After a long winter of quarantine—and the shift to daylight saving time mere days away—it’s safe to say we’re all done—done!—with being cooped up indoors.
But as eager as you may be to enjoy those extra hours of sun on your patio, it might be just a little too cold right now. And even when it does warm up, there are other issues: Mosquitoes! Freak hailstorms! No place to charge your phone!
So here’s a solution to help you keep your sanity, even in colder months: Bring the outdoors in with a sunroom.
A sunroom can transform a home, adding a bright, casual space to gather. These glass-enclosed transitional spaces—also called solariums, conservatories, or patio rooms—offer a connection to the outdoors, letting in tons of natural light while also protecting you from the elements of nature you don’t want.
These flexible bonus spaces can be used for anything, like a home office, playroom, lounge, art studio, or music room. Here’s what you need to know about adding a sunroom to your property.
What is a sunroom?
“Basically, a sunroom is a multifunctional, exterior room that is made up of at least 40% glass or a similar material,” says Travis Mulligan, marketing manager for LivingSpace Sunrooms and Porch Conversions in Toledo, OH.
Available in traditional and contemporary designs, sunrooms can be purchased as kits or prefab units, or they can be custom-built in many sizes, shapes, and materials, including aluminum, vinyl, fiberglass, or natural wood. Typically, these glassed-in living spaces are attached to a house and can be made accessible from inside.
“In Texas, we have many clients that love having that indoor-outdoor space. We’ll often add skylights or large glass doors that fold into the walls,” says Heather Berardi, an Austin, TX–based interior designer with Martha O’Hara Interiors. “We tend to see sunrooms toward the back of houses off family rooms or kitchens. They’re a more casual space for entertaining, watching TV, or reading a book.”
What kind of houses are best for sunrooms?
Most homes can be a good candidate for a sunroom, especially if the back gets good natural light in the morning or throughout the day, she adds.
Sunrooms are generally either three-season or four-season rooms. Three-season sunrooms usually aren’t insulated or hooked up to your home’s HVAC system, so if you live in a cold climate, you probably won’t be using this space during winter months. In warmer climates, however, three-season sunrooms can often be used year-round.
Four-season sunrooms have more insulation and heavy-duty, double-paned glass, so they can be enjoyed year-round, wherever you live. These spaces, which are often built on floating concrete slabs with a foundation, are generally considered a true extension of the main house. Often, 2-foot-high knee walls are installed to accommodate electrical outlets and baseboard heaters.
What’s involved in adding a sunroom?
Many sunroom manufacturers and installers offer free design consultations to help homeowners select the best option for them. Once the basic style and size are chosen, the potential room is measured out and quoted, says Angus Morison, president of Four Seasons Sunrooms and Windows Retail, which manufactures its products on Long Island, NY. The company then handles all permits and engineer drawings.
“Because it’s made in our factory prior to going on site, we can build one of these rooms in about one to two weeks, depending on how complex the design is, from the foundations going in to the final touches of Sheetrock,” he says. “It’s a very unobtrusive way to get an addition on your house.”
Because many sunrooms are technically classified as uninhabitable spaces, they remain closed off from the house, with an exterior door leading to the sunroom, explains Morison.
“The beauty of that is you don’t get taxed like a normal addition,” he says. “Yet a lot of the rooms we build are more thermally efficient than the actual house, because we’re using materials like aluminum panels with thick foam insulation, and extremely high-quality, heat-reflective glass.”
How much do sunrooms cost?
As with most renovation projects, prices for sunrooms vary wildly depending on where you live, the size of the space, the quality of materials you choose, and the level of craftsmanship, says Mulligan.
The average cost for a three-season sunroom—which uses the existing roof or porch cover and adds walls and windows right on top of the existing patio or deck—is around $20,000, Mulligan says. A four-season room, which requires a foundation, flooring, and an HVAC system, would be around $45,000.
Costs can increase if the site preparation or tie-in to your home is challenging—such as if your property is sloped. And if you need an old deck or patio demolished, that also boosts the price tag.
Larger, high-end sunrooms can run $75,000 and up, adds Berardi, especially if you choose expensive furniture and finishing touches, like heated floors.
Energy and other added costs
Although sunrooms don’t have to have central heating and cooling, many custom-built products have electric or fan-powered heaters, plus they’re wired for electricity. If you opt for mostly glass walls and you live in a hot climate, window treatments aren’t necessary, because you want to have a clear view to the outdoors, says Berardi. But window treatments can block out the sun on very warm days to help keep the space cool.
And don’t forget to factor in added expenses such as a possible increase in your property taxes, insurance rate, and extra utility expenses if you opt for a four-season sunroom.
But on the flip side, sunrooms can boost a property’s value, Berardi notes, because having a bonus space appeals to buyers.
“Sunrooms are a great way to enjoy all of the seasons: the summer sun, the beautiful trees when they’re changing in the fall, the snow during Christmastime, and the flowers coming up in the spring,” she says.