Sunrooms shine in both old and new homes

This is room where everyone hangs out — a family dog regularly looking for squirrels through the 18 windows, Tom and Patti Jenkins reading or watching TV, guests relaxing surrounded by the lush landscape.

More glass than wall on three sides, the space is roughly a 20-by-20-foot square. The outdoor views seem to decorate the room; natural light bathes it.


"We rarely have to have a lamp on during the day," Patti Jenkins said.

About five years ago, this space went from being a screened porch in disrepair to a year-round sunroom that looks as though it was always an integral part of the couple's 60-plus-year-old Towson home, from the style of the windows down to the old wood boards that match the flooring in the rest of the house.

The design is part of a trend toward sunrooms that add bright living space for most, if not all, of the year. Often air-conditioned and heated for year-round use, sunrooms bring nature's beauty and light to the indoors. They leave rain, insects, pollen, humidity and temperature extremes outside.

For the Jenkinses, the decision was easy. To keep the screened-in porch for seasonal use only would have taken a significant amount of work.

"It was a wonderful space, but it wasn't usable or maintainable. With all these pine trees here, there was pollen everywhere, and always something coming from the trees," Patti Jenkins said.

The sunroom, air-conditioned and heated, is the go-to room all year. "Whenever we have friends over, this is where we go," she said. "And when it snows, it's just beautiful."

Except for glass doors that open to a patio, the three sides have windows — all but two open — that are above a knee wall. The separation is a wood ledge about 6 inches deep that holds family photos and serves as a resting spot for glasses during parties. The fourth wall, with a TV, is flanked by wide French doors to the kitchen and library that are closed infrequently. Not only do the rooms benefit from the light and air circulation, but the mix of the patio, sunroom and the rest of the house can accommodate a large number of guests.

The room, atop the garage, was previously a step down from the rest of the house; now, it's level with it. Baltimore architect Mark Mobley raised the ceiling and turned it into a tray ceiling, making the room seem larger. Details, notably moldings, blend with the rest of the home. Working with an architect and builder allowed the couple to get the type of construction and features they wanted and ensure the room looks like the rest of the house, they said.

Mobley said that given Baltimore's large number of small, older homes, homeowners often want to add year-round space and add natural light. At the same time, they seek to carry the home's architectural charm into a sunroom addition or a porch reborn as a sunroom, he said. Many want air-conditioning and heating — by a separate HVAC system or zone if the room is not entirely open to the house — so that they never feel limited by weather extremes in using the room, and the properties of newer high-performance glass and double-paned windows help maintain indoor temperatures.

"Sometimes we get the request that they don't want to air-condition the space, but having some heat in the space would be useful," Mobley said. A ceiling fan and cross-ventilation are all many people want for summer.

Sunroom companies provide a different type of option, one that typically is soup-to-nuts, relying on selections from their product lines, and their builders or contractors doing the construction, but with custom features.

Patio Enclosures in Glen Burnie offered exactly what Phil and Linda Ferrara wanted for a year-round sunroom atop half the deck of their Arnold home. Their sunroom has floor-to-ceiling glass and window panels. The space follows the the contours of the deck, with the panels made to fit. The sunroom side of the deck was reinforced and the floor insulated. The room's gable roof, with two skylights, was shingled to match the house on the outside; inside, ceiling planks resemble the home's light-color wood floors, with design and construction done by the company.

The Ferraras open sliding-glass doors from their family room to enter the sunroom; other sliders open from the new room to the remaining section of deck, providing flow for guests among the house, deck and new room. A unit that provides heat and air conditioning is in a wall, though open windows and the swirling ceiling fan blades often keep the room comfortable. The couple continued the home's beige color scheme and a similar decor into the sunroom, though, they said, they've been in similar rooms with a more outdoorsy or seaside style.

"Nature is right out there," Phil Ferrara said, pointing to their backyard, where the couple love the close-up view of birds at the backyard feeders and other wildlife visitors.


The family room still has the TV. But, his wife said, "This is a quiet place."

What has made three- and four-season sunrooms the companies build more feasible is the newer high-performance glass with its improved insulating and other properties, said Dan Walker, technical director of the National Sunroom Association, a trade association for the sunroom company industry.

Building codes have changed to reflect if a sunroom will be heated for winter or air-conditioned for summer and whether it will be generally part of a house or can be closed off, Walker said. Typically, size and location on the property are a consideration and permits are required, though which ones depends on whether this will be an addition with a new foundation or slab, will have air-conditioning and the like.

Some new-home builders offer sunrooms.

"I find it one of the most popular options," said Mitch Kemp, sales consultant for Dorsey Family Homes.

Tim Brackney and his wife, Caitlin, turned the sunroom of their new Dorsey home into an informal dining spot, as it is open to the kitchen. It showcases a view the Brackneys love: Elkridge's Rockburn Branch Park, which abuts their yard.

Brackney said his wife also uses the spot for making crafts and other projects. And the dining room? It's a play area for the couple's young son.

Many people consider the conservatory to be a relative — some would say precursor — of the sunroom, though there's nothing to prevent anyone from using a conservatory as a sunroom or putting a glass roof on a sunroom.

Tanglewood Conservatories is described by Nancy Virts, vice president of the Denton-based company, as the "premier" conservatory company, building glass-enveloped structures around the world.

"It's a totally different kind of space than your house. Glass walls, glass ceiling. It's going to heat up and cool down much faster," than a house, she said. Americans prefer year-round use, but elsewhere, such as in England, that's not necessarily so, she said.

Often thought of strictly as elaborate, high-end structures, freestanding near or attached to Victorian-era mansions, conservatories can include more contemporary looks and uses, such as pool houses and offices.


Beyond the traditional architecture and gracious style of conservatories — which can be applied to other glass buildings — the company has designed and built conservatories with more contemporary looks while continuing to maintain the architectural detail that is a hallmark of a conservatory, Virts said.

One built as an office perfectly matches the house on the exterior, down to the dentil blocks; the interior, however, features simple, contemporary lines.