A Room That Gathers Sunshine

March 03, 1991|By Carleton Jones

Among antidotes to the winter blues, moving somewhere, Florida preferably, has long been a way out for Marylanders. Another, increasingly a choice for older citizens, is the retirement community where usually chores are few, choices wide and safety and comfort a considerable priority.

Still another route for homeowners is simply staying put and opening the house to the sun.

Thousands of area homes no longer suit empty nesters because they were designed to house growing families. No sunny winter recreational space. No powder room. No downstairs bath.

But if you have an eastern-, southeastern- or southern-exposure porch, or just an exposure that's not blocked by other structures, greenery or a hillside in wintertime, you might consider adding a "sunshine room."

Our 30-by 12-foot space did add sleeping accommodation in the form of a sofa bed, but the bath was unneeded. The sunshine room was put up in just seven working days, equipped with squeaky-tight casement windows and insulated on all three sides and in the roof (the fourth side is the original brick wall of the house). On chilly mornings, with a short boost of about an hour from two 7-foot-long baseboard heating elements, the room becomes radiantly livable by mid-morning and stays that way into the supper hour. How?

The sun does the trick. It arcs in the southeastern sky for about seven hours on many days, blazing through the casement windows. Normally when it is a shiny 40 or 45 degrees outdoors, it is a pleasant 75 or more in the room. You leave entries to the room open, sliding doors and windows, so the solar-created warmth can rise through convection into the main house and reduce the utility load. We've also used the baseboard heaters ++ after sunset to maintain warmth. At night the room is closed off and serves as a buffer to conserve warmth in the adjoining kitchen and dining room. In summer, roof eaves shadethe addition from blazing sunshine.

Such a room is not a conservatory or a sun porch or (God forbid) a greenhouse, but a sort of family haven that can include dining and game areas, TV, entertainment centers and built-in wall bunks or sofa bed facilities without any drastic interior work.

Maryland is something of a center for the addition of sunshine rooms to existing shelter, though some spokesmen for the industry say that the boom has cooled off in recent months.

One of the largest firms for prefab additions is Janco Inc., of Laurel. Reginald Nearing, Janco vice president, says people tend to confuse sunshine rooms with greenhouses.

Janco makes both types, and though these metal and heavy glass prefabs may look similar in their greenhouse and sun room formats, they are engineered differently for different purposes.

"Plants do not like the same environment as people," Mr. Nearing emphasizes. In the early days of the solar-heating boom, he says, the "suede shoe" people sold a lot of misplaced greenhouse rigs to people who really wanted sun porches. The "tremendous heat buildup" of a normal greenhouse design made many an addition an impractical luxury.

Glassed-in porches and additions, he says, often need electrified movable screens that will keep excess sunlight under control. Tight doors and windows are a must, to channelwarmth into the house in peak solar heat hours and to close out cold at night and during extreme winter weather. (Heavy sliding patio doors are an answer here).

Mr. Nearing issues a general warning against opening up a whole side of the house to accommodate a solar addition and then pumping up the air-conditioning to cool the area in summer. "I'd advise against it," he says.

Though Janco designs and markets elaborate prefabbed glass additions for the restaurant trade and the corporate and institutional market, it also produces small domestic additions called "bump out" rooms, prefabbed 3 to 6 feet in depth, for enlarging existing rooms. There's nothing like the open feeling that lots of glass and a view can give, says Mr. Nearing, "even a glorified bay window."

In general, rooms with vertical glass (90 degrees to the floor) are by far the best for capitalizing on winter sunshine while excluding summer sun. Tilted glass walls adapt better to greenhouses and growing areas. The rule makes hundreds of open porches, currently only seasonally useful, into prime candidates for year-round, bug-proof "sunshine room" upgrading.

One company that customizes enclosures under existing roofs, like porches, is Patio Enclosures Inc. of Glen Burnie. Patio's president, Rick Tice, says the firm markets four types of seasonal enclosures and solariums. Prices average about $8,500 $9,000, he said.

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