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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

FROM THE SUNROOM & ADDITION SPECIALISTS

Any renovation is a large undertaking, and can be quite daunting. The team at Lumen Homes absolutely understands this, so we have put together the information below to help.
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TERMINOLOGY

Florida room, addition, greenhouse, solarium, atrium, conservatory, patio room, and three season and four season sunrooms—these are some of the common terms widely used in the sunroom industry. When potential clients first establish contact with Lumen Homes, usually either in our showroom or with a home visit, and express an interest in adding a sunroom or addition, our first question is often, what do they see as a sunroom or addition? Often the term “sunroom” is used to describe a room that consists of a conventionally framed addition with one or two patio doors and an ample distribution of operating and fixed windows. To others, the term “sunroom” is reserved for glass roof additions. To help avoid confusion, Lumen Homes uses the following terminology to help clarify sometimes significant and sometimes subtle distinctions between the different types of sunrooms, and their purpose.

Conventional Shingle Roof Sunroom

Basically this is your standard home addition with fixed or operating windows or doors usually on all three sides with a conventional shingled roof. One or more skylights are often added to provide additional lighting. These rooms are almost always built for all year use and are often designed to become part and parcel of the existing house.

Glass Roof Sunroom

Thanks to the many technological improvements over the past decade, glass roof sunrooms are rapidly increasing in popularity. But as with sunrooms in general, there are many variations. The construction industry uses the term “glass roof sunroom” to describe rooms that are built with high performance roof glass, these rooms can be designed for 3 season or 4 season use. These rooms can be integrated right into the home by removing the wall between the existing house and the new sunroom. The structural frames for these rooms can be built using aluminum, aluminum with PVC cladding, or wood.

Four Season Sunroom

A four season sunroom is not only the name of our supplier of the world's best sunroom, a four season sunroom is a glass room that can be used in every season of the year, even in the extreme weather we experience in Ottawa (extreme cold to heat). The roof and frames of these sunrooms are thermally engineered so that the room can be heated and cooled year-round. Since it can be temperature controlled, it can be used year-round regardless of the weather, and the wall between the sunroom and house can be removed - if the customer chooses - so it acts as another 

Three Season Sunroom

These rooms, though they often look the same as a four season sunroom, are usually built without the benefit of added insulation, no or minimal installed heating/air conditioning capacity. Their main function is to provide bug-free and rain-protected additional living space during the summer and shoulder months without having to commit to the full expense of an all year sunroom.

Greenhouse

A room that usually, but not always, includes a glass roof and side walls built mostly from glass and designed primarily for the growing of plants. They are usually built with low performance single glaze glass or a plastic/acrylic material with minimal insulation performance and little protection against the heat of the sun. They can be built as a lean-to off an existing house or as a stand alone unit.

Conservatories

A term previously used to describe traditional glass and iron frame rooms that were popular for growing plants and flowers in Europe during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. They are especially popular in England where they continue to expand in popularity, often as unheated space. Conservatories are usually constructed in a Victorian or Georgian design with considerable attention paid to cresting, the finial, and other decorative features. Modified with North American building methods and materials in order to stand up to our more rugged climate, English style conservatories are now experiencing increasing popularity in the North American market.

Solariums

This term is generally, but not exclusively, restricted to glass roof additions and is used to describe both glass roof greenhouses as well as all-season glass roof sunrooms.


SHINGLED ADDITION OR GLASS ROOF SUNROOM?

Deciding whether or not to build a sunroom is the easy part. Once that decision has been taken, questions such as how large, what style, the type of flooring, the style and size of windows, how to deal with heating and air conditioning, the lighting and the location of electric outlets, and budgetary limitations are but a few of the sometimes difficult considerations linked to the design process. One such issue is whether to build a conventional shingle or glass roof sunroom. This can be a tricky and complex issue.

“Conventional shingle roof sunroom” is the term we use to describe regular additions usually built with rafters or trusses, a shingle roof, R30 or higher insulation in the roof, and a generous placement of windows and patio or other glass doors on all three sides. Conventional shingle roof sunrooms have several advantages. First, they are more energy efficient in winter than glass roof additions. Rooms built with substantial roof insulation (e.g., R30 and above) will outperform a glass roof addition in winter from an energy conservation perspective. Second, in summer, glass roof additions will let in more of the sun’s infrared heat than an opaque shingled roof. Infra red heat passes through glass, even when that glass is gas-filled with an enhanced insulation factor. And third, and as a general rule, conventionally framed rooms, and foam core patio rooms, are less expensive than high performance glass roof sunrooms.

But just as every equation has two sides, so it is in the debate between conventional and glass roof sunrooms. Although conventional additions may be more energy efficient in both winter and summer, and less expensive to build, the fact is that glass roof sunrooms have powerful points in their favour that will usually lead prospective buyers to choose this option. Too often, sunroom buyers remain sceptical of the winter and summer performance of glass roof sunrooms, fearing they will be too cold in winter and too hot in summer. And while it is true that sunroom glass is less energy efficient than an insulated shingle roof in summer and winter, the fact remains that ConservaGlass Select, exclusive to Four Seasons Sunrooms, does perform well beyond expectations in all types of weather.

With winter heating costs for example, ConservaGlass Select has proven to be remarkably efficient. One house in Ottawa with a glass roof sunroom measuring approximately 22 ft. x 11 ft., and with a 5 ft. roof extension which together added 37% to the main floor square footage of the home, experienced only a 5 _ % increase in gas consumption averaged over an twelve year period (1998 to 2010). And that sunroom faces due north. What makes this statistic all the more surprising is that at the time the sunroom was added, the hot water system was switched from electric to gas, thereby reducing the increased natural gas costs for incremental heating to less than 5%.

Equally important from an energy perspective, Four Seasons Sunrooms glass roof additions also perform well in summer. Standard double glaze thermals (i.e., two pieces of glass in a sealed unit) will let in approximately 90% of the sun’s infrared heat. Low-E argon, irrespective of its enhanced R value, still allows approximately 80% of this heat to enter the sunroom. By comparison, Four Season Sunrooms patented ConservaGlass Select roof glass will block approximately 85% of the sun’s infrared heat, allowing only 15% to penetrate the sunroom. While this number is not 0%, the reality is that a Four Seasons ConservaGlass Select roof is not far off an opaque shingled or foam core panelled roof in terms of infrared heat reflection and insulation value.

High performance glass is not the only reason many sunroom buyers choose a glass over a conventional roof sunroom. We all love light. Few would argue with that statement. Visit any city during the lunch break on a nice day and the first thing you will notice is a steady stream of office workers moving to the outdoors to enjoy the sunlight. On pleasant days we all enjoy the outdoors-and glass roof sunrooms can deliver that outdoor feeling right into your home the entire year.

One cautionary note. Buyers contemplating a conventional shingle roof sunroom should carefully analyse the impact of that new shingle roof, even with skylights, on the existing room or rooms to which it is to be attached. Whether it be a living, dining, family room, or kitchen, these rooms almost always have one or more windows or a set of glass doors facing the backyard and providing natural light to that room. Building a conventional roof over those windows and doors will dramatically cut that natural light and darken the adjoining room or rooms. For dining rooms, since they are used primarily in the evening, this loss of light may not be too significant. But for other rooms, particularly kitchens, this loss of light could be a major disappointment, and more important, could drastically affect the resale attractiveness and price when it comes time to sell. It is a well-known fact-people like light. Bright cheerful houses will always sell first, and at a premium. One way to gain some idea of the impact of that loss of light on your home is to temporarily place a tarp as close to the proposed roof location as possible, and to observe its impact on the amount of natural light now entering the adjoining room. And bear in mind, once the room is built with conventionally framed walls, that light will be reduced even further.

As a final point, few would argue that glass roof sunrooms represent a unique enhancement to any home. They are both spectacular and magnificent with the ability to change the character, traffic patterns, and perception of every home. They combine unparalleled styling and elegance with architectural flexibility. Their impact is simply dramatic. They offer an extraordinary alternative to an ordinary addition.


FOUNDATION?

Ottawa and Gatineau have very cold winters. In extremely cold years, coupled with little snow cover for insulation, the frost can actually drive six or more feet underground. Depending on its moisture content, when ground freezes it expands, causing structures such as fence posts and house foundations to heave or lift up. This movement must be eliminated as it can damage buildings and additions/sunrooms, making it difficult to open doors and windows. Movement due to soil expansion can also cause sunroom glass to shatter. To avoid this problem, Ottawa, Gatineau, and other local building authorities require that any new building or addition such as a sunroom be anchored at least six feet below grade before a building permit is issued.

There are several foundation options which allow you to provide this necessary stability and meet building code requirements. The more popular of these include helical or metal posts, sono tubes, either poured concrete or cement block foundation walls, and full basements. A half wall with a finished cement floor is another option which can be used in those cases where the floor line is near or below grade.

Metal Posts/Helical Piles

In the last 5 to 10 years, metal posts have replaced sono tubes in eastern Ontario and western Quebec as the most common method for building a sunroom foundation. In general, over 90% of all sunrooms installed by Lumen Homes in this area are placed on helical pier/metal post systems. Metal post are basically round steel shafts with a helical blade placed near the bottom of the shaft and then screwed by machine into the ground to the desired depth.

With piers the floor structure, often referred to as platforms, is usually constructed using 2 x 10 or 2 x 12 inch floor joists on 16 inch centres. Pre-engineered floor systems represent a second platform option. Two by ten inch systems generally use R30 to R32 fibreglass insulation placed between the joists. Sheathing is applied under the joists to keep rodents from disturbing the insulation and to keep it in place. Five-eights TG plywood is generally used for the sub-floor. In cases where ceramic tile is to be used, a second layer of 5/8th TG plywood is applied to provide rigidity and to protect the tiles from cracking. To prevent or reduce the growth of weeds or nuisance vegetation, the ground under sunroom platforms built on piers the ground is generally covered with a poly film with crushed stone or sand placed on top of the film.

Skirting, usually small PVC lattice, framing with parging, or other material, is often placed around the perimeter of the sunroom between the platform and about 4 inches above grade. Wire mesh buried 6 to 12 inches below grade to further deter rodents and other animals from entering this covered area can also be applied. The approximately 4 inch gap between grade and the bottom of the lattice or other skirting is to allow for ground expansion due to freezing in winter.

Foundations Walls

Foundations walls used for sunrooms are built using either 8 or 10 inch poured concrete or cinder block walls placed on a 16 or 20 inch wide by 8 inch deep footing. The building code requires that this footing be either sitting on bed rock, or 5 ft. or 6 ft. below grade. Variations with this depth can be accepted or required by city building inspectors often working with soil engineers. Ten inch walls on 20 inch footings are used if the home owner is choosing to go with brick siding for the sunroom with the extra 2 inch width being required to support the brick.

The decision to use a cinder block wall rather than poured concrete is usually dictated by access. In cases where a cement truck is unable to reach a foundation site, a pump truck can be employed to push the cement from the driveway at the front of the house to the foundation site, usually at the back. Where this is necessary, the client’s choice is usually to use cinder blocks and avoid the additional pumping costs.

The sunroom platform sits on the perimeter cement wall with the earth below the platform left in place and not removed as is the case with a full basement. About 3 inches or more of SM Blue, or some other form of rigid insulation, is applied to the inside of the foundation wall to a depth of 2 ft., the purpose of which is to reduce heat loss from the crawl space. The space between the platform and grade, referred to as the crawl space, is normally accessible to the basement through a crawl space opening of at least 18 inches x 24 inches. The primary purpose of this opening is to allow for venting of the crawl space as required by code. In some cases, the crawl space is actually vented to the outside rather than to the basement, but this is not a preferred method. When vented into the basement, the utilities including the heating and cooling ducts for the sunroom as well as heat for the crawl space are usually routed through this opening.

Unlike platforms built on posts, which are insulated, half wall platforms are not. This is to allow heat from the crawl space to warm the sunroom floor, similar to the way in which your basement heats the main floor of your house. In cases where the crawl space is vented outside and not into the basement, the floor platform, as with a post floor, must be insulated.

As already mentioned, the majority of all sunrooms installed by Lumen Homes in the Ottawa area are placed on post foundations. There are two main reasons for this-the relative cost of half wall installations, and their impact on the existing landscaping. In very general terms, and depending on room size and other variables, half wall foundations will often cost roughly $4,000 to $10,000 or more than a post foundation. The second deterrent to half wall or full basement foundations is the overall disruption and destruction to the landscaping caused by the excavation and backfilling equipment when installing the foundation. This is a particular concern in cases where homeowners have exceptionally well cared for and beautifully landscaped backyards.


HEATING?

Heating and cooling a new home addition, whether it be a conventional shingle roof or glass roof addition, can be a tricky undertaking. Many factors can come into play including the size and orientation of the new room, its intended usage, the extent of shade cover from surrounding trees and buildings, the type and capacity of the current heating system, the location of the existing furnace relative to the new addition, the cost of ancillary heating and cooling units, the type of foundation, the extent to which the new addition will be separated from or incorporated into the existing home, as well as questions such as is the current basement ceiling finished or is it accessible for the installation of new duct work.

Extending Existing Duct Work

One option for heating and cooling, and certainly the simplest approach, is to extend the existing duct work into the new addition. In fact, the question as to whether the existing heating system can be extended efficiently and economically is often the critical factor from which all other heating considerations follow. If your furnace is operating at its load capacity in meeting your home’s current heating requirements, then extending the duct work to a new addition, regardless of its size, is simply out of the question without a major furnace upgrade. Also, even when the heating and air conditioning system has extra capacity, its location relative to the addition may preclude any extension into the new room.

Most new additions are added onto the back of the house. In these cases, the ideal situation occurs when the furnace has extra capacity and is situated close to and in direct line with the proposed addition, and with access to the basement ceiling for extending the ductwork. In this configuration the new addition is almost certain to enjoy a sufficient delivery of hot and cool air through the central heating system.

Extending existing duct work to a new sunroom is usually neither complex nor expensive. Heating contractors, since their experience is often limited to inexpensive glass roof sunrooms built with low performance and poorly insulated glass, are often skittish about sunroom heating requirements and too frequently recommend overkill. Their solution can be both expensive and unnecessary. When the effectiveness of extending duct work is questionable, our recommendation is generally to proceed, but with a backup plan. In such situations we usually either install one or more ConVectair electric wall heaters, or at a minimum, pre-wire for later installation if the room turns out to be less than comfortable. The installation of one or more cold air returns should not be overlooked, especially where the new addition is isolated from the existing home.

On occasion, as noted, extending the existing duct work is just not an option. In these cases, an independent heating system, such as a gas fireplace, a separate gas furnace with its own duct work, or sufficient electric heating represent the obvious options.

With additions that are incorporated into and open to the existing house, regardless of whether they are conventional shingle roof, or glass roof, it is usually easier to achieve and maintain a uniform, consistent, and comfortable temperature throughout the entire house, including the sunroom, especially if the furnace fan is run continuously throughout the winter.

In-floor Heating

One approach that has become increasingly popular over the past few years is the installation of electric in-floor heating in combination with post foundations. While there is additional cost involved in installing this heating, the combined cost of posts and in-floor heating is well below that of a foundation wall. And it has the added benefit of providing a warm tile floor without having to destroy or damage your landscaping with a foundation wall installation. Hot water in-floor heating is also an option. Although less costly to operate than electric, hot water systems are more expensive to install. There are two additional points that should be noted when considering in-floor electric heating. First, it will not heat your room. While it will contribute to some space heating, its main function is to keep the floor comfortable. The second point is that while it works extremely well with tile and laminate flooring, the results with hardwood and engineered flooring are, to the best of our knowledge, quite disappointing.


FLOORING?

Whether for glass roof sunrooms or conventional shingled additions, there are few limits when selecting sunroom flooring. The choices are as wide open and varied as selecting flooring for your home. Wood, tile, slate, cork, laminates, and carpeting are all in the running with each having its own pros and cons.

Wood is particularly popular-and for many reasons. It is warm, pleasing to walk on, easy to clean, and with occasional refinishing, will probably last well over 100 years. And because it is so permanent, and relatively costly, there is a need to choose carefully. Options include natural wood such as oak, maple, walnut, and birch, and engineered wood. There is also an expanding selection of laminates which, although not wood, are providing buyers with a product similar in appearance and at a much lower price.

Natural Wood

Elegant, warm, soft, and beautiful-these are just a few of the adjectives associated with wood flooring. Installation is fairly simple. Tongue and groove boards, usually 2 1/4 inches wide, are nailed with screw nails that are concealed in the edges. These floors are first sanded and then usually finished with standard polyurethane. Since natural wood flooring must be nailed to the sub-floor, it is unsuitable for installation directly over concrete. And since wood is sensitive to moisture, which causes expansion and possible buckling, it is not suitable for basements, below grade installations, or finished cement slab construction.

Sanding these floors can be dusty and an annoyance if the dust moves beyond the new addition and throughout the house. To overcome this problem, many homeowners have moved to natural wood flooring with a factory applied finish. The benefits are immediate: no dust, no fumes from the polyurethane, and the new floor is ready for immediate use. An added advantage is that the factory applied aluminum oxide finishes are much tougher than the standard polyurethane applied on-site. According to some sources, you can expect 20 to 25 years from a factory applied finish versus approximately 10 years for an on-site polyurethane finish.

But there is a downside. Because pre-finished wood flooring is not sanded after installation, there can be slight bumps and cracks where the sub-floor is not perfectly level. Also, the finished boards themselves may have slight variations in thickness. To deal with this problem most pre-finished floorboards have bevel edged corners which create a slight “V” groove between each board, giving the floor a distinctly pre-finished look and, as well, a place for dirt to collect.

Engineered Wood

Engineered wood flooring is essentially a thin wood veneer glued over a plywood base. It is the perfect choice for moist applications where natural wood simply won’t work. A prime example would be a sunroom using a finished cement slab inside a foundation wall in place of a 2 x 10 floor joist platform. Another recommended application would be where the sunroom is sitting on a simple cement slab as is common in California and other southern states. This product comes in a tongue and groove format that must be stapled or glued to the sub-floor. It can also be installed as a floating floor with the planks actually glued to each other and not attached to the sub-floor so as to allow for shifting related to moisture changes.

To the best of our knowledge, all engineered flooring is sold pre-finished with bevelled edges. One major drawback with this product is the limited number of times this wood can be re-sanded. The veneer covering usually ranges from 1/12 of an inch, which cannot be re-sanded, to 1/4 of an inch, which should be able to withstand up to three sandings. As with natural wood, many engineered floors can be buffed and re-coated if the finish is not completely worn, thereby extending its lifespan.

Laminates

Laminate is low cost (as low as $.99 per square ft.) is scratch resistant, and can be easily installed by the home owner. Laminate flooring is actually a photo of wood placed between a fibreboard backing and a clear plastic top surface coating. The end result is a surface that ends up looking reasonably authentic. In fact, with recent improvements, properly installed high quality laminates look very close to the real thing. Unfortunately these floors tend to make a “hollow” sound when walked on, a problem that to some extent can be alleviated with the use of specific sound damping materials.
Quality laminate flooring usually carries a 20, even 25 year guarantee. But unlike natural wood, and to a lesser extent, engineered wood, laminates cannot be refinished-they are only good for one round.

For sunroom buyers who elect to build on piers or posts, laminates have one big advantage over wood. Should the homeowner choose to install in-floor electric or hot water heating, and want a wood look, then laminate flooring is an option. In-floor heating performs well with laminates but not with the thicker natural and engineered products.

Ceramic Tile

There is very little we can add to the already available information available on ceramic tile. Durable, almost indestructible, easy to clean, available in almost all possible colours and patterns, excellent for spills when watering plants, and easy to install represent the main attributes that have contributed to the wide popularity of this product in sunroom flooring. It can also be low cost with prices actually starting from as low as $2.00 per tile plus installation. Installation does require a second layer of tongue and groove plywood or a similar product to provide a stronger sub-floor to help avoid any movement and cracking of tiles. Since tile is a good conductor of heat, this product works very well when combined with either in-floor electric radiant or hot water heating.