A well-designed sunroom is an extension of the outdoor environment, with the power to transform your home’s entire aesthetic. When weighing the options of a sunroom addition or large-scale renovation to create an indoor-outdoor space, your architect can help you evaluate a number of nature-focused approaches, which vary from greenhouses and conservatories to full-scale sunrooms or sunspaces.
Though the terms are often used interchangeably, a sunroom and a sunspace are different. Sunrooms are generally open to the house on one side, with three walls of glazed fenestration. Those three walls of glass doors and windows let in views, light, and some solar radiation, which can help warm the space in winter. Sunspaces, on the other hand, can also have glazed walls but are just as likely to have glass on the roof. While a sunroom is intended to be an indoor-outdoor space, a sunspace has energy efficiency—along with collection, storage, and distribution of solar energy—as its guiding criteria and is mostly oriented to the south.
Planning to add a room? Visit AIA’s Architecture Firm Directory to find an architect near you.
Sunrooms provide a house with more living space. “But more often than not, sunrooms only fit in one part of the house,” says Jimmy Crisp, AIA, principal architect at Crisp Architects. “Whether the issue is setbacks or septic fields or something else, typically only one place makes sense for a sunroom addition, and that could be on the house’s north side.” But that also includes the east and west elevations, which can be managed. “We are constantly balancing the best place for a sunroom versus the place where it will fit.”
“The single greatest motivation for a sunroom is a desire to connect to the outdoors while being protected and inside,” says architect Duo Dickinson, FAIA. To accomplish that connection, sunroom designs include large expanses of windows on all three sides. And in order not to overheat the interior spaces, all that glass needs to be shaded.
Dickinson likes to shade with substantial overhanging eaves above the window walls. Along with shading, those overhangs provide greater wind and rainwater penetration protection. “One hundred percent of the time, you want to build solar controls into a sunroom. While overhangs provide shading, they need to be high enough not to interfere with the view,” he says.
“The single greatest motivation for a sunroom is a desire to connect to the outdoors while being protected and inside.” - Duo Dickinson, FAIA
But overhangs alone are rarely sufficient to control heat and glare. “These spaces need top down and bottom up insulating shades. You’ll want to have pockets for them, so that they are invisible when open.” He points out that the newest generation of insulating shades is quite attractive, unlike the less-attractive ones produced a decade ago.
Crisp also often relies on interior shading for sunspaces. “We have found it to be the most economical solution and the most flexible,” he says.
Adding a sunroom to your home is a big decision. With all that finish carpentry, windows, grids of trim, and mechanical integration, costs can add up. In terms of the economics, Crisp finds sunrooms on a square foot basis to cost more than a living room, but not a lot more.
When considering an addition to your home, ask your architect if a sunroom might be the ideal solution for providing more space and communing with nature in any season or weather.
About the author: Elena Marcheso-Moreno writes about architecture and design from McLean, Virginia.