Sunrooms have always been considered great spaces to soak up the sun while reading a good book and sipping a great glass of wine.
Today, their uses have increased, and so has their popularity.
“They can be anything any other room would be … from a casual entertaining space, to a home office, to a dining room,” said Chris Egner, president and lead designer of Chris Egner Design-Build-Remodel and Four Seasons Sunrooms & Windows in New Berlin.
“They let in lots of light, and they give you great views. If you have a wooden lot or live on a lake, you want to take advantage of that view. They give you the feeling of being outdoors while you’re indoors,” he said.
While sunrooms have always been popular, interest in them has grown since COVID-19 struck, Egner added.
“People are spending more time at home. People aren’t traveling … so they’re creating more relaxing and entertaining spaces at home,” he said.
Scott Bear, owner of Bear Sunrooms in Mequon, said they are also more popular here because of our weather.
“In this area people who have patios and decks have very limited uses out of them. So when they need repairs, they think, ‘Why should I put more money into them? Why not enclose them?’” he said.
Consumers are also more interested in them because they look better than in the past.
“Now they have evolved into nice looking structures. They used to look like boxes or add-ons. They are much more attractive than they were years ago,” said Bear.
Various types of sunrooms
So exactly what is a sunroom?
The term can include a variety of structures, experts say.
There are three-season rooms, which are enclosed structures without heat that usually can’t be used here in winter; four-season rooms, which are heated and can be used here all year; porch fill-ins, which start out with a space that already has a roof; and screened rooms, which are unheated spaces with roofs and screens.
Solariums and conservatories are also sunrooms, Egner said.
Solariums have glass roofs and are typically used to grow plants, he said.
Conservatories are used for plants or are living spaces but are usually found in older homes.
“That’s how the sunroom originally started. Long ago people wanted to have rooms with lots of plants and light. They turned them into living spaces of all types over the years,” he said.
Another type is the hearth room. said Tammy Otto, an interior designer and owner of Tammy J Interior Design in Wauwatosa.
“Unlike three- or four-season rooms, they are part of your actual living area. … In a hearth room you don’t go through a door to get to it. It’s open to the rest of your house,” she said, and added that they often have fireplaces and are more intimate spaces.
How many seasons of sun?
When homeowners in the Milwaukee area add sunrooms, they typically opt for four-season rooms because they can be used all year, said Egner, who is president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
Costs for four-season rooms, on average, are about 30% more than three-season rooms, he said.
“Today the four-season rooms typically start in the $50,000 range, and go up from there. But it’s common for them to be $100,000 or more. They’re about the same cost as an addition,” he said.
Bear also said he also sees mostly four-season rooms being added.
“A problem I see with three-season rooms isn’t the cold weather, it’s the hot weather. During a normal summer, parts of a three-season room are absolutely unusable because it gets so hot. I have never seen a three-season room that doesn’t require window shades, which screw up the whole effect of feeling like you are outside.
“I’m a big believer in budgeting for a four-season room; a room you can use every day of the year. When people have one room in their home and it makes them feel like they are outside, they tend to use the rear out of it. They want to be out there when it’s snowing and raining, and during the changing of the seasons,” he said.
Forty to 50% of the homes built by Victory Homes of Wisconsin have sunrooms, said David Roembke, vice president of sales and a partner at the firm. Victory builds homes in the $800,000 to $1.2 million range.
“Indoor/outdoor living spaces are what our customers are looking for. A lot of our customers are also doing pools. Sunrooms are nice spaces for entertaining, and to get out of the sun and they are also an extension of the pool area,” he said.
Roembke said while his firm does build both three- and four-season rooms, he finds the three-season rooms more popular.
“A three-season room is less expensive because it does not need a full foundation underneath it. You can put it on a concrete slab,” or on a deck and you can have screens instead of windows, he said.
Making the most of window space
Homeowners adding sunrooms have lots of options in size, shape and style.
“Sunrooms in the 150- to 220-square-foot ranges are very common” and you can have them on the first floor or the second floor, Egner said.
Bear suggests a similar size.
“When people do 190- to 225-square-feet, they never come back and say they wish they had done it bigger,” he said.
Peaked or gabled rooflines also make sunrooms look great, as do angled exterior walls and the right windows, Bear added.
High-efficiency windows made for sunrooms are key, as are windows that do not have bars in their centers, Bear said.
“All our windows are sliders and you can see straight through them, and they all lift out so you don’t have to go outside. The screens even roll up like a window shade so you don’t have to take them out in winter. It’s all about the view with a sunroom,” he said.
He said products used on the exterior of a sunroom are also important for a wide-open look.
He suggests avoiding wood as it requires more wall space. Instead materials made for sunrooms should be used because they are stronger.
“By using materials made for sunrooms you can maximize window space and minimize wall space. … You don’t want to use wood because then it will end up looking like an addition. Then, it’s a room with a lot of windows,” and it doesn’t give you the feel of being outside, he said.
While sunrooms can be added to any side of the home, Bear said they are usually at the back of a house.
“They’re in the back because you typically have a patio door in the back and it goes out into the backyard. Then they’re more private.”
Some customers have adjoining spaces such as walkways, decks, and pergolas added along with their sunrooms, he said.
“Often times they want a deck or patio added for a grill or a table and chairs because then they have the best of both worlds,” he said
A sunroom also should complement the rest of the house.
Bear said siding can be removed from the home’s original exterior wall, then the wall can be covered with a product that matches or complements the rest of the house.
“You can put up drywall, or 4- or 8-inch tongue and groove pine. You can run the pine horizontally, diagonally, or vertically and you can stain it,” he said, and added that wainscoting or even wood for a log cabin look can be added.
One of his favorite installations was at the Oconomowoc home of Dave Youngberg about five years ago.
A four-season room was added across the back of the two-story ranch, which has an exposed lower level and a large two-level deck with a fire pit.
Youngberg said it measures about 11-by-19 feet, has large sliders with roll-up screens, and a sloped roof that is 10 feet high at one point.
“I use it every day. I go out there and read the paper or a book. We have a view of a private park, and in winter we watch deer going through the park. We use it in all four seasons. We do Christmas Eve out there with our seven grandkids,” and we use it for other special events, he said.
The addition matches his home because the house has a lot of windows, he said.
“The entrance to the sunroom is a large sliding door where five windows used to be,” he said.
He said the room adjoins the bar/entertainment area of his home’s family room, and is decorated to match the home’s contemporary décor.
It has wicker furniture, in-floor heating, and luxury vinyl flooring that looks like wood. That flooring was also added to the bar/entertainment area so that the spaces would merge together.
Brick on the exterior wall was used to accent the wall with the slider, and the slider and the windows near it were stained a blue/green color to match the rest of the house.
“The sunroom was my idea. It was my dream, and it lived up to my expectations,” he said.
Open and close option
Egner said a three-season room he recently completed used a new product called LifeRoom by Four Seasons, and recently won the NARI national gold award.
“It’s a screened-in sunroom. It has motorized retractable shades. It has the ability to be used as an open area or a screened room. That project was unique and was done in conjunction with an in-ground pool installation. It closes in or opens up the space between the house and the pool in ground.
“It also has a two-sided fireplace you can see from inside the room or from out on the pool deck.”
Egner said he also added two sunrooms to his home. One is a small kitchen bump-out; the other a second floor sunroom that’s similar to a loft.
He added the second-floor sunroom when he put an addition on his home.
“I use the kitchen sunroom every day. The loft area is also used frequently and is a casual living space, as well as a space in which we can entertain,” he said.
Roembke said he has a four-season sunroom at his Delafield home.
“It’s called a four-season hearth room. It’s off the back side of my house. It has cathedral ceilings; it’s 16 wide by 14 or 15 feet deep with a fireplace. We use it every night. That’s where we hang out with the family,” he said.
He added that John Stoker, president of Victory Homes, has “an amazing,” four-season room at his Mequon home.
“His is 20-by-20 feet, with a fireplace, a cathedral ceiling, wood beams, a complete bar with an ice maker and a wine refrigerator. When we have parties, we are always out there,” he said.
Furnishing and decorating a sunroom
These spaces can be furnished and decorated in casual or formal styles using indoor or outdoor furnishings, Otto said.
But there are no rights or wrongs.
“It comes down to the feel you want it to have,” she said, but added that often these rooms mimic the looks of the interior of the houses or the patios.
“You can customize these rooms to be in-between spaces between the outside and inside. The beauty of these spaces are that they give you a lot of flexibility and you can put what you want in them.”
She designs model home for Victory Homes and Allan Builders.
Floors can be made of regular concrete, stamped concrete in brick or stone patterns, luxury vinyl plank, even some tiles, and indoor or outdoor rugs can be added, she said.
“Often it’s more outdoor rugs. You want to be sure they are weather appropriate if people are coming in and out. They have come a long way with outdoor rugs,” she said.
Furniture can also go in any direction.
All weather wicker, which is a faux wicker, is popular, she said.