After living in their Battle Ground home for a few years, Doug and Tamra Miller decided they wanted to take advantage of their spacious back yard. There was a patch of dirt behind the house – the perfect place to put in a screened-in porch.
“We’re on a five acre lot,” Doug Miller said. “The back yard looks out on the woods. It’s a nice setting. It was something we had been thinking about for a while. We’d been in the house for four years, and we wanted something for outdoor use in the summer.”
So Doug started playing in the dirt. Pulling some string lines, painting boxes of differing sizes, and standing in different locations of the proposed backyard sitting area gave Miller an idea of what they wanted. But after talking to a few builders, it was obvious a screened-in porch wouldn’t be enough.
“We started out with just a roof over the back patio, screened in to keep the mosquitoes out,” Miller said. “Then we thought about the winter. We talked to about four contractors and they said we should just get a sunroom.”
A concrete pad was poured, the walls went up, and a foam-insulated aluminum roof completed the sunroom. A sliding glass door that led to the backyard was used as the access point to the sunroom, which has enough room for a gathering of friends.
Or a sitting area for one.
“We can get a small group of people out there, six to eight people, and they all sit comfortably,” Miller said. “My wife will go out there every morning for coffee. She reads and just enjoys it. Summertime in particular, but in the winter too. It’s nice.”
That’s a key point for people who want to add a sunroom to their house: being able to enjoy the addition all year long. And people living in Pacific Northwest definitely get a taste of all four seasons.
“We don’t have the extremes, but we do have a lot of rain,” Global Solarium owner Roman Sobolewski said. “That’s the advantage of a sunroom, to be able to enjoy the back yard all year round. When you go to the restaurant, the seats by the windows are always taken. Most of the people in the Northwest are outdoor loving people. They want to be able to enjoy their back yard all year round.”
When a foot of snow fell in Clark County last winter, Ridgefield resident Merrilee Asla Lee was very interested in how her new sunroom would take it.
“One thing was really cool,” she said. “We had all that snow, and our house is really well insulated. We drove home and, sure enough, no snow was melting on the sunroom.”
The screened-in porches of yesteryear weren’t built for that kind of weather. Single-paned glass enclosures provided some protection from the elements, but were difficult to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Keeping the sunroom comfortable all year round used to mean bringing something portable in as the seasons changed.
Now, climate control is built directly into the sunroom.
“Most of the time, they used space heaters or electric heating to keep warm, or a window air conditioner to keep cool,” Sobolewski said. “With new technology, it makes it very easy with the heating and the cooling system.”
By using ductless mini-split systems and more energy efficient materials, sunrooms are comfortable no matter the weather. Tying directly into the existing furnace or heat pump means removing siding from the home or interior walls to gain access. A ductless system requires drilling a small hole from the exterior to the interior and running conduit from the outdoor unit to the individual interior unit.
Ductless mini-splits, fully insulated frames, double pane glass, and energy saving heating/cooling systems are now quadrupling insulation values and increasing energy efficiency.
“It’s a very big difference,” Sobolewski said. “The industry itself is moving towards more insulation. The sunroom is becoming part of the house, livable. It comes down to new technology. The mini-split units are energy efficient, very easy to install.”
Existing furnaces or air conditioners may work for the smallest sunrooms, but Sobolewski recommends having a system specific to the addition.
“The existing system was designed for the original house,” he said. “But adding so much square footage, it’s not going to be able to handle an additional 200 or 300 square feet.”
Lee took a more homey approach to keep the sunroom warm during the cold winter months.
“We had a (electric) line run out to the sunroom,” she said. “My son came in and installed an electric fireplace. It’s a beautiful space to be in. We just love it.”
How the sunroom itself is built is important for longevity as well. Where older sunrooms were constructed with wood framing, which could rot or warp, the newest sunrooms are built to last.
“We went the best way you can,” Miller said. “The floor is concrete, an all aluminum structure, and it doesn’t rust. One thing I would say with an aluminum roof, when it rains, you can’t hear a thing. It’s thunderous!”
Sunrooms are used in a variety of ways. For the Millers, it’s a place for entertaining or a quiet morning coffee. As additional, livable square footage for the house, these spaces can be used as a dining room, a kids play area, or a den.
Days full of natural light were a must for Lee.
“We wanted to bring more light in the house,” Lee said. “I’m an artist and I needed an art room. Our home is right next to the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge and it’s a nice view we wanted to capture. It’s a beautiful space to be in.”
With a sunroom, watching the world go by is a popular pastime, no matter the season.
“We have bird feeders, keep seeds in there, and they keep coming back,” Miller said. “My wife has a bird book, so we watch for the birds, keeping track of the birds. And we do that year round.”
Global Solariums has been building sunrooms, solariums, and conservatories in the Clark County area for more than 25 years. For more information about these home additions, call Global Solariums at (360) 695-0313 or visit their website at globalsolariums.com.