A sunroom is a year-round connection to nature in your home. Here's how to design yours for maximum exposure.
There’s something endearing and timeless about a room wrapped in glass, whether you call it a sunroom, a three-season room or a four-season room. “The biggest function for sunrooms is to be able to see and enjoy nature,” says Justin Sparks, design director at Everest Construction in Donnelly, Idaho. Hopefully, many rooms in your home will be designed to do just this, but these transparent spaces tend to have a more profound connection to the outdoors, not only through our sense of sight with a magnificent view, but also through sound and touch, whether it’s the chirping of birds bustling through a stand of pines or a soft evening breeze across your face.
The conduit for this extension into earth’s bounty is glass (and sometimes lots of it), and because of this, a sunroom has different implications than those boxed off by log walls. We talked to a few experts to find out what you need to know when designing this sunny spot.
Use of Space:
First, you want to figure out how you will use your sunroom, which will help you determine location, size and the overall design. The three most popular trends are as a breakfast/morning nook; a sitting room for reading, lounging and enjoying the sun; and as a dining room, according to Justin. Obviously, you’re not limited to these ideas—the most important consideration is how your family will get the most out of it. Just make sure you figure this part of the equation out before finalizing your floor plan. It may not be as essential as the great room, but it’s also not a room to tack on at the last minute. You want to locate it advantageously in relation to not only the outdoors (and, of course, the sun), but also the other rooms in your home.
Actually, the position of your sunroom in relation to the sun is the consideration when it comes to location. After all, if you stick it on the part of your home that will be buried in the shade, you’ve defeated the purpose. (Lack of sunlight will make the room cold and dark and not very inspiring, and while you can get very efficient insulated glass, the space is still more susceptible to the weather conditions outside.) A natural location is on the warm side of the house—i.e., the south and west corners.
Consider views, too. If being able to watch the sun rise and set is tops, then position the sunroom so one side faces the eastern morning sun and the other side soaks up the dazzling colors and last minutes of heat from the setting sun in the west.
Tip: A long south-facing sunroom that opens directly into the main living areas of your home is a great way to take advantage of passive solar heat year-round.
Another relationship you want to consider is how the sunroom flows with the rest of your home. Is it open to the indoor living space or closed off with French doors as its own wing? “Generally you want to be able to access the room from the kitchen, living or dining rooms, or other main part of the house,” says Fred Kendell, a designer at Honest Abe Log Homes in Moss, Tennessee. Unless it’s meant to be a private space not shared by all, you don’t want to locate it off of a bedroom that you have to walk through. If you’ve decided your sunroom is going to be an open breakfast nook, draw it in next the kitchen. Going for a sitting room? Try a spot adjacent to the great room.
As a transition point from indoor to outdoor living spaces, consider hooking up the sunroom to a garden, deck or patio with an exterior door. And to make sure all of your senses are stimulated, some (or all) windows should be operable. Large sliding glass windows about 2 to 3 feet off the floor are very popular, according to Fred. For a charming cottage feel, try awning windows that swing out from the bottom. (These are great for wet climates because you can keep them open even during a rainfall.)
Tip: Rooms that are open to the rest of the home get the advantage of having access to the rest of the home’s heating and cooling. Stand-alone sunrooms may need supplemental heating in the cooler months, such as fireplace for winter and a ceiling fan for summer.
“Most of these rooms are constructed with glass around the outside and small timbers between window units,” says Fred. This is called a direct set: Large panels of glass are installed with “stoppers” on each side—the timber trim—that keeps the glass in place, and ultimately has the feel of a solarium. The other method would be to cut openings into logs walls and frame in normal windows. This won’t be a true full-glass room, but it’s a solid option for those who don’t want to break up the architectural consistency of logs.
A heavy timber roof with open beams in a cathedral ceiling is a favorite option for overhead, because it helps with consistency and makes smaller sunrooms feel more spacious. A high ceiling also offers more vertical area for glass to let in more of the view.
Learn More: Practical Guide to Window Glass Coatings
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