Hutmacher - MIKE HUTMACHER
A properly designed and oriented sunroom can capture solar heat to warm your house.

Q. I want to add a solar sunroom for inexpensive extra living space and so it will help heat our house. I would like to build a kit myself or to make one from scratch. What things should I consider?

A. A sunroom can provide wonderful living space for your family. Although it is typically less expensive per square foot to have a sunroom built as compared to a typical room addition, it still is not inexpensive.

Many companies sell sunrooms in kit form, but most want to also do the construction. This is not only to make more profit, but building one is typically not as simple as it looks. Most of these sunrooms use extruded aluminum frame members.

I convinced a sunroom company that always does installations to send the components to me since I am an experienced do-it-yourselfer. It took three weeks of hard work to build it. They told me it typically takes two of their factory-trained workers only three days to build one.

In order to use the sunroom to capture enough solar heat to help warm your house, it should face south or southwest. It should be open to the house or have fans to move the solar heated air into the house. Adequate solar mass, from bricks, stone, water barrels, etc., is needed to store the solar heat.

A sunroom that is designed and oriented properly to capture solar heat will typically overheat in the summer. Since you plan to use it for additional living space, it will need summertime ventilation and movable shading. Even so, it will likely be uncomfortably warm on the hottest days.

Building a sunroom yourself from scratch is the best way to keep costs down and capture the most solar heat. Depending upon your orientation to the sun, trees, lot size, etc., you will have the design flexibility to build a nonrectangular sunroom to provide heat and space.

For most do-it-yourselfers, using 2-by-4 lumber is easiest and least expensive. Draw up a basic design. Visit local window contractors and home centers to see the window sizes that are available.

Often someone returned or did not buy the custom-size windows that were ordered. You often can buy them at a deep discount. Plan your final size based on your find.

To use the sunroom year-round and for solar heating for your house, select double-pane windows as a minimum quality. Single-pane windows are less expensive, but they are typically only used on three-season sunrooms. Tall old storm windows can be effective and cheap for a three-season sunroom. Check at recycled building product outlets.

Using standard lumber, a lean-to sunroom design is easiest to build yourself. There is less framing and roofing.

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