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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2007
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Sun room an inexpensive way to add living space

Dear Jim: We need more living space, so I might add an energy efficient sunroom. A do-it-yourself kit or a contractor-installed one would be best. Does it have to face south and what types of frame/glass are best? - Pam M.

Dear Pam: A sunroom is some of the least expensive living space you can add to your home. One is often built over an existing patio or decking to reduce the costs. With the bright area and its openness, it will quickly become the primary gathering place for family and friends.

Unless you are a carpenter or very experienced do-it-yourselfer, you are wise to select a sunroom kit or have one built by a contractor. A sunroom appears to be a relatively simple structure with basically just windows and doors, but it is actually a complex structure.

Your two basic design options are a three-season or year-round sunroom. A three-season room is not as energy-efficient because it is not designed to be heated or used during extremely cold weather. The type of windows and frame materials dictate whether it is designed for year-round use or not.

Placing the sunroom on the south side of your house is generally best, particularly if it is for year-round use. This southern orientation minimizes the amount of heating required during winter. If you build it properly for solar heat gain, the sunroom can help heat your house and reduce your utility bills during winter.

For just a three-season sunroom, east or north sides of your house are excellent locations. On these sides, there will not be an overheating problem during summer and it does not matter if the sunroom is chilly during winter. Many houseplants prefer bright, but indirect, lighting instead of direct afternoon sunshine.

The most common sunroom frame material is extruded aluminum. Aluminum is strong, lightweight, easy to cut, and does not rust so it is an ideal frame material. Vinyl frames are energy efficient and also maintenance-free. Some companies also offer wood frames. Wood is more attractive, but also more expensive and requires regular maintenance.

Aluminum sunroom frames are available with or without a thermal break. A thermal break is a plastic strip that separates the indoor and outdoor halves of each framing member. Its purpose is to block the direct flow of heat.

For a year-round sunroom in a cold climate, a thermal break is imperative to save energy and reduce condensation. It is not as important for a three-season sunroom.

For a three-season sunroom, similar to the one at my home, single-pane glass or acrylic plastic is lightweight and reasonably priced. For a year-round room, double-pane glass is the minimum quality to use. In very cold climates, super-efficient glass is an option as is tinted glass in hot climates.

The following companies offer sunroom packages: Florian, (800) 356-7426, www.floriangreenhouse.com; Four Seasons Sunrooms, (800) 368-7732, www.fourseasonssunrooms.com; Metals USA, (800) 231-4009, www.metalsusa.com; Solar Innovations, (800) 618-0669, www.solarinnovations.com; and Sunroom Designs, (800) 621-1110, www.sunroomdesigns.com.

Dear Jim: Whenever the weather is moderate and we do not need air-conditioning, the house gets too humid. We need to replace the air conditioner. Are there any models with a built-in dehumidifier? - Andy T.

Dear Andy: You have two options to control the humidity level. When you get the new air conditioner, install a variable-speed blower. With the proper thermostat, this can slow the air flow so there is mostly dehumidification and little cooling.

Another option is to install a large whole-house dehumidifier which can be attached to air duct system in your home. It can also be freestanding with the furnace blower running to circulate the drier air.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Decatur Daily, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.

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