Bring the outdoors in, all year.

Imagine enjoying the outdoors year-round, even in Minnesota. With a sunroom, you can get close up and personal with nature while staying comfortably toasty.

And indeed, the number one trend in sunrooms today is creating a room that can be used throughout the four seasons, says Tom Gommels, president of Master Builders. “We’re getting a lot of calls from people who want to convert their screened-in porch to a sunroom, and that often makes more sense,” he says. “We have such a short season in Minnesota to enjoy a screened porch. But with the right kind of insulation, quality windows and a heat source, you can use a sunroom all year. You can open all the windows if you want, enjoy all the light pouring in, and even sit out there when it’s raining.”

A traditional sunroom was essentially an all-glass enclosure, Gommels explains. Not so anymore. “Most people we talk to don’t want a sunroom that looks like that,” he says. “They want one that looks like it’s part of the original house, not an obvious add-on.”

That brings us to trend number two: Opening up the sunroom to the rest of the house. “Opening up the sunroom to the rest of the house, rather than having it be a separate, closed-off area greatly enhances the rooms that are adjacent to the sunroom because it brings so much more natural light into those rooms as well, whether it’s your living room or the dinette off your kitchen,” Gommels says.

Not only does this open concept have a dramatic effect, but your sunroom is likely to become one of your family’s favorite gathering spots. Now imagine your sunroom with a fireplace, wood flooring and trapezoid-angled windows – all popular design features, Gommels says. “If you put in a fireplace, you can even surround it on both sides and on the top with windows, basically up to the ceiling,” he says. If your sunroom is likely to become another family room, you may want to consider carpeting instead of wood flooring, since it offers a warmer, cozier feel for sprawling on. “Rarely do we see tile floors in a sunroom” Gommels notes.

And just how can you keep a sunroom toasty even in a Minnesota winter? For starters, elevating the sunroom off the ground provides space for sprayed in expanding foam insulation under the floor. In addition, a heating element is vital. In some cases, you can tie in your sunroom to your existing heating (and air conditioning) system. Work closely with your contractor to explore all options. It may be necessary to take down some ceiling in a finished basement or remove some subflooring to gain access to heat runs, for instance.

You love the sun, but you’re concerned about all that light damaging your floors, furniture or artwork. That’s where quality glass windows come in, Gommels says. “Make sure you have high-quality, low-E, argon-filled windows. Not only are these windows energy-efficient – saving on your heating and cooling bills – but they can block harmful UV radiation that causes fading,” he says. “In some cases where we’ve done sunrooms that get a tremendous amount of direct sunlight shining in, we may put in an extra layer of window tinting or sun glazing, which filters out even more rays that could be harmful to floors or furniture.”

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Copyright 2007 Rochester Area Builders, Inc. No part of the Remodel It Right Handbook articles may be reproduced or printed without written permission from Rochester Area Builders, 108 Elton Hills Lane NW, Rochester, MN 55901. Phone (507) 282-7698.