Please Shine Down on Me



Sunrooms add function and value to your extra space

By Kelly Parker

No city in Canada gets more hours of sunshine annually, and because winter sun can come with temperatures that chase us inside, anything that exposes Winnipeggers to more sun should almost be a birthright, and a sunroom addition to your home is a perfect, value-adding option.

The first thing you’ll need to know is the difference between a three-season sunroom and a four-season sunroom. “The reality,” explains John Billings of Sunco Sunspaces in Headingley, “is that a four-season sunroom is called a house. A three-season sunroom you’re going to be able to use for nine months of the year, and is going to cost you, in some cases, only a third of what a four-season sunroom would.” Steve Sarens of Glastar Sunrooms by Sunshade agrees, noting, “what most people really want to achieve is a room where they feel like they’re outside, and nothing does that better than the three-season room.”

Sarens says customers typically find that their sunroom becomes the most used room in the home; with a southern exposure, that three-season room will still be comfortable when the temperature outside is -15 or colder, and won’t cost extra to heat because the room warms itself. “To go to an all-season room,” he says, “just to get something that works fairly decently in our climate ends up costing more than you would pay for an actual addition because you have to use specialized materials, and it still won’t perform as well as standard construction. For our climate, the three-season is a better value for the dollar.”

The most important layout consideration is how you plan to use the room. If it’ll be an entertaining space to have 10 people over, you’re going to need a larger space than you would for a cozy breakfast nook for the two of you.

The next consideration is the home itself; if it’s a one-storey with a peaked roof, what’s going to look best attached? “You don’t want it to look like somebody just threw up a shack next to the home and called it a sunroom,” stresses Billings. “You want it to look like it really belongs there. This is something that is going to add a lot of value to your home, and it’s also going to become one of the most used rooms in your home, so you’re going to want to make sure that it looks and functions properly.”

While older homes will typically be more of a challenge to find a suitable location for the add-on – with clients often converting (sacrificing) a rear bedroom into a den and building the sunroom on there, newer home designs are usually more accommodating, with almost all designed with patio or French doors in the back, and until recently, often a deck as well. Sarens says that’s something he likes to see, “because in 10 to 15 years those decks would reach the end of their lifespan and people would look at replacing their deck and discover the cost of doing so. That’s when they would realize that for a similar cost, they could replace it with a sunroom and get a lot more use out of the space.”

Expect the cost to be in the neighbourhood of other major home renovations. “We don’t order kits or anything like that,” says Billings, “but our average room size would be 12 by 14 feet, and that’s going to be in the neighbourhood of $25,000 to $35,000. That includes piling it – because when you add something on your home, you don’t want it to move – all the way up to shingling, if that’s what’s required.”

Customers often ask whether a sunroom can be built on top of an existing deck, and the answer is yes – kind of. “We do build on existing decks,” says Billings,” with the only qualifier being whether the deck is piled. If we have a customer that has an existing deck, there are a couple of factors to consider; what kind of condition is that deck in – if it’s a 30 year-old deck, we’re just going to replace it because you’ll have issues. If it’s a brand new deck but wasn’t piled, we can take off a couple of the face boards, put a couple of our ground screw piles in, rebuild the front of that deck and then build on top of that.” That might save you a couple of thousand dollars, as long as it’s all up to code. If it’s not, there can be added costs to make sure the sunroom lasts.

That said, Glastar is an exception, with a system that is grandfathered into a code that now requires pilings. It employs a telepost-like system to account for ground movement, which Sarens says is ideal for Winnipeg’s Manitoba gumbo; in fact he says, it was designed with our gumbo in mind.

There are other variables that can factor into cost, such as heating the floor under the decking. “If you have a south-facing room,” Billings points out, “a little insulation under the floor can get you an extra couple of weeks in the spring and fall.” Things like ceiling fans and electrical plugs can also be added, depending on the intended use of the space. “If it’s going to be an extension of the man cave and you don’t put any plugs in that room,” he jokes, “it’s going to be a little difficult because most big screens don’t run on batteries.”

If you’ve got a gazebo in mind, Billings points out that all of this information applies because the only difference between a sunroom and gazebo is that one is attached to your home while the other isn’t.

You’re looking at six to eight weeks for design – on computer and to your specifications, where advisable – and fabrication, which happens in-house prior to delivery to your home where it typically takes about three days to assemble.

That means if you want a sunroom or gazebo for this spring or summer, you’d best get on it.