- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

As homeowners seek creative ways to increase their living space, they are increasingly turning to sunrooms not only to enhance their interior, but also to bring the natural surroundings of the outdoors inside. Whether it’s called a sun-room, solarium, patio room or Florida room, the concept is the same — an open room surrounded by windows that lets natural light flow freely into the house.

Many homeowners add sunrooms to existing homes. Others take advantage of this common builder option when purchasing a new home.

Folks place a high priority on sunlight, especially as autumn brings shorter days that can put emotions into a tailspin. When moods are affected by daylight, a sunroom can be just what the doctor ordered.

Some sunrooms offer even greater flexibility if their windows can be opened, as they work as a screened-in patio during the summer.

Sunquest Inc. in Gaithersburg has been building Four Seasons Sunrooms in this area for close to 10 years, and the company has always had a high demand.

“The demand for sunrooms has been strong … as seen by the recent insurgency of new sunroom/patio room companies into the marketplace,” says Mike Fraley of Sunquest Inc.

He adds that even during rough economic times the sunroom market remains strong.

The term “sunroom” is really a generic term to describe an open space with all glass, high ceilings and a lot of light, Mr. Fraley says. These sunrooms are usually just as attractive from the outside as they are on the inside. Homeowners have a variety of options to personalize these rooms.

Mr. Fraley’s company offers three separate types of rooms, including all aluminum, vinyl or wood interior with an aluminum-clad exterior.

“While wood rooms still have a strong presence, the trend has been moving away from the aluminum room toward the vinyl products,” says Mr. Fraley. “It really becomes a price point with all three room types with something to offer everyone.”

Four Seasons Sunrooms, headquartered in Holbrook, N.Y., is one of the country’s largest manufacturers of sunroom enclosures and large-scale skylights. It offers many different styles, including the Victorian conservatory, curved eaves, straight eaves or cathedral roofs.

“Most buyers love sunrooms since they are very light and open,” says Leatrice Bulls, a real estate agent with RE/MAX One in Bowie. “Sunrooms are the place to relax and escape.”

Most people associate sunrooms with the rear of the home, commonly off the family room or kitchen area, but Mr. Fraley says these rooms are added to almost any place you can imagine.

Ms. Bulls agrees.

“One of the nicest sunrooms that I’ve seen protruded from the side of the house like a small wing. There were Palladian windows on all three sides and a Victorian roof,” says Ms. Bulls. “It was simply stunning and had the warmest atmosphere I’d ever seen.”

People also have the option of choosing from a variety of energy-efficient types of glass.

“With glass being the largest part of any sunroom we feel it is extremely important to have glass that allows someone to use their new room comfortably year-round,” says Mr. Fraley.

Four Seasons offers a multicoated glass called MC-Wonderglass. It reflects heat away in the summer and lets heat into the room in the winter.

Area builders like K. Hovnanian Homes and Equity Homes Inc., offer a sunroom option on single-family homes.

Sunrooms can come built with vaulted ceilings, skylights, ceramic-tile floors and even two-sided fireplaces that are shared with a family room.

Industry insiders say homeowners want sunrooms because they offer a lot of flexibility.

“Many times these new sunrooms are multipurpose spaces that are used for family rooms and breakfast rooms at the same time,” says Mr. Fraley. “Sometimes they are used as home offices, playrooms for the kids, spa enclosures or just a quiet space to read the paper and drink the morning cup of coffee.”

Margaret Ireland, chairman-elect of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, has a sunroom where she reads her paper every day.

“I love sunrooms. It’s always bright, even on a cloudy day,” Ms. Ireland says.

She says buyers tend to prefer homes with well-built sunrooms that can be used year-round, she says.

Sunrooms can be another way to boost a home’s appeal and asking price when the time comes to sell. However, quality and design play roles in determining the value.

“I personally don’t care for the rooms that look like a large greenhouse,” says Ms. Ireland.

Ms. Ireland says that while the value of return would certainly be there, the room must be of quality construction and materials, heat, air, large windows, and skylights. She says a year-round room has more of a selling advantage.

“I’ve also seen some where the deck has been converted to a sunroom,” she says. “However, it really isn’t a true sunroom.”

Ms. Bulls agrees that sunrooms can increase home value. Equally important, she says, is that a sunroom is a great attention-grabber when showing a home.

“What they do, more so, is increase the appeal to buyers and raise the level of the emotional ‘ahh’ factor when they are properly staged,” says Ms. Bulls.

The popularity of sunrooms has grown so much that a National Sunroom Association was formed in 1997, dedicated to the advancement of the manufacture and construction of safe, energy efficient and environmentally conscious sunrooms, which also includes patio rooms and solariums.

When considering a sunroom purchase, industry insiders say homeowners should first determine the main purpose of the room and decide if the room will be used year-round.

Don’t forget to factor into the plan which compass point the sunroom will face — as the room’s exposure to the sun will determine how warm it is. Also, sunroom experts say, make sure the room will sit on a firm foundation.

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