Soak Up the Sun

*This article features DeckWright, now known as MOSAIC Outdoor Living.

by Leslie Williams Johnson

Make your outdoor space a year-round living room.

Atlanta-Home-Improvement-2006-03-01The perfect place to dine, entertain or just relax, a screened porch or glass-enclosed sunroom can add new dimension to a homeowner’s lifestyle as well as to the home. “This will immediately become your favorite room in the house,” says Earl Rahn, president and CEO of Champion Window and Patio Room Manufacturing, which has a showroom in Atlanta.

But whether planning a screened porch, an allseason sunroom or an impressive conservatory, homeowners should weigh all the options before adding the extra space or modifying their existing patios and sunrooms.

Solid or Screened?

First, think carefully about the type of room you want. While industry insiders report a trend toward more elaborate sunrooms with heating and cooling systems and intricate trim work, many people want to enjoy the outdoors comfortably only during certain times of the year, so a screened room adequately meets their needs. Still others start off with a screened porch for the satisfaction of having the extra indoor/outdoor space, with plans to upgrade to an enclosed space later. Jim Burger, manufacturer’s representative for Patio Enclosures Inc. in Marietta, says he has seen scenarios where “the wife wants a sunroom; the husband will only get her a screened room. She’ll compromise, then the husband will come back six months to a year later [and say] ‘I think we should have done this.’ He now sees the value of the sunroom.”

The Right Direction

If you’re going to be building a new sunroom or porch, one major consideration is the orientation of the room to the rest of the house. In Georgia, if the room is facing south or west, “it better be an efficient sunroom or patio room, or you will be sitting in a hot box,” Rahn says. The orientation of the new space may also affect other rooms in the house—and not always positively. For example, if you’ve got a solid roof on your new room, “all the rooms behind that room tend to get darker, because now you have another roof in that area,” says Jeff Trimboli, an owner of Elegant Home Additions, which has a showroom in Chamblee.

Atlanta-Home-Improvement-2006-03-02When upgrading an existing screened patio or sunroom, you may find that some aspects of its current construction are no longer up to code. If this is the case, the contractor should address these issues and indicate how the changes will impact the final price. Energy-efficient glass that lets in light but not intense heat is among the more innovative products in recent times to improve the look and feel of sunrooms. Dale Contant, president of Atlanta Design & Build in Marietta, says his company even insulates ceilings for more energy-efficiency.

A Room for All Seasons

With screened-in porches being used more as year-round additions to a home instead of seasonal spots, homeowners are increasingly seeking out ways to make their extra space as usable as possible during every season.

Sunrooms can be heated or air conditioned along with the rest of the house, and blinds and curtains can help keep in warmth or block excessive sunlight, but screened-in porches present more of a challenge. Luckily, even they are becoming more adaptable. “We just finished up a project that has temporary glass windows,” says Richard Haly of The Haly Group in Acworth. “When the weather warms up, they’ll come right out, and the homeowner can either leave the space open or pop in the screens and put away the glass until it gets cold again.”

Another great option is the ClearView Power Screen system, which allows screens to be lowered at the touch of a button when you want to enjoy a cool, bug-free porch and raised again to open the space back up. “You raise and lower the screens with a remote control, just like changing the channel on your TV,” says Bob Wiedemann of Peachtree Screens in Alpharetta. “You can have a screened-in porch when you want it and take it away when you don’t.” Retractable screens are also great for turning open balconies into enclosed mini-porches.

Flexible glass walls are perfect for those who want to transform an open space into an instant sunroom. “They fold to the side when you want the room open to the outside and slide right back into place to close,” says Dorothea Birk of Rolladen Birk International LLC in Fayetteville. Rolladen Birk carries the KlimaFlex system, in which sheets of glass attached to a track can be folded up to the wall, accordion style. Whatever method you choose, it’s easy to enjoy yearround porch time.

Living in Luxury

With all the added hours they’re spending in their multiseason spaces, many homeowners seeking a cozy atmosphere aren’t stopping at bringing in furniture. “People are starting to upgrade with fireplaces; some folks are starting to put an outdoor kitchen out there,” Contant says.

Just as life inside the home is creeping out to the porch, a little bit of nature can also creep in. Haly recently installed a small waterfall and fishpond on a screened-in porch. “There was a niche in the porch where the water feature fit perfectly, and the homeowners wanted something unique,” Haly says. “The waterfall really makes the porch a tranquil spot, great for relaxing.”

Jacuzzis on screened-in porches also are popular right now, especially in buggy areas. “You can enjoy the Jacuzzi outside in the summer without being attacked by mosquitoes,” Haly says. Even pools are making their way inside, especially small “endless” pools designed for swimming laps in place. Many homeowners are using the added space in sunrooms to house workout equipment, and with a personal lap pool, they can create an entire at-home gym.

Material Things

Atlanta-Home-Improvement-2006-03-03Of the materials available to build these extra rooms, vinyl is a choice that’s increasingly getting people’s attention, says Rahn, while Ida Parker, sales manager and design consultant with DC Enclosures in Kennesaw, says aluminum is most in demand. With 8-foot walls in a sunroom, usually there will be about 5 foot tall windows, a 2-foot solid knee wall that can be made of materials such as bead board or drywall, and sometimes a glass transom above the window, Parker says.

Flooring materials depend on the type of room you have. Indoor/outdoor carpet works well in a screened or three-season sunroom, while regular carpet or many woods might not hold up against the elements. Contant says there is a hardwood from Brazil, called ipe, that can withstand expanding and contracting. If you do have wood floors, make sure to seal them just as you would a deck. In a sunroom that has heating and cooling, most flooring types are fine.

And styles of rooms aren’t limited to one or two shapes or layouts. At Elegant Home Additions, for example, Trimboli says there are 14 styles to choose from. That’s why he encourages people to visit showrooms early in the process. “Most people will say ‘will you come over and give me a quote?’” he says. “Our approach is: You wouldn’t purchase any high-ticket item without seeing it first. You can come in and test drive a sunroom.”

Cost Considerations

According to Parker, an average-size sunroom, about 12 by 16 feet, on an existing slab or deck with electric, heating and cooling systems, can run about $22,000 to $25,000. A screened porch of the same size ranges from $10,000 to $13,000. Another option is a shingled roof over a patio and posts, which may vary from about $7,000 to $9,000, she says. No matter your budget, it’s too much of an investment to have “that add-on look,” Parker says. “It seems like in the last year or two we’ve been doing rooms that are $60,000 on up to $110,000 to $115,000, so you know that they’d better look right.”

However much you decide to spend, remember to enjoy your investment as much as possible—every season of the year.

View the article from Atlanta Home Improvement Magazine here (PDF).