If you’re like most people, you want to use your sunroom all year long. To achieve this, check out our design tips for a stylish and energy-efficient sunroom that will become the focal point of your home year-round.
For starters, the Department of Energy says the room should only have a moderate amount of humidity. Additionally, any glare should be kept to a minimum – both for comfort’s sake and to cut back on raising your indoor temperature during the warmer months.
You’ll also need to ensure that the temperature is comfortable throughout each season. The two most important steps you can take to achieve this are energy-efficient windows (with shade for the summer) and carefully-sized thermal mass – which means the room needs the ability to absorb, store, and release heat when needed.
Whether you’re thinking of adding a sunroom or making changes to an existing one, here’s what you need to know to create a stylish and energy-efficient sunroom.
“The most common issue with sunrooms is insulation,” says interior designer Nora Bouz. “If not built tight with good insulation and glass suitable for the climate, the sunroom ends up causing costly heating bills or is not used in the winter when it’s most needed.”
Energy.gov advises against putting windows on your east and west walls. However, if you don’t have a choice, east is a better option than west. You’ll gain maximum benefits by using windows that carry the ENGERY STAR label, which means they have been certified independently as an energy-saving product – and they have achieved this without skimping on functionality.
If you’re trying to bring the outdoors inside, you can’t have a sunroom without plants. “In addition to removing CO2 and creating oxygen, many plants also absorb other gases and VOCs found in household goods and linked to various respiratory health issues,” says Ron Radu, founder of Léon & George. In addition to air-purifying plants, Radu’s company also delivers a variety of other plant types, including pet-safe and low-light plants.
Radu explains there are other advantages of having plants in your sunroom. “The benefits of caring for your plants include an increase in happiness – studies have shown that the mere act of watering an indoor plant can release feel-good chemicals in our brain.”
So, how do you decide what type of plants to include? “Mixing height, foliage, and adding flowering plants will bring a feeling of being in nature,” Bouz says. In fact, she recommends observing parts of nature that you love and then trying to mimic them.
“The density of the plants depends on your personal preference, but don’t feel pressured to add too many plants if you prefer a simple and clean surrounding.” And with these new plants, you will need to plan easy access to water. “In most cases, the sunroom holds a lot of plants, and having water and watering equipment handy will make taking care of the plants a joy, not a chore,” says Bouz.
When choosing window treatments for your sunroom, you’ll need to consider both style and functionality. “Use roman shade-like products with natural materials like bamboo, cotton, or seagrass,” Bouz advises. And she says you should avoid products and finishes that fade easily or quickly. “Also, if the sunroom is large with many windows, consider an automated system.”
A celling fan functions the same way in your sunroom as it does in the rest of your home. In the summer, it can help keep you cool. In the winter, when you reverse the direction of the fan, it can help to circulate heat. However, don’t make the mistake of running the fan when you’re not in the sunroom. A ceiling fan cools your body temperature, but it doesn’t affect the temperature of the room. So, if you leave it running in your absence, you’re just wasting energy.
“If you’re choosing tile for your sunroom, you want to choose the right material, and there are a lot of similarities between ceramics and stone,” says Mercedes Austin of Mercury Mosaics. “Stone works to save energy by absorbing heat and releasing it slowly,” she explains. “Ceramic tiles’ thermal mass greatly reduces the rate that they heat or cool down – used in homes this translates to gradual internal temperature changes, avoiding sharp changes.” And in turn, Austin explains this leads to more efficiency overall. “Furthermore, the life of tile versus other materials contributes to the longevity of a sunroom.”
Also, if you plan on having a lot of plants, Bouz recommends making sure the floor is suitable for humidity and water.
The right heating system is also important, and Bouz says this will ensure the climate is pleasant for both you and the plants – without pushing your heating bill upward. “Plants don’t like warm or cold air blown directly at them, whether the pot or the leaves,” she explains. “Also, think about the humidity – 60% humidity is excellent for most plants and people.”
Texans may like the idea of a glass roof or skylight to view the beautiful sky. However, Bouz says you need to consider how much debris from your trees will fall on the roof. “Finding out how the glass roof is going to be cleaned in the planning stage will ensure a design that won’t be a burden to keep beautiful.”
Bouz also recommends planning your sitting area first. “Whether lounging, sitting, or dining, identify the best furniture arrangement that serves your functions, and then plan your lighting – general, ambient, and task lighting – then the location and groupings of plants. For example, if you have a glass roof, she says you’ll be using floor lamps and/or sconces.
“If you want this sunroom to be your sanctuary and a place for rejuvenation, integrate sounds from nature: birds, gentle wind, insects, etc,” Bouz says. Scents are also important. “Use diffusers with natural oils and incense sticks to infuse your favorite aroma; sound and smell will take your experience to a whole new level.”
Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.