Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Going Green: Sunrooms and Patio Enclosures

A new sunroom is a valuable addition to any home, providing an open, well-lit, and spacious area for homeowners and their families to relax in and enjoy. On the other hand, sunrooms also present significant challenges when it comes to energy efficiency and year round comfort, primarily due to the large surface area devoted to windows and glass. One of the easiest ways to meet those challenges is to adopt a green building philosophy. Green remodeling utilizes a combination of innovative green design ideas, energy-efficient building materials and practices, and environmentally friendly building solutions to create a sunroom that's as energy efficient and comfortable as it is beautiful.

Evaluating the Cost of Going Green in the Sunroom
When it comes to building a green sunroom, you're looking at a classic example of weighing increased project costs against increased energy efficiency. While energy-efficient, green building materials such as low e with low solar heat gain, multiple paned windows will cost more initially than less efficient materials, the payoff in long-term energy savings is so substantial that footing the higher initial cost is worth its weight in gold. Add to that the fact that green building aims to create a sunroom that utilizes natural ventilation, passive solar heating, and other natural processes as much as possible, and you've got the recipe for a sunroom that will be just as energy efficient 20 years down the road as it is the day the addition is completed.

Assessing the True Value of Green Sunroom Additions
Despite the significant long-term energy savings that go hand-in-hand with a green sunroom addition, green remodeling expert David Johnston warns homeowners against getting caught up in what he calls "the payback trap." The benefits of green remodeling extend far beyond dollars and cents, and nowhere is that more apparent than in a sunroom. A poorly designed and built sunroom can be an ice-box in the winter and a sauna in the summer, crippling a homeowner's ability to enjoy the space on a year round basis. By placing an emphasis on energy efficiency, however, green sunrooms maintain consistent, comfortable temperatures year round, the true value of which cannot be understated. Add to that the intrinsic values of healthier indoor environments and an environmentally responsible addition that allows you to rest easy knowing you've done everything you can to pass a better world onto your children and grandchildren, and it's easy to see what Johnston means when he says that the true value of going green reaches far beyond the bottom line.

David Johnston's Tips for a Green Sunroom Addition
Johnston isn't just any green remodeling expert. He's the founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., author of Green from the Ground Up and the Nautilus Book Award winning Green Remodeling, and ServiceMagic's resident expert when it comes to passing green remodeling advice onto our homeowners. What follows is a collection of Johnston's own advice on steps that you can take to help design, plan, and implement the greenest sunroom addition possible.

Green Sunroom Designs for Energy Efficiency and Reduced Energy Costs
Sunrooms stand to benefit from green building and design philosophies more than just about any other major home improvement. From a traditional building standpoint, windows are a major source of year-round energy loss, and can play a very detrimental role in reducing a home's overall energy efficiency. From a green remodeling point of view, however, more south-facing windows means more natural light, more comfortable and inviting homes, increased ventilation, and a valuable source of free passive solar heating— provided that you use energy-efficient materials and design with energy efficiency in mind. Here's a list of green ideas to create the most energy-efficient sunroom possible.

  • Install low-e, multiple paned windows with wood or vinyl frames primarily on the south side of the sunroom. This is probably the single most important step you can take in designing a green sunroom. Without the benefit of traditional insulation to maintain consistent indoor temperatures and prevent heat and cooling loss, low-e, multiple paned windows will function as the primary source of insulation in your green sunroom.

  • Install low solar gain windows in East and West facing walls. These windows utilize technology that reduces the heating affect of sunlight during summer months, so you'll be able to run your air conditioner less.

  • Install high gain windows in South facing walls. South facing windows are a prime source of passive solar heat (i.e. sunlight) during the winter. It is important to shade these windows in summer to reduce heat gain, which makes the room uncomfortable.

  • Build south facing sunrooms. Sunrooms with southern exposures will receive direct sunlight year round, which is vital if you hope to make the most of passive solar heating during the winter.

  • Design with natural air movement in mind. Be sure to account for the direction and flow of natural air movement in your area, and orient operable windows to facilitate air flow through your sunroom. Doing so will allow you to make the most of natural cooling and ventilation during spring, summer, and fall.

  • Install ceiling fans and artificial ventilation. Ceiling fans will help to circulate the air in your sunroom, leading to more consistent temperatures in every season. Installing a ventilation fan at the peak of your sunroom allows you to vent out hot air that accumulates there during warmer times of the year.

  • Install more insulation in the ceiling than usual. Since most of your walls will be glass, it is important to put more insulation in the ceiling to keep the room more comfortable in both summer and winter.

  • Install radiant floor heating in your sunroom. Radiant floor heating is more efficient, provides a more even heat, and is perfect for use in areas like sunrooms where concrete, tile, or stone flooring is the norm.

  • Install stone, brick, or decorative concrete flooring. These flooring materials will soak up passive solar heat during the day and radiate it back into your sunroom long after the sun goes down.

  • Plant deciduous trees and shrubbery outside your sunroom, especially outside East and West facing windows. They'll beautify your landscaping, increase the value of your home, and provide valuable natural shade during spring and summer.

  • Install drip irrigation and go native with landscaping. Installing drip irrigation systems, as well as planting native plant species in your post-addition landscaping, will help reduce your home's water use.

Healthier, more Comfortable, and Lower Maintenance Sunrooms
Besides increasing your sunroom addition's overall energy efficiency, green remodeling strives to create healthier, more comfortable, and lower-maintenance projects. In fact, this is where much of the "alternative" value of green remodeling comes into play.

  • Design your sunroom with the outdoors in mind. Be sure to design your sunroom appropriately, taking the location of garden areas, natural views, and other features into account. Remember, what lives outside the glass is as much a part of your sunroom as the interior space you create.

  • Be sure to include landscaping into your sunroom addition plans. Integrating well-designed landscaping into your project will result in a more beautiful and relaxing sunroom addition. Furthermore, by planting native plant species and adopting other low-maintenance, green landscaping practices, you'll spend less time maintaining your yard and more time enjoying your sunroom.

  • Adequate ventilation makes for a more comfortable and healthier sunroom. The ventilation tips suggested above don't just make for an energy-efficient addition, they also mean a much more pleasant and comfortable space. And since proper ventilation is your best defense against poor indoor air quality, those suggestions help create a healthier sunroom, as well.

  • Good windows aren't just energy efficient. Properly insulated windows and adequate traditional insulation, where applicable, make for more stable indoor temperatures and more comfortable environments. They are also an excellent barrier against noise pollution, which can be a major nuisance in a room with as many windows as a sunroom.

  • Brick, stone, decorative concrete, and ceramic tile flooring are all healthy, attractive, and low-maintenance flooring materials. Avoid vinyl flooring, which emits carcinogenic vinyl chloride fumes, and think twice about carpeting, which not only harbors dirt, dust, allergens, and moisture that can lead to mold, but also off-gases VOCs from bonding materials, dyes, glues, fire retardants, binders, and anti static and stain treatments.

  • Use low- or no-VOC paints, sealers, and adhesives. Traditional paints, sealers, flooring treatments, and adhesives can be a major source of indoor air contaminating volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Low- or no-VOC products reduce levels of these harmful byproducts significantly or eliminate them all together.

  • Avoid medium density fiberboard (MDM) and particle board. Both products, commonly used in cabinets, countertops, and other applications, emit high contents of urea formaldehyde from adhesives used in the manufacturing process. If you do use MDM or particle board in your sunroom addition (in a wet bar, for example), be sure to seal exposed areas with a low-VOC paint or sealant.

Green Tips for an Environmentally Responsible Sunroom Addition
Reduced energy costs, increased comfort and quality, and healthier living environments are attractive to any homeowner, but at its heart green remodeling is about embracing environmental responsibility, as well. Our current way of doing things is detrimental to the environment, and traditional building practices are no exception. Choosing to green your sunroom addition means that you're making a commitment not just for a better home, but for a better world for future generations, as well. Here's a list of environmentally responsible steps you can take for a greener sunroom and a greener world.

  • Use recycled building materials. Old lumber, trim, and door and window casings can all be reused if removed carefully. And if you're willing to be flexible when it comes to design, perfectly good building materials, such as ceramic and stone tile, can be purchased from retailers who specialize in reclaiming and recycling reusable construction "waste."

  • Use materials manufactured with recycled content. Whether you install cellulose insulation made from recycled paper and cardboard or install recycled content ceramic tiles, using building materials made from recycled content helps to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, and reduces overall energy consumption since these products require less energy to manufacture.

  • Use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. From flooring to framing materials, using only FSC-certified wood ensures that the lumber used in your sunroom has been harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner.

  • Use indigenous stone from local quarries. Doing so reduces the amount of labor, time, and fossil fuels required to deliver the stone to your job site. You'll save on material and labor costs as a result, and it's better for the environment by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

  • Recycle construction and job site waste. A huge percentage of the construction waste currently sent to landfills could be reused in future green remodeling projects.

  • Increasing Energy Efficiency Isn't Just Good for Your Pocketbook. Any and all steps that you take to cut your home utility costs are beneficial for the environment, as well.

Are You Ready to Go Green?
Going green in a sunroom is more than a wise decision. It can be the difference between an energy-efficient sunroom that you're able to enjoy year round, and an energy drain that is a comfortable living space for just a few seasons each year. And it's the environmentally responsible way to go.

If you think your sunroom addition would look better in green, talk to your contractor about adopting a green building philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm to help you plan and design the greenest sunroom possible.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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