The words sunroom and solarium are often used interchangeably. But what is the difference, and does it matter?
Traditionally, solaria were completely enclosed by glass. Whether this meant that there were three walls and a ceiling attaching the structure to the house or that a freestanding, greenhouse-style separate building was preferred, the purpose of solaria was to trap as much light as possible. They are often used in hospitals and sanatoriums so that patients can enjoy the health benefits of the sun without being exposed to the elements.
A “sunroom” is a name that architects call any room with very large windows or even a wall of glass. The structure is simply designed for its inhabitants to enjoy the sun and evolved from people just wanting to enjoy their porch or patio all year round. If you screen your patio with glass, you can enjoy the sun free from mosquitoes, cold breezes, and the rain.
Now the expressions “sunroom” and “solarium” are often used to describe similar structures. Whatever you decide to call your new feature, it is important to consider its intended use, its design and what it will be made of.
Old-fashioned sunrooms constructed of steel or aluminum and glass over existing patios get so hot that they are practically unusable in the height of summer. They may be leaking and draughty, leaving them freezing cold in winter. Fortunately, innovations in designs and materials mean that most new sunrooms are leak-free. They are either for year-round or three-season use. Innovations in glass production have lead to the availability window panes that let light pass through while reflecting heat. These are expensive, but it is worth paying extra for the benefit of year-round use.
What Would Suit You?
There are a variety of sunrooms and solaria on the market, from cheaper plastic designs to traditional metal-framed varieties.
Consider the practical elements of installing your choice. If you are planning to remove a section of an exterior wall to replace it with glass or gain access to your sunroom, you will probably need to reinforce the structure using a lintel. This is not a task to be taken on lightly. Get advice from a qualified architect and check your local building code before picking up the hammer. Alternatively, you may be planning to use an existing exterior door to gain access to the sunroom, in which case, there are a number of self-assembly structures (including glass) that can be ordered on the internet and erected by a competent do-it-yourselfer over the course of a weekend.
Where Will You Put it?
If you live in a warm climate, locating the sunroom on a north-facing wall is best because a south-facing solarium would just get too hot in summer. On the other hand, if you live in a cold place, a conservatory that is situated facing south or southeast will capture the power of the sun to maximum effect.