From the February/March 2009 Issue:

Start Planning a Sunroom

Is it too soon to start planning a sunroom in the winter?

Article Photo
enlarge | When planning a sunroom, select a company that will listen to your needs and design ideas.
It’s never too late to plan for a project like a sunroom. In fact doing your homework before you start any home project is preferable. It makes you an informed consumer. Here are ten musts when planning a sunroom for your home.

1. State Contractor’s License. This is the first thing you should ask to see because an understanding of local and state building codes and permit processes and a background check are usually required before a company qualifies for one. Make sure the company or contractor is bonded and has workers compensation insurance to protect you from potential liabilities or damage to your home.

2. Customer References. Deal with a sunroom company or contractor with a track record. Ten years is long enough to gauge staying power. Ask former customers how satisfied they were with their project, and ask whether you could visit to see whether the sunroom is one you’d be proud to own. Pay attention to small things: Does the company return calls promptly? This may indicate how easy or difficult it will be to communicate if a problem arises.

3. Association Memberships. Belonging to groups such as the National Sunroom Association or Better Business Bureau says a lot about whether the company or contractor cares about its customers or is fly-by-night. The National Sunroom Association is a good resource for sunroom companies that have lots of experience as well as those still perfecting their craft.

4. Written Contract. You can shake hands if you want, but that’s not going to help much if the company doesn’t keep up its end of the deal. Make sure the contract spells out when, where, what, how much, and by whom. Sunroom companies and contractors may subcontract specialized tasks such as electrical, plumbing, or concrete work; you need to know beforehand what’s included in your price quote and who is responsible for what.

5. Sunroom Choice. Does the company or contractor offer what you really want? Can it build an insulated sunroom you can use year-round? A solarium or an English-style conservatory? Make sure the company shows you photos of actual jobs that demonstrate it can provide the sunroom of your dreams.

6. Custom Design and Build Capability. Select a company that can design and build a sunroom to blend with your home. To meet required dimensions, some companies use standard-sized doors and windows, opaque filler materials, and knee-walls that obstruct the view of the outdoors. Look for a company that can provide floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall glass for a high-quality custom look. The point of a sunroom is to provide you with an outdoor experience but still maintain indoor comfort.

7. Engineering Support. If you’re thinking of a sunroom design that is unusual, or if the existing layout of your home makes adding a sunroom tricky, the company should have an engineer on staff who understands sunroom technology. A professional engineer can create a design that will meet municipal codes.

8. Installation time. The last thing you need are workers tracking through your home for weeks on end. Get a realistic estimate on the time it will take and how soon your new sunroom will be ready to use. Some established sunroom companies and contractors can construct a room in as little as two to five days, depending on its size and complexity after permitting and foundation preparations are complete.

9. ENERGY STAR® Windows and Doors. With energy prices at record highs; this is one option you can’t afford to pass on if you plan to use your sunroom year-round. Find a sunroom company or contractor that offers insulated windows and doors, roof panels, and flooring that are Energy Star® rated for better comfort and lower energy costs. The extra investment should pay for itself after a few seasons of use.

10. Warranty. Because your sunroom will be composed mostly of glass, pay particular attention to how glass damage is covered, especially if you have insulated glass with an inert gas barrier. If the gas escapes, the insulation is no longer effective. Ultimately, warranties are a good thing, but if the company you select is not solid and goes out of business, the warranty is worthless. -DNJ

Ruth Dykstra
a branch manager
with Patio Enclosures Inc. in Fairfield.

The company also has a location in Philadelphia that serves southern New Jersey.