Whether you call it a sunroom, a conservatory, a patio room, or even a greenhouse, adding a room where you and your family can enjoy the sun is a great investment in your home. Adding a sun room will not only add valuable floor space to your home, it will also add functionality and can even help make your home more energy efficient. Adding that new room isn't a minor project and before you decide to take on that addition there are a number of decisions you need to make.
Choosing Structural Materials
Vinyl is the least expensive material and has the advantages of being strong, energy-efficient and needing minimal maintenance, but it's not as structurally strong as aluminum or wood.
Aluminum is more expensive than vinyl and while it's stronger than vinyl, it can add strength for roofing structures. It doesn't have the same insulating value.
Wood is generally the most expensive option for your sunroom and while providing great strength, it requires ongoing maintenance.
Increasing Energy Efficiency
Double glazed windows are best, based on their insulation value and strength. Be sure to check the “U value” (an indicator of the amount of heat that escapes through a transparent surface )of any windows you are considering. The lower the U value, the better the insulation.
Installing windows across the roof or ceiling will allow sun to come in during the winter and help warm the room.
Increasing thermal mass
Having high thermal mass in your sunroom will help keep it cool in the summer and warmer in the winter. Thermal mass materials do this by storing energy (either heat and cold) for a time, then releasing it back into the room when it's needed.
You can increase thermal mass by using materials like concrete, bricks, or stone in your sunroom floor. During a hot summer day, they will absorb heat energy and help to cool the room. After the sun goes down, release the warmth into the room helping keep it comfortably warm.
Are You Going to DIY?
Building a sunroom is a major project. Doing it yourself involves designing the room, gathering the materials, arranging the necessary permits, and building the project from scratch. This is by far the most economical option but in reality, it's only an option for very competent DIYers.
An alternative for many is to buy a sunroom kit where all the piece parts are included and precut to fit together properly. While building a sunroom from a kit is still a lot of work, much of the preparation has been done before you start.
Find Solar South
First, you need to determine sunrise and sunset times for your location. (These times change every day and depend on where you are located in the country but they are usually available in newspapers or on the internet.) After determining sunrise and sunset, calculate solar noon – it's exactly halfway between sunrise and sunset. Now, since the sun is always due south (solar south) at solar noon, the shadow cast by a vertical object at solar noon will show you solar south in your location.