With the warm summer months in full swing, homeowners might find themselves wondering what it would be like to add a sunroom or other sunlight-filled annex to their house, a space to enjoy the natural light and even provide a little extra warmth when the weather cools down.
Ken Gates has been building sunspaces for the past decade, and one basic, functional sunspace model he created caught the interest of Andy Remple, a building scientist from the University of Oregon. Remple equipped the space with data loggers that could track the fluctuating temperatures in and around the sunspace, and they tracked its performance for more than a year, using the data to create a virtual model. “Once we had the model, we could try out design changes on the model, and this accelerated the development process,” Gates says.
Gates discovered that most of the energy in the winter came from sunlight filtered through the cloud cover. Using this knowledge, Gates builds his sunspaces with low-pitched roofs and glass panels aimed up at the clouds instead of tilted toward the winter sun. These glass roof panels do lose heat once the sun goes away, so Gates’s latest design combines uncoated glass panels with insolating covers. “In cold weather, the covers are closed at night to hold heat in,” he explains. “On hot days, these covers are down when the sun is out to prevent overheating.” Proper design can minimize the common problem of sunspaces getting too hot or too cold.
Scott Felsher with Rainbow Valley Design and Construction has also worked on sunrooms. One award-winning project was a sunroom and entry addition on a coastal cabin in Yachats. The house was built in the 1940s and didn’t have a lot of windows, and its ceilings were low and made of dark wood. “The client came to us wanting an entry and a place where there would be more sun and a view out to the river to the coast,” Felsher says.
Many houses are not designed with outward views in mind, or with letting in natural light. “Given that we live in Oregon, where it’s gray nine months out of the year, it’s a common problem,” Felsher says. If you design the right add-on, “it’s also an opportunity on the nice days to get a bit of heat.”
As with any addition to your home, Felsher advises finding a sunspace designer who is familiar with the climate and sun angles in your area, and is knowledgeable about how to best orient the room. “We have programs that we can calculate sun angles for any day of the year, so we know the right size overhang to block the sun during the summer,” he says. It is also important to make sure the addition blends into the house and makes architectural sense. Most of Felsher’s clients want their sunroom to look like it has always been there.
According to Gates, an ideal sunspace should be on the south side of the home and have large doors that can be opened or closed, depending on the weather. “A well-designed space can provide much of the winter heat for your home and, when conditions are right, will feel like a tropical vacation away from our long gray winters,” he says.
Ken Gates Construction
Rainbow Valley Design & Construction
785 Grant St.