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Rex and Mary Jo Bangert’s sunroom is furnished with a chaise, recliner and flat-screen television.
By Erica Cusumano | STAFF
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Simply sunrooms
By DiAnne Crown

Sunrooms have grown up. Early versions, tropical oases for blooming plants and a leisurely cup of morning coffee, often came with as many drawbacks as benefits. Most were glorified glass greenhouses affixed to a convenient corner of the home, hot in the summer, cold in the winter, alternatingly stifling and drafty, and leaky.

Today's sunrooms are often the most popular rooms for year-round dining, relaxing, and entertaining, and rank among the most beautiful and useful rooms in Springfield homes. Mike von Behren, owner of Michael von Behren Builder Inc. at 3537 S. Douglas Ave., and three Springfield homeowners offer suggestions to make the most of these handsome, versatile home additions.

"The term "sunroom" is kind of a misnomer. What people want is light, not full sun glaring in, fading the furniture and carpets," von Behren said.

The answer is a traditional home addition, with proper orientation, the right amount of glass in the right places, and a size and design that suits your lifestyle.

Rex and Mary Jo Bangert built an approximately 400-square-foot addition onto their 1949 ranch-style home in Springfield's Lindsay Place neighborhood a few years ago. "My wife wanted to add on a small reading room," said Bangert, owner of Springfield's Bangert Plumbing, "and then I got involved, expanded it, and put the TV out here."

The new room serves as family room, entertainment center and overflow area from the adjacent formal living room. "It's now our primary living area, a room (we) enjoy all four seasons, with a panoramic view," Bangert said.

Their design features glass on the east, west and south walls; views of the plants and wildlife in the backyard, and a large roof overhang covers the deck outside.

The addition is built over a crawl space to tie efficiently into the home's existing heating-and-cooling system. Double pane, double-hung, energy-efficient thermal windows feature double honeycomb shades that move freely up and down tracks and allow for any combination of light and privacy. Ceramic tiles, area rugs, and window trims complete the clean, pretty design.

Versatile and attractive, the addition could also be used as a home office or bedroom. "It's more like a traditional room addition," Bangert said.

 

Clinical psychologist Dolores Trello built her brick ranch home just off East Lake Shore Drive in the late 1970s. The back of the home featured multiple walk-out decks, patios and steps, well-suited for entertaining and easy access to the sweeping backyard and pond at the foot of the hill. But four years ago, needing to replace a large, sinking redwood deck, Trello built an approximately 500-square-foot sunroom instead. Used primarily for entertaining, Trello has kept the furnishings to a few basics. "It holds a lot of tables," she says, and it provides a year-round space, outdoor views and convenience regardless of the weather.

Glass windows and sliding doors reach nearly from the floor to the ceiling; blinds are contained between the window panes. All of the lights are on dimmers, and the ceramic tile floor is durable and easily maintained.

Trello installed a separate heating-and-cooling system for the sunroom and built it over a full basement with a walkout door to the yard. She stores all of the outdoor furniture in that section of the basement, just steps from the patio.

Trello is particularly pleased that the addition's location, elevation, roof lines, design and exterior finishes look like part of the original structure."There's continuity with the house," Trello said. "I wanted it to look like it's been here forever. I didn't want a stuck-on look."

 

In a class by itself is the sunroom, indoor pool, hot tub, sauna, full bath and bedroom addition of Christine and David Bitzer on Woodland Avenue. The addition nearly doubled the square footage of the two-story Washington Park home. The main features are a multi-purpose sunroom used for dining and board games, and an indoor 20-yard pool, complete with lap lanes, built-in steps rather than a ladder and an electrically operated retractable cover.

It's a perfectly climate-controlled, self-contained space. The pool is heated year-round; in-floor heating keeps the floor warm even in the coldest winter months, and the entire addition, including the second-story bedroom that overlooks the pool through a picture window, is heated and cooled on a separate system from the original structure, Bitzer said.

At one end of the pool is a full bath, which Bitzer said is not only a significant convenience for swimmers of all ages and stages, but a great safety feature. "When the kids were little and having birthday parties," she says, "I would literally stand outside the bathroom door when someone went in so I could keep an eye on the kids in the pool."

Positioning the sunroom between the main house and the pool created a place to sit and watch pool activity, created a light, bright area in the new middle of the home and served to block any loud party noises, humidity and chlorine fumes. Setting the addition on an angle preserved ample outdoor patio and yard spaces for play and parties.

 

Whether a sunroom addition is designed to be a traditional living space like the Bangerts' sunroom, a room with a view for entertaining like Dolores Trello's, or a stay-at-home resort like the Bitzers have, Michael von Behren has several suggestions:

  • Be sure to buy high-quality glass and window frames to ensure the greatest possible insulation and fewer problems with reflection, dripping and condensation.
  • A 16-foot square is about as small as you would want. This will allow for plenty of glass as well as enough wall space for furniture. From there, "stay in increments of two feet," von Behren said. "Most building materials are sold in increments of two and four feet, so rather than choose 15 feet, for example, you might as well go 16 feet."
  • Glass on three sides is fine, unless the room will also be used for television viewing. In that case, orient the room with extra care.
  • The most light, as well as the greatest heat buildup, will occur in a south- or west-facing room. A north-facing room will offer good light without actual sun rays, which is nice when the room will be used as a home office. Consider roof overhangs in the planning: wider overhangs provide a little shade against glare in west- or south-facing rooms, narrow overhangs allow more light into the room.
  • Curved glass roofs? "Overkill," says von Behren. "With Illinois' extreme heat and cold, building materials go through repeated expansion and contraction. Steel and glass don't move enough, so something's got to give. Leaks are more likely." Von Behren recommends a conventional roof with skylights.
  • Starting prices for sunroom additions built on a foundation, with footings and conventional framing, are around $125 per square foot, says von Behren. From there, the more glass, the more expense. Other variables include type of glass, floor finishes, sizes and types of doors, lighting and more. Also anticipate additional property taxes and larger heating and cooling bills. "That room will take the heaviest load of heating and cooling costs because of the glass," von Behren said.
  • Converting an existing room to a sunroom by replacing wall space with additional windows is expensive, but can be done more easily now than in the past because of the strength of the new engineered woods. "Spans of 16 feet and more can be spanned without steel beam support and very deep headers," von Behren said. He sees increasing interest in sunroom additions and it's easy to understand why. "People are just wanting a lot of open space with extra light," says von Behren. In the Bitzers' addition, he adds, "it's like being on vacation every day."

Story published Friday, March 6, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 2 )

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