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Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006 01:24 pm

A do-it yourself sunroom

Properly designed, it can capture the sun’s warmth year-round

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This do-it-yourself sunroom is designed around recycled storm windows and doors. Notice the windows near the peak and the roof vent, designed to avoid summertime overheating.
Photo by James Dulley
Dear Jim: My family needs additional living space. I want a sunroom, but I cannot afford to have one built. Are there any do-it-yourself kits available? Can I build one from scratch? What design is best?

Adding a sunroom to a home is an excellent investment and will often increase the resale value of your home by more than its cost. It’s also a great recreational area for children. If it gets a little chilly during winter, they won’t mind.

A properly designed and located sunroom can capture enough free solar heat to stay warm most of the year and help heat the rest of your home during the spring and fall. Make it large enough, and you can have a small container garden in one corner for fresh green salads and herbs year-round.

Most but not all sunrooms you see are contractor installed. The contractors buy the long aluminum extrusions (20 feet or more) and cut them to size. Some sunroom manufacturers will also sell the components to homeowners in precut kit sizes. Do an Internet search and contact sunroom manufacturers to see whether they sell their products directly in kit form.

With some of these sunroom kits, you just have to build the base for the sunroom and assemble the components. Some frames are lightweight enough to be built over a wood deck. Often you will find it less expensive to purchase the glass or plastic windowpanes locally. SunPorch (www.sunporch.com) offers an efficient kit with removable windows to convert to a screened room.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you should be able to build an efficient sunroom from scratch. Find a good location on your home that has southern exposure. This provides the most passive solar heating during winter. If you design and build one yourself, to get the most sun, it needn’t be rectangular. An irregular shape may get better sun exposure.

Before you begin to construct the two-by-four lumber framing, visit local home centers and building-supply outlets. They often have custom-size high-efficiency windows that a homeowner or builder ended up not buying, and you can purchase these at quite a discount. Once you have your windows, design the rest of the sunroom framing to fit them.

Except in cold northern climates, you should have a solid roof on the sunroom, or it will likely overheat during the summer. Installing roof vents or a venting skylight helps, but shading may also be needed. This increases the costs. Designs incorporating slanted glass will work for moderate climates. In warm climates, always install vertical glass.

For the best comfort and efficiency, add thermal mass to the sunroom. This reduces overheating and helps it hold heat when the sun goes down. A brick-paver floor and a concrete-block kneewall are effective mass. Use planters with heavy clay pots. Add an exhaust vent through the house wall to force hot air indoors on sunny winter days.

Dear Jim: I recently installed a new high-efficiency furnace, and now I am installing a computerized thermostat. The instruction say to set it for only three cycles per hour for this type of furnace. Is this correct?

This does sound correct for the most efficient operation. Most new thermostats allow you to set the target number of on/off cycles per hour. A lower-efficiency furnace would be set for more cycles.

New high-efficiency condensing furnaces are designed to operate more efficiently in longer cycles with fewer starts and stops. This has to do with the interrelationships of the burner, heat exchanger, and blower.

Send questions to James Dulley, Illinois Times, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or go to www.dulley.com.

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