- The Washington Times - Friday, December 18, 2009

A little sunshine may be just what the doctor orders this time of year. When it is too cold to spend time outdoors, the next best thing is a year-round room that brings the outdoors into a home. Sun-drenched rooms go by many names, including sunrooms, solariums, morning rooms, conservatories and enclosed porches.

The most recent “Profile of Buyers’ Home Features Preferences” compiled by the National Association of Realtors noted that sunrooms were very desirable and ranked higher than media rooms and in-law suites. Sunrooms are so appealing because they allow homeowners to enjoy the outdoors all year, regardless of the season.

“The huge cultural swing toward environmental awareness has brought with it an increased enjoyment and appreciation of nature and the outdoors,” said Scott S. Fortney, owner and supervising broker with Jobin Realty in Alexandria.

A sunroom is also a relatively inexpensive addition to a home when compared with other types of remodeling projects that add square footage.

“We have found over the last year that customers who want an addition are now steering towards a sunroom due to pricing,” said Brad Amron, sales manager at Medallion Doors, Windows and Patio Rooms in Forestville.

Mr. Amron said their full-package rooms average about $35,000, depending on the size and foundation. He added that most customers want a turnkey situation where they only have to deal with one contractor for everything (including electric, permits, foundation work and more).

Wayne Brechtel, owner of P.G. Awning in Glen Burnie, said people want to be able to enjoy their sunrooms in all four seasons. To keep the space comfortable all year requires double- or triple-pane glass.

“A lot of manufacturers got rid of single-pane glass rooms,” explained Mr. Brechtel.

Mr. Amron agreed and said that the majority of his customers are buying double-pane glass sunrooms with insulated high-performance glass and UV protection.

“It helps keep the room warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer,” said Mr. Amron.

Buyers want as much glass as possible, according to Mike Smirnoff, project manager with Medallion Doors, Windows and Patio Rooms in Forestville. He added that customers like to include heating and air conditioning systems in their sunrooms and that many enjoy the “airy look” of cathedral ceilings.

Other features that are popular in today’s sunrooms include palladium windows, fireplaces, heated floors and skylights.

In this economy, Mr. Brechtel said homeowners are trying to get the most for their money. He added that sunrooms aren’t being built as large as they were in previous years and that some customers are looking for shortcuts like finishing off the paint or installing flooring themselves.

Mr. Brechtel said rooms that measure 16 by 14 feet are popular now. He added that a lot of people also are converting an existing screened porch into a three- or four-season room.

When adding a sunroom to an existing home, Mr. Brechtel said customers with homes in the upper price range want the sunroom to blend in and prefer to have them “stick built” so that they look like they are a part of the house. They don’t want the look of a white box stuck to a house.

Mr. Fortney agreed that a sunroom should be integrated into a home’s flow and “not appear to be an awkward room ‘tacked on’ as an afterthought.”

When getting a home built, a sunroom is an especially good investment, according to Bowie-based Michelle Franklin of RealEstate.com Realtors. She said that when buyers add a sunroom option to their floor plan, they may benefit from extra square footage in the basement.

Ms. Franklin explained that while the terms are often used interchangeably, sunrooms are typically added to the side of the home and that rooms in the back of the house are referred to as morning rooms.

She hasn’t had buyers specifically ask to see homes with four-season rooms, but she said that a resale home with a sunroom that shows nicely and is well-maintained could generate more interest. Ms. Franklin added that a house with a sunroom may have a higher value than a comparable home without one.

Prior to deciding whether to add a sunroom, experts suggest considering what the room will be used for and how much space is needed. With more homeowners being energy conscious, Mr. Brechtel recommended that homeowners ask what construction materials will be used and how much maintenance will be involved.

Flooding or undue wear (due to outdoor elements) can cause big problems in a sunroom, especially if the correct building materials weren’t used. Mr. Fortney recommended outdoor paint and weather-resistant lumber and said that there is an increased availability of eco-friendly building materials, along with beautiful indoor/outdoor stain and sun-resistant furnishings and fabrics.

When shopping around, Mr. Amron suggested checking with the Better Business Bureau to find out a company’s rating before signing a contract with them to build a sunroom. He also said that it’s important to get a final inspection from the county to make sure everything is built to code.

“Consider how long [a company] has been around, what manufacturer they’re using for the sunroom, and try to get references with names and addresses so that you can go by and see their work,” Mr. Smirnoff added.

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