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With outdoor and backyard living on the rise, some homeowners are opting for a compromise with sunrooms, enjoying the sunlight while being able to use the room year-round -- and add square footage.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry says the latest trend in remodeling is daylighting, or the use of glass-intensive designs to draw in more natural light.

Opening your home to as much natural light as possible creates a stronger, more visible bond with the environment and can visibly stretch the space. It has even been known to enhance emotions and moods. One of the ways to bring in natural light is by adding a sunroom to your house.

NARI says some 500,000 homeowners add sunrooms to their homes each year. "Consumers now can choose from a variety of energy efficient types of glass and a host of styles and features when deciding the type of sunroom that will fit their needs," said National Sunroom AssociationPresident Bob Ottaway.

A sunroom has the potential to enhance the architecture and natural surroundings of your home as well as its energy efficiency.

The NSA says the term sunroom covers a wide range of styles and, therefore, costs. A sunroom can be a screened-in room, a seasonal patio room, a conservatory, a solarium, a year-round room or even a greenhouse.

The Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association says if you're thinking about adding a sunroom to your house there are a handful of issues to consider, including:

  • What is the main purpose of your sunroom? Will it be for family, or do you want a private space?
  • Do you want to use it year-round? A four-season sunroom is built on a foundation and is heated and fully insulated. A three-season sunroom should be wind and waterproof, while a two-season sunroom may be no more than a deck or porch with a roof and screens.
  • Will it be part of the house or a separate area? It may be integrated into a room, or it can be a separate structure that is added to your home.
  • Cooling. To avoid overheating, think ventilation (windows and doors). The right windows and doors will make all the difference. Also whether the sunroom faces north, south, east or west is an important factor.
  • Heating. Energy-efficient windows can help keep the heat in. When you are planning an all-season sunroom, you might need a separate heating and ventilation system.
  • A good foundation. All-season sunrooms or solariums should sit on a foundation that extends below the frost line.
  • Trimming nearby trees. Building codes require tempered or laminated glass for the roof to avoid dangerous shattering from branches.

    Additionally, the NSA recommends considering the external appearance of the sunroom, or how it will fit with your home's architecture.

    And if you're thinking about resale value, Remodeling Magazine's 2001 Cost vs. Value Survey says the national average cost of a sunroom is $27,081. You can expect that about 60 percent of that - $16,247 - would be recouped when you sell your house.

    "It adds to the value, no doubt," said Fort Worth, Texas, appraiser William Durham. "But the typical buyer might look at it as maybe half as valuable as original living area."

    However, real estate agents in some parts of the country reported extremely high rates of return. For example, in Washington, D.C., a $26,751 sunroom is estimated to bring back some $24,400 at the time of sale.

    Meanwhile, the NSA also says glass used for sunrooms can include single or double paned windows, Low-E, self-cleaning, tinted/protective coatings, and High Performance Low E2 (a double coating of Low-E glass). Ask what kinds of glass manufacturers offer, because the right glass can cut the cost to heat and cool a year-round sunroom.

    According to Energy Star a government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency, using their windows and doors can help reduce utility bills up to 15 percent. Energy Star products also provide protection against sun damage to fabrics in your home.

    Energy Star window performance is based on:

    • U-factor: The rate of heat transfer either from your home or the outside through your window, door, or skylight. Lower numbers mean less heat is transferred
    • Solar Heat Gain Coefficient: How much heat your house gains from the sun. Lower numbers mean less gain.

    The cost of today's sunrooms can run from minimal to more than $50,000 depending on the size, style, site location, and materials used to construct them.

    When selecting a sunroom dealer, your primary considerations should be reputation, quality, product line and customer satisfaction. Ask if they are insured and can provide references. As with any project, get at least three bids from qualified contractors.

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