Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Key West Sunroom/Greenhouse

For a while, I've been alluding to the addition of a sunroom to our house. This sunroom/greenhouse is affectionately known around here as the "Key West Room" because of our use of the island as inspiration for the decor. I have promised you a post on the project, and here it is! I wanted to talk you through our decision-making process for this major home project, and hopefully you can decide what will and will not work for you in a similar situation.

First, let me acknowledge that adding onto a house is not necessarily economical; every estimate I have seen indicates that home owners will only rarely recover 100% of the cost of an addition or renovation in the resale of their house, and I'm sure that is true in this housing market. However, we opted to add this sunroom because it would extend the true living area of our home, which is the kitchen, family room, patio (now sunroom) and gardens. We opted for a sunroom instead of, perhaps, a pool or a media room, because it would be a highly functional space. We also opted to wait until we had met certain financial goals we had, and until we had the money in hand, so that is why we have owned this house for ten years without adding a sunroom that we knew we wanted.

The footprint of the new room already existed on the house. The back patio was already covered by existing roofline, and the concrete pad of the patio nestled under the roof in an "L" of the house. Therefore, we were literally two walls short of a room. The concrete pad even already had a footer in place, so, by keeping to this existing footprint instead of extending out into the gardens (heaven forbid!), we had the most economical option possible.

We chose a patio room company that had two options: a three-season room wall system and a four-season system. The four season option was sturdier and better insulated, so we opted to go that direction. The room could easily be heated with a space heater, or baseboard heat could be installed if we wish. However, we don't intend for the room to be additional winter living space, so we have not gone that route.

We chose walls that were part slider and part transom window. The transoms allow us to better control air flow, and they should allow us to use the room effectively on rainy days. We have already enjoyed using the room on a cool day with just one or two transoms open for ventilation.

The walls are a unique configuration designed by my husband. Each wall has a sliding panel and a fixed panel. DH requested that the fixed panels include the UV protection and the sliding panels allow full spectrum light. That way, in the cool months, we can position our indoor crops and seedlings in front of the full spectrum windows and use the space as a greenhouse; these windows will also allow for more passive solar heat to come in to warm the space. During the summer, when the sliders are back behind the fixed panels, the UV protection of those panels will keep the room a bit cooler. A ceiling fan we already installed will also help with ventilation.

So far, the room is functioning just as we intended. In lieu of a "Fast, Cheap, and Good" analysis, let me offer the following benefits from the addition of the room:
  • Because of the unique combination of window glass detailed above, we have extended the growing season considerably. As I write this in mid-November, we have a large raised planter box full of lettuce growing happily, along with some mojito mint and some rosemary. I expect to be able to start my seedlings earlier in the spring and to start more of them as well, so I should get a jump on the season and be able to depend less on purchased garden plants. (Starting a whole garden worth of seedlings was tricky when I was trying to do it all under grow bulbs and south-facing windows.)
  • The room is acting now as a heat collector and a really good buffer between the family room doors and the outdoor temps. I have noticed the family room, to which this room connects, being warmer and cozier.  On some warm days, we have opened the interior door and allowed the sunroom to heat the family room.
  • We will be adding a removable clothes line to run diagonally across the space, so I will still be able to hang sheets and other large items to air dry. They should dry more quickly than in my lower level laundry room on drying racks.  This will save a little money by allowing me to avoid running the drier.
  • By choosing the four season wall option, we qualified for a tax credit. This lowered the price of the room dramatically. (The credit should be just shy of 20% of the room's cost.)
  • I also paid for the room on my LL Bean Visa card and earned reward certificates; with these, I was able to get a set of flannel sheets for our bed (retail price $65.90) for only $5.90. So, that will keep us warm this year as well.
  • Finally, we joke around here about the savings realized by not having to buy antidepressants in the winter.  Truly, for us, having a sheltered space to take in more winter sunlight and garden plants makes a huge difference in mood and quality of life.
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  1. Whats not to like about how that looks and functions. Worth it for sure.

  2. Thanks for sharing such a great blog... I am impressed with you taking time to post a nice info.
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