It’s time to replace my mom’s deck… and she wants a solarium. But, I need your help! What are the pros, cons and tips we should be know before we get started?
In my eDesign department, I give colour advice all over the world on which colour is best for composite decking, pavers, porches, etc.
When my Mom built her carriage house 9 years ago, she went out and bought solid stain (without me, I think I was travelling at the time) to stain her deck and less than two years later it looked like this:
Decks are so high maintenance so it totally makes sense to install composite decking.
Here’s where I need your help!
But what my Mom really wants is a solarium. And I don’t know anything about them, so I thought I’d write this post and get your advice.
Mom loves to sit in her recliner (above) and watch the goats roaming from the window.
Related posts: Refresh of my Mom’s Kitchen and Sitting Room; Before & After
Markus (left) William (right) my sweet nephews
Here’s the other side:
Mom wants the entire solarium to be glass so it doesn’t make her sitting room darker.
This is the dreamy sunroom inspiration:
And, here’s what the solarium will really be like:
I think adding lattice against the wall beside the french doors would be fun. My Mother is obsessed with plants — they are everywhere and she’s always nursing one back to life. I am the opposite, if it even looks remotely dead, OUT IT GOES.
Mom is super excited about this new solarium project! It’s quite a small sitting area as it is right now so this will really extend her living space all year around!
When the contractor arrived to give us a quote, Mom said a three season sunroom would work but in the end, she decided a four season room would be the best.
The quote comes next week!
Share your solarium advice here.
So please post all your advice on pros, cons and what I need to know about solariums before we get started!
My Mom’s Vegetarian Chili Receipe
500 White Tulips for Mother’s Day
When we purchased our house (in Montreal, where we have very cold winters), we had a modern solarium along one wall of the kitchen, open to the room. Despite have thermal pane glass, it was extremely cold in the winter because there was no thermal break along the sections that separated the various windows. We eventually had it rebuilt as a traditional exterior roof section with a skylight and a wall with a window and french door. I’m sure residential solariums have improved over the years but it is something to watch for. Consider how comfortable the space will be in winter and then again in summer. Think of sun exposure, ventilation (will it be possible to open any of the windows), high and low temps, day and night, summer and winter. Also, will it be open to the rest of the house or will you retain the exterior-grade wall, windows, doors, separating the 2 spaces? I suspect that 4 season means open to the rest of the house, whereas 3 season would necessitate the separation. Best of luck!
THat’s a great point! No, 3 season means the floor isn’t insulated and the windows are single pane. . . 4 season are double pane windows with an insulated floor and heaters installed. And in my Mom’s case since it’s a porch outside, if she didn’t want to keep it at room temperature in the winter, she could just leave it. We rarely get bitter temps in the winter here, it mostly rains all winter like Seattle! Thanks for your comment, Maria
I know 1 thing about decks for a fact. Build with pressure treated wood then 1 year later put superdeck on it to preserve it. Our deck is 24 years old and still in perfect shape. Good luck with solarium they are expensive but do extend the season.
Well my first question is what way would the garden room face? If it gets full sun (south) you might want to pay close attention to how you will move air in the summer. True greenhouses have windows high and fans set with thermostats to move the hot air out. When it is a “sunroom” addition and fully exchanges air with the house it might not be as big a problem, but I would ask.
The lattice idea is nice. Love that.
I would suggest either a painted floor, or a true vinyl outdoor rug. All that watering will get water on the floor. So much fun for your Mom. 👏
Maria, I can’t speak to solariums, but composite decking can have issues, especially if wet a lot. (Research the law suits.) That said, the problems, or at least some of them, may have been solved in the past few years. The last time I researched it was when we needed to install new decks, maybe 8-9 years ago.
We instead used plastic lumber. It’s 100% solid plastic made the way pylons that hold up bridges in water are made: from plastic milk bottles! It looks like composite. It never fades or warps, looks like and cuts like wood. It’s 100% solid, no empty core. Our contractor had never used it but said everything was the same as with wood, except easier (no knot holes, uneven pieces). Like with every material, guidelines need to be followed – like how long spans can be without underside cross pieces holding them up. If I recall, spans need to be shorter than with real wood. I’ll send a photo though there may be one in our exterior color consultation with you. : ) Have fun with the solarium!
We were planning to convert our covered deck to a screened in porch and opted for a 3-season room. In Ohio we cannot use it in the dead of winter or worst of the summer heat. It is not insulated.
We ended up using large glass patio doors on 3 of the sides. It’s so much easier than cranking the windows open and closed and since they have screens I can open them wide and have the effect of a screened in porch.
After it was completed we noticed rain almost always hits one side so we can leave 2-3 of the sides open and listen to the sound of falling rain and enjoy the breezes.
The ceiling fan similar but not as ornate as this one helps circulate the air when it’s a tad toasty
A baseboard heater along the inside wall we turn on to take the chill off when necessary.
It’s my favorite room in the house!
When I ripped off our old deck last year and got quotes for a sunroom, I had them price out composite decking vs. a bluestone patio. It turned out that the prices were comparable so I went with the bluestone patio. There is one step down, but I feel it is so much more beautiful and will last a lifetime! I’m sorry that I can’t give advice for the sunroom since that portion of our project is a few years in the future.
I don’t have a solarium, but one thing I’d be concerned about is keeping all of that glass clean, especially on the roof. Is it going to look grimy most of the time because it’s too hard to clean? Maybe someone with firsthand experience can chime in. Looking forward to watching this project unfold!
The exposure of the deck is very important, as sun and heat , without compensating fans and shades may cook people and plants. This is why people usually end up with very expensive conservatories that build in these features. Figure out how the sun works in both summer and winter, when it is lower in the sky for heat, humidity and glare .
Latice is a fabulous idea . for the very best Lattice in the world, check out Accents of France lattice on their website and on Instagram . You can order panels which are the least expensive, but their work is so fabulous its used at Versaille and by Charlotte Moss, and the very best palaces across the Middle East. How fun are those goats?!?!?!
I have only had experience with client’s solarium’s (like the one your Mom is favoring) in northern CA as a Realtor. I found that it depends on what direction the solarium is facing which is most important for obvious reasons. South or West…..it can be so intense regarding light and heat that it is not usable space many hours of the day, and months of the year. The heat can also impact the rest of the home as well in a negative way. This comment is only regarding the solarium your Mom is leaning towards. The ones with a roof, multiple french windows with space in between are the most attractive and less worry about heat and light. The windows on this style can easily have some kind of covering to alleviate sun and light intensity so that style ends up being a better investment bc it can be used all of the time.
You MUST have a proper foundation that will not shift because the solarium will be attached to the house so you absolutely must have a stable, bug/rot free base. Do not get suckered into just a shallow trench filled with cement as will shift and break. You can either go for a “properly” installed cement pad or a raised wooden foundation (similar to house ) that sits on piles that are dug to below the frost time. Either one can be insulated. To ensure a nice breeze get windows that open on all three sides. The base is critical to the long, happy usage of the solarium
Biggest takeaway from a relative’s sunroom here in Seattle is to make sure the gutters between the house and the extension are accessible and not a collection point for non liquid runoff from the roof (pine needles, leaves, etc). These in particular are hard to keep clean without getting up on the roof.
My parents’ house growing up had a 4 season room. It was all glass on 3 walls and the roof. It had triple glazed windows with large doors and skylights that opened during the warm months. During the cold winter months, it was important to be able to close off the room from the rest of the house as it did get a lot colder than the rest of the house – unless you heated it a lot. My parents only used in the winter time a few times as it was too costly to heat. But it got daily use during the rest of the year.
Your mom will LOVE the new space!
I don’t gave any experience with solariums and I live in Ohio with different weather, but I will say my single, 73 yr old next door neighbor added what she calls a sunroom and she lives in it. It is brick like her house but with windows on three sides. She reads, eats and watches tv out there with a view of the birds at the feeders and nice landscaping. She has shades that go from the bottom up to block our view as needed. It is considered part of the house but I think she added a space heater for winter to use as needed. A solarium strikes me as hot in summer and cold in winter. The same benefits could be achieved with another design that might be equally pleasing. If you go with the solarium I would make sure you have ceiling fans.
I have had a three season porch (solid wall lower and screen/storm window uppers) in house #1 (it was OK, mostly because it was in a shaded, protected area), a modern curved glass solarium (double pane windows with windows that opened along the bottom row) in house #3 (hated), and an all screen screened in porch in house #4 (loved). These were all in southern Michigan and Wisconsin; so colder, 4 season climates.
The one we use and love the most is the all screen porch, even though we live in Wisconsin and it is cold here much of the year. We live in the country and there are lots of bugs. My only wish is that it was twice as large so I could have a big bed swing in addition to our current dining and seating area. We will sit out there and eat dinner, even if we have to wear a jacket.
The one we hated the most was the solarium. Climate control was a nightmare. It did have a small electric heater for cold weather as it was added by the previous owner and not attached to the heat and a/c system of the house. It was most comfortable on cool days. On a sunny day it was like an oven inside, despite the double pane glass. Opening the small windows and turning on the ceiling fan was not enough to move the hot air outside. (When I see solariums / conservatories on TV, they are usually in England, where it seldom gets above 80 F / 26 C.) It was also fairly humid in ours. If your mother proceeds with this plan, I would think about how you will control the moisture inside with your wet climate.
Needs an automatic ceiling vent system like greenhouses have. These can really heat up like parked cars on sunny days — even in cool weather— but especially in summer. Waterproof floor is nice if there are lots if plants in it, plus a water source for easier plant care. What a wonderful project!!!
We had a solarium growing up in Ontario. It faced west if I remember correctly. The roof was glass along with the walls. All the windows were double-paned and the windows along the front opened. The floor was tile so overwatered plants wouldn’t damage the floor. The glass roof quickly got blinds installed because even with all the windows open in summer it was just too hot and even that didn’t make it comfortable. Shoes had to be worn because the terracotta coloured tiles where too hot to walk on. If I remember correctly there was a heater, but I don’t think it was used that much. Luckily it was separated from the house by an exterior wall and a sliding glass door which was kept shut most of the time. It was probably used the most in spring and fall, so more two season than the intended four. In summer it was just too hot and could only be used if it cooled off enough by evening. Although it was a lovely place to sit and read when it was raining.
If there’s lots of shade in her backyard you might be able to get away with a glass roof, but keep in mind if the trees die you have no shade. I’d be more inclined to go with a solid roof with or without skylights and a wall of windows. Keep the floor light as anything dark will soak up the heat in the summer and make it uncomfortable to walk on. Keep the exterior wall of the house, that way when it’s nice you can open up the doors, but if it’s too hot or too cold you don’t waste energy heating or cooling the space. The builder might say four season, but it doesn’t always work out as intended.
I have friends in Seattle who have a solarium on the north side of their house. They use it summer and winter, but I think the basement extends under it, so it’s not as cold as if it were on a slab. It has french doors on both ends and a ceiling fan. The lattice idea sounds charming, as long as it’s easy to remove to dust. Your Mom looks like she likes things clean!
I have a “Rug Buddy” in a cold room in my house. It goes under an area rug and makes for a comfortable room even if the air is cold. Something like that could extend the use to four seasons – along with a down sweater!
Lastly, it looks like your Mom’s deck may not have a vapor barrier under it, and if not, that might be shortening its life. Personal experience!
What a cheery, happily colourful home. I see that colour is in the family. My octogenarian mother bought a house with a 4 season sunroom and has a love/ hate relationship with it. She loves the 3 directional views and the added light for her plants but from a frugal generation, she hates to use the electric baseboard heaters. Even when they’re turned on, it’s not cosy in the winter and draws warm air from the adjacent room. I think she would tell your mother to enjoy a sunroom with doors that can close it off from the house. Even tropical southern BC gets cold winter days and she can save her energy pennies to travel (someday) with her daughters.
I don’t know any thing about solariums sorry .
But I’m really excited got your mom ,
Can’t wait to see …
Hi Maria! Love this for your mom! We have a 4 season sunroom that was already here when we bought the house, and my only advice is: no big level change or substantial threshold between house and solarium! We have an exterior door w/ threshold on the kitchen, you go through that and step down a little to sunroom. It makes it a HUGE pain to keep clean – everything gathers around that threshold and in the corners where the little change in level is. Because our sunroom has a door to the backyard, we are in and out a bunch and track stuff in, and I’m constantly frustrated by cleaning.
I hope your mom loves her new bright room!
My former next-door neighbors had a premade sun porch attached over a deck – and have had no end of problems with water getting in through the joints, glass fogging up, temperature extremes, etc. Also, from an architectural standpoint, the curvy glass slope of the porch roof just looks like a dumb thing stuck on to the house – it adds no value.
I encourage you to take a step back and define the issue with clarity, rather than jumping to a preconceived solution. Ie – your mom wants a super-sunny room to dwell year-round, wants it to connect with the living room, and not block the light that falls into the living room. Expecting the solution to be a solarium – with the dimensions of the deck- limits other possibilities that might work better, be easier to construct and maintain, allow more room, and reflect the style of the house, therefore enhancing its value.
The two last photos in your lineup – of gorgeous spaces – are high walled-in rooms, with lots of glazing and (in one) skylights. Not prefab solariums. I don’t know what’s next to the living room on that side of the house, but what if the solution were a constructed addition across more of that side of the house, with connections to both living room and whatever’s next to it, for flow. Ceiling might be higher – could enclose the upstairs windows, even, If that works for the style. There are lots of strategies for passive thermal regulation that can be incorporated: a pergola with deciduous vine outside to shade in summer (but not winter); flooring material that holds heat; lots of stuff.
You can probably sense that I’m pushing you in the direction of finding a good, local, sustainability-minded architect that can come up with a joyful solution to your mom’s deeper wish, rather than starting with a contractor to put up something prefab that may or may not work well in the long run. Ask around among your local friends for recommendations, see who has had small projects done that they’re happy with. My 2 cents!
Sharon, I agree that the rooms with roofs are more attractive and easier to regulate the cool/heat situation. Not as much light, of course, but easier maintenance.
The glass roofed solariums while seemingly nice, don’t look so nice if you have birds in the neighborhood. When we were adding a screened in/ glassed in 3 season porch, one retailer said he wouldn’t recommend the all glass. We went with a peaked tall ceiling and deluding glass windows on 3 sides. The ceiling is higher because it goes to the roof line. Plus we put stationary glass above the windows at the end opposite the house. We also put in a heater/ ac unit. For us it’s perfect. If we want to heat it on a splurge we can.
Had a one just like what she’s getting. Loved it. She’ll be happy she went with four seasons. Not sure which side of the house it’s on but blinds may be necessary. Obviously the sun will be hard on flooring and fabrics. We had tile. Worked out very well. Enjoy
I think the first thing to consider for any solarium is its LOCATION in relation to the sun. I’ve known some that were unbearably hot in late spring/ summer because they were south facing. Some of the heat intensity can me mitigated with the proper glass and materials used throughout and perhaps shade trees.
Thé second thing I would consider is VENTILATION – stagnant almost air tight solariums not enjoyable- windows/venting and a fan can solve this if an issue
Mom is spot on about the possibility of any structure DARKENING the interior- I’ve known it to happen despite a clear roof line!
If using composite decking as you suggested I was advised against a dark choice it in a sunny location as it can also be too hot to walk on. While at it I would eliminate the step down- tripping/fall hazard
Likely there are new and modern solutions to all of the above. Wishing your mom a glorious addition
Lattice would be nice against the wall. Just realize that it is a small space and do’t clutter it too much or it will appear smaller yet again. I love the idea of a four-season room: something that can be used year round. When she opens her french doors it will appear that her living area grew and she will have more room to grow her lovely plants.
We did have one once, for an indoor pool, but , having read the 1st comment about cold.In winter, …..I can tell you this: IF you can possibly put a BRICK floor, yes red brick, it serves as a sun collector during the day. At night it will give back the warmth. Outside temp should not greatly affect the inside temp. Do your research as to customer ratings of various brands. I am no longer familiar with those.
The whole idea though sounds so wonderful!
May it turn out super! xo, Paula.
Friends added a 2-story glass enclosure to their house many years ago. Gorgeous! But it was too hot to use in the middle of the summer and too cold to use in the winter. In southeast Michigan. They ended up taking it down.
When replacing deck boards with composite, definitely look into the support underneath. We ALMOST pulled the trigger and hired someone to put composite boards on our balcony/deck. We found out that the 16″ spaced boards would not work for Trex (and presumably other brands). They need to be 12″ apart. Note to self: licenced contractors worth the $$ even for simple jobs!
I think the most important thing to consider based off of your location is to have a properly insulated slab, this can be done with a type of styrofoam insulation that is rated to be able to be in the ground and has a high compressive strength for being located under a concrete slab. This will make it more comfortable for living with it all year round, so the floor isn’t cold which would then cool the entire place if it were. Insulating the slab will help to protect the plants.
You might want to consider lattice or trellis patterned wallpaper (or panels) for the wall with the french doors. Then you wouldn’t have to deal with the never-ending problem of dust collecting on wooden lath panels or pieces.
I second the motion on screens, at least as an option with sliding doors or windows. In addition to the advantages already listed, it gives a breath of outdoors that you’ll never have with steamy closed in solarium windows. The scent of outdoors, flowers, grass, rain, there’s nothing like it.
We lived in our sunroom! Truly our best addition in our last house.
Make sure the horizontal window mullions are not in your line of sight when sitting and enjoying the view. We made this mistake, and it was so annoying!
Actually, what makes the most sense is to have steps down to a properly poured concrete pad, not a decking material. But, you should find a reputable contractor for your area. We had solid surface decking in our plan and were told it is an unnecessary expense for our purpose of a completely covered and weather tight room. So we have kiln dried pine going in and it will be treated with a clear penetrating water repellent than is non-film forming. Meaning, it will never flake off. The pine will naturally age and I’m just fine with it. Saved us close to 40k!! Good luck!
We added a 3-season porch to our home in Connecticut and loved it. It was a Corning product, with pre-made panels that fit together quickly — a crew of two erected it in one day. Took more time to finish electrical, etc. We added a gas stove for heat in the depths of winter, a tiny stove that heated the space incredibly quickly. The porch was on the south side of the house, but mature trees shaded half of it, and we specified that the roof overhang be the longest possible. On sunny winter days, the porch would become warm just from solar gain. Large windows with screens on three sides, so it was very comfortable spring through fall.
We didn’t find that the porch roof made the house darker, possibly because we ate every meal on the porch, plus hanging out when we had a free moment.
Greenhouses have ginormous fans to keep from overheating in the summer, so a glass roof might not be easy to live with. With the roofline so close above the french doors, I think your design will be tricky to achieve. One with the gable end perpendicular to the house might be easier to attach to the existing wall/roofline.
We have a large solarium running most of the long south side of our home. We had a wooden deck like your mom but removed it and used Willamette Graystone pavers (over multiple layers of weed barrier and some sand), so then we needed a new landing and ramp that hugs the house, with a hand rail. In the summer months it can get hot in there! In the spring we remove several panels to get back some ventilation. We did not know how to install fans or sections that automatically open at the very top where the structure attaches to the house. It gets too hot up there for many types of hanging plants. I’m also in a “cool” breezy coastal climate as well, but we’re talking greenhouse effect here! What works much better here is what we did with the front porch facing east. We enclosed an open porch by framing in and installing a glass screen door, and white vinyl screened double pane windows that match our house. We had leftover laminate wood flooring and used that installed right over the porch floor (over poly vapor barrier of course) and it looks like an extension of the house now. I have to say we use the front porch much more often than the true solarium. To ventilate the porch you simply open the windows or raise the screen on the screen door. I plan to replace my solid front door with a glass panel door so it brings even more light into the house.
We just moved into a new house that has a deck converted to a sunroom. I love that I don’t have to worry about my deck furniture getting wet but can tell that it’s going to get hot in the summer as there’s a window air conditioner already installed. Air flow is important. We installed a sun shelter on our deck at our previous house and loved it! Similar to below. The roof panels slid back if you wanted more sun but we found it perfect when we just left the roof in place. Only negative is that the curtains fade in the sun after a couple of years. It was my favourite place to be on the whole property.
Allen + Roth Sun Shelter with Sliding Roof – 10′ x 12′ – Aluminum/Steel A102002101
Maria, I am so glad the other comments have mentioned what I was thinking! Ventilation and sun control. My parents had a solarium and it was too hot to sit in some days and the furniture was ruined by the sun. Having a roof makes sense ….and. One one mentioned about tying it in with the house re: gutters! Another good tip to consider! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!!!
I’m assuming that the existing deck will be removed, and that the heated floor will be at or just above ground level, so your mom will have several steps leading down from the French doors, in order to maximize her space? Make sure that the slab is well prepped and that there’s no space between the slab and the floor that would make it a haven for small animals (our existing home has a deck with a 3-season screened porch, added before we bought it – there’s about 1.5 feet of space between the porch floor and the ground, and over the years, we have played unwilling hosts to mice, chipmunks, opossums, woodchucks, skunks, and even weasels – despite adding screening to keep creatures out.) Echoing what others have said, establishing a reasonable heat balance and maintaining good temperature control can be a real challenge with all-glass solariums, especially depending on the direction it faces and whether there is any outside shade in the area. Ensuring proper ventilation, air movement (a ceiling fan is highly recommended), and having the ability to open windows and/or add screens will all help to make the space more comfortable and allow for humidity control (which is key, especially in hotter months). Because solariums can emit UV levels up to six times stronger than the midday summer sun (causing skin damage such as sunburn, irritation, redness and swelling, as well as eye damage within 20 minutes), make sure that the panes are tinted/treated for UV-protection (these days most are, but make sure to ask). Also consider what ambient temp your mom wants in this space, and whether she plans to over-winter her plants in this room (they will not benefit if there are extreme temperature fluctuations). If she’s willing to look at a non-glass roof option (which is a great choice for 4-season rooms), consider a peaked roof, which will preserve her light (especially if the triangular space under the peak is all glass), give her a vaulted ceiling (giving her extra space for a ceiling fan) and help with rain/snow runoff. Whether she opts for a gable or single slope roof, consider an option that is half solid (the roof panels closest to the house) and half glass (the outer roof panels), which will help considerably with temperature control, while not blocking her light. Good luck – and I love the idea of the lattice!
Our friends just bought a greenhouse from – of all places – Costco. Although, it’s a greenhouse perhaps you can look into the company for more offerings. From my friend: it’s a “Riga-4”. We bought it through Costco. They have a supplier that imports them from Germany called Exaco Trading. Costco‘s offering came with an upgraded accessory kit (fan, thermal openers, louvered vent, shelves, heater, and solar night light) for no extra cost and free shipping. It’s probably one of the better green houses out there.
I also have photos of my friends finished greenhouse, if you’re interested. They are farmers (I am as well) and will use it as a greenhouse as well as a sunny location to relax in the sun during our cold Wisconsin winters.
We had a solarium and it was so hot, we couldn’t use it. So we turned it into a 4 season sunroom With a shingles roof and now it gets used all year round!
I don’t know anything about solariums except that i am a gardener and i don’t want one. I would be too worried I wouldn’t like it and then have guilt. ( I want a greenhouse though.) Anyway since you live in a climate like mine (Seattle), I would recommend checking out other options as well. Like…brick patio floor, and basically build what would amount to a room with a mess of french doors and skylights, that leads out onto a brick patio with a pergola over it that she can grow whatever she wants. Its classic and won’t affect the charm of an old house or resale. It might not be in budget, but I suspect in the the long run she would like it more. She can put plants in it but it will be much more comfortable and classy. there is a specific one I am thinking of but can’t remember which designer did it…hopefully i will find it!
Think about contacting Lumon Canada. Not cheap but quality isn’t cheap.
She could use the solarium for 3 seasons.
We used Cetol (5 year guarantee) on our deck… but you will need to thouroughly sand the existing boards.
If you do a Lumon enclosure… it will completely protect the deck and it’s no longer an issue.
Maria, I have no experience to offer, but these comments are terrific! It’s like getting a whole education in a nutshell. You are very blessed to have such readers!
Oh Maria I enjoy your posts so much! I know nothing about a solarium but have always been attracted to them only because they look so romantic. The only thing that I can attest to is they can get boiling hot in the summer. When I lived in Michigan my neighbor had one but would not use it during the day because of the heat. I get such an education from all of your followers remarks that I feel like a professional when I’m finished reading.
Where else could I get so much information? I’m so blessed to have found you!
Good luck with your new endeavor!
This is my two cents worth from my experience. I would not add a solarium where it is a totally enclosed glass room. Many years ago they were the thing to have and many of my clients added them to their homes. They have all been torn off and replaced with actual rooms with windows or screen porches. The problem with total glass is that they heat up so much with the sun beating into the space that they are like saunas and not useable space. Build a room with floor to ceiling windows and possibly skylights but not a glass roof.
Most readers will not know that it does not get hot, nor is the sun strong, where Maria’s mom lives. Maybe a couple of days a year, but not like what everyone may think. The climate is more like Ireland, where solariums were very popular added to the back of house. Sit outside in it and have some tea, sort of thing. My relatives had one. Thus heat build up is not likely to be an issue, as long as there is a bit of ventilation. Now where I live in BC, no one in their right mind would have one!
Regarding decks, they are not high maintenance if done properly. Build with pressure treated wood and then stain with a semi-transparent one. Ours was beautiful, used a stain that gave the wood a light driftwood colour of grey, our house trim was grey, this was back in the first grey trend in the 1980s. We found it extremely odd when we moved to BC that people here used ordinary wood and then were surprised when their deck was rotting out a few years later! Yes, Trex is gorgeous but expensive.
I know how excited your mother is about her future addition.
We have had two sunrooms with real roof/ceilings, not glass. (Those get too hot!)
I loved them both but we mad the mistake in one house of making it a 3 season room. It froze in the winter so it seemed a waste.
This house we decided on infloor heat in the sunroom.
Now it is used as our family room and we practically live in it. Much better decision.
We did have a deck above the first one that had access from the master bedroom and loved that.
It is so worth spending the extra money now during construction to put in the thermopane windows and infloor heat then to regret it and retrofit it down the road.
Tile and slate flooring are the best choices in this type of room.
Good luck and enjoy!!!!!
Check out BC greenhouses . Amazing company and will work with you to get exactly what you need/want .
11 years ago, we had a solarium built, not as a separate room, but as an extension of our family room. We went through all the options, but in the end when it comes to this, go all the way. It is an expensive investment anyway, why stop shorter than the wish list.
1. Use a reputable company.
2. Glass all around and on the ceiling, that was a no-brainer. We didn’t add lattice, but that would be a nice touch.
3. The 4 seasons solariums are made with special glass that is heat reflecting (higher for the ceiling, therefore more expensive, and a bit lower for the walls, still expensive :)) The icing on the cake is that this type of glass is also self-cleaning. The sun burns the dirt and the rain washes it away.
4. Heated floor is a must – I can’t stress that enough
5. Never had a problem with too much heat during the summer, or too cold during the winter, but in Ontario, by code, we still need to add a heating/cooling unit. Never had to use it because of the heated floor, and in the summer because the solarium is open to the rest of the home anyway
6. Never had a problem, it is the best space in the house, and the WOW factor.
7. Good luck, your mom will be very happy! Looking forward to see how it turns out.
Whatever mom wants…mom should have it. Just consider sunny days can make this add on too hot so consider open windows too.
I think a small amount of lattice would look nice, I’ve always loved it. Only advice would be if you put too much it could be a lot of maintenance (dust).
Your moms sitting room is dreamy. I hope she loves her sunroom!
Ventilation is critical. These suckers get really hot. The other thing they get is really cold so it needs to be thermally isolated from the adjoining room. I have stocked mine with a lot of plants, wicker covered in blue patterned prints, a table to eat from and a reading lamp. I used a slate floor which I like because I like that slightly humid air that comes up. The only irritating thing about all that glass is that it has to be cleaned. My idea of a solarium is that is basically a green house you can occupy. I love mine.
Given all of the great information your readers have already provided, all I have to add is being aware of possible trip hazards and something I’m aware of daily as my hubs and I age in place. When our large deck was built, we specified that it be the same height as our kitchen/dining floor to avoid tripping, falling, and a possible sprain or break.
Just a wee something to consider even for those of you who aren’t as klutzy as I am!
Stay healthy and happy!
Hi Maria ,
I don’t have a solarium but I do have a patio glass enclosed room . It is on a deck, approximately 10 !/2 feet X 12 1/2 feet . It has a roof , double pane windows with screens ( all the walls are glass ), self cleaning glass . The sliding windows are above approximately 2 feet glass panels. I like opening the windows and allowing a breeze through the space with cross ventilation . Double pane creates a more firm feeling . The self cleaning windows are fabulous . I wash them once a year and whatever coating is on the window does not allow the them to look dirty or show water spots. I was concerned prior to purchasing the room that it would hinder air flow since it is off my kitchen or create a dark feeling but it has not. We have had this room for more then 12 years and to this day am so happy with being able to sit outside without being outside . My room is a 3 season room . We use it April to October. I wish it was larger.
A sun room is a dream project of mine. I actually wanted to enclose our pool’s jetted spa with a solarium but the logistics of dealing with ventilation and condensation of all that water were quite expensive. So, your mom’s ideas are certainly within a reasonable price range even with the heated floor. She’s going to need dual pane windows to make all the seasons comfortable. I’m excited to see her final results. One thing I can say from experience, being that many of my neighbors have sun rooms (we call them sun rooms in California), is that some sort of retractable shade screen needs to be in the interior of the upper windows (our neighbors have power retractable roll up shades) and a proper fit to the house itself with inspected flashing built to code where new construction meets old, and rain/debris channels that are easy to access and/or power wash from a distance are imperative. Plan on the sky-facing glass being dirty after the winter months, and then again after a long hot summer. A good hosing twice a year is usually necessary. They can be a bit high-maintenance, but a glorious sun room is certainly the crown jewel of any home.
Maria, we have a four season room that we love. It has windows on 3 sides and a vaulted ceiling/roof. It has French doors that close it off from the rest of the house when we don’t want to heat or cool it in the winter or the summer-otherwise we leave the doors open. It has it’s own heat/air conditioning unit in it. This unit heats or cools the room in minutes The floors are insulated underneath.
It’s my favorite room in the house!
We replaced a redwood deck with a Timbertek, a Trek competitor, on a south facing deck about 14 years ago. It reflects so much light and heat, I hate it. The glare is awful. Think about having a bunch of plastic bottles on the ground, it’s going to reflect light. I need to get large outdoor rugs to cover sitting areas. Maybe in a small area without southern exposure it would be ok.
My new dream is to have a glass cabin on the deck which I can use as a dining area and greenhouse. I could control the sun/wind in an enclosed area. I’m excited to read the other replies for ideas.
I tore down a rotted deck after I moved into my home last year and added a 4-season room in its place. It has 10 windows and a sliding door to a future patio which hopefully will be installed soon. It was build on a concrete slap and they had to make sure the footers were below the freeze line since I live in NE Ohio. The room has baseboard heating so I can use it in the winter months or when I’m not using it, I just keep the sliding door closed to the main part of the house and lower the heat in there. It faces north/west and there is plenty of sunshine coming in the windows even on gloomy days. I didn’t add skylights because I wanted a cedar ceiling with beams plus with all the windows I really didn’t see a need for those. I recommend using a durable floor such as a tongue and groove vinyl. There are so many pretty patterns now. I absolutely LOVE my sunroom ! I sit in there many times a day, sometimes doing nothing at all, just enjoying the views.
Ladies, me giving you advice on a solarium is way above my pay grade. The deck however I can deal with. I started fiddling around with elastomeric roof coatings. I did a few potting tables a few years back and found that elastomeric finishes are impervious to anything Mother Nature can throw at it. I coated my deck last year and may do a garden picket fence this Summer. Elastomer coatings are amazing for decks, fencing, anything subject to harsh weather.
Good luck on the solarium. Keep us posted on the progress.
05/18/2020 at 9:30 am Reply
I know 1 thing about decks for a fact. Build with pressure treated wood then 1 year later put superdeck on it to preserve it. Our deck is 24 years old and still in perfect shape. Good luck with solarium they are expensive but do extend the season.
Can you please tell me what Superdeck you used? There’s plain sealer in addition to varying degrees of stain. Thank you!!!!!!!
Hi Maria & Mom!
Susan bring up some the same concerns I have. Cost I think, will cast the final vote! I think picture #3 a “traditional room” with windows would be your best bet overall and long term. I’d use spray foam insulation (my friend used it when he rebuilt his kitchen solarium sunroom which was always freezing in the winter and hot in the summer. It helps to moderate the temperature tremendously) and open it to the rest of the house. It would be a lovely place to sit in the winter with plants!
If you went 3-season it may be too cold to use most to of the fall/winter/spring (depending on the weather any particular year). I’d make sure the windows were screened to help ventilate during the summer but I would not do a glass roof. I used to work in greenhouses during the summer and they can get very toasty, very quickly in the summer. We used to use massive fans to draw “cooler” (LOL not by a lot in August) into the greenhouse and force the hotter air out. Most greenhouses sell all of their plant at deep discount by the end of June, the greenhouses are too hot by July/August and the plants die.
Best of luck and do keep us posted! Love to Mom!
Our climate is far different from yours — we live in Birmingham, Alabama. But I can tell you from our experience, you will need insulation under the floor, in the ceiling and in the walls. Obviously some sort of heating and cooling, maybe what is now called a mini-split. We had double sash windows put in ours (for our last house) so that it could function as sort of a screened porch during the times of the year that the weather was cooperative. It is so hot here in the summer that the AC is a necessity, but I don’t know about where you live. It was a life-changing addition, in that the feeling of being outdoors even when protected was such a mood-elevator. We had French doors into the kitchen and onto a small entry deck. At our present home we decided to just go for the screened porch because there are such short periods when it is not usable. Even in Winter, we have days when it totally works. The only downside is that a screen porch does get dirty, whereas a sunroom/solarium stays cleaner.
Like everyone else it seems I have a comment on the temp. I saw that a number of references were for solariums being just fine in England or Ireland which supposedly have a similar climate to your mom. Well I had one for 3 years in England and it got HOT, un-useably hot. Because even when it was a comfortable temperature outside with a lovely breeze, that place just baked under the glass. It was so disappointing. And also, hard to keep glass clean and fresh – best to set aside an allowance for pro washing couple times a season. I also had a screened porch (Wisconsin climate) and it was perfect and used everyday from April – October. LOVED it. Hanging daybed, proper lighting, etc. I have pics of both if you want to see them (both fully decorated)
I’m very concerned that she’s getting an estimate from a builder, without a design… is it made of steel, vinyl, wood frame/insulation?… (this is a big red flag for me.)
From an architect’s perspective, I totally agree with Robin W’s comments, so I won’t repeat her thoughts. But I’d reiterate that hiring an architect who is interested in passive solar design, and walking through all the seasons with them, would be a great start to address so many of the pitfalls that everyone’s comments highlight. I’ve seen a lot of every kind of enclosed porch, that cheapens a house by accident. So I’d hate for that to happen.
I’m covering my eyes, and hoping that this turns out well!!
Great article! I like how this post is educating me about deck during this time of pandemic.
Forty years ago my parents had a 3 season (in New England) room built by a very creative contractor. It was stick-built with foundation underneath but the walls were constructed to receive attractive, wood, 3/4 view, storm doors which could be changed out for screen doors in warmer weather. There are beautiful and energy efficient storm door options available now and the screen door construction approach is more common today. It was a beautiful room and gave the best usable value for their investment.
We got a 4-season sunroom with a glass roof when my husband retired 15 years ago and we love it. You’re getting great advice here that will help you to plan it for your conditions. We took our time and planned it properly and we couldn’t be happier.
We live in Ottawa, so it was important that they installed an electric heater on one wall so we can boost the heat in the winter if needed. We usually set that at 15C (houseplants adore that temperature, no joke) but we can heat it quickly to above 20C. The adjoining room has a gas fireplace that functions as an adjunct furnace, and we also leave that on at about 18C so that room never goes below that, even in the coldest temperatures, but we can also turn that up manually for quick heating if we want to. But we don’t need to do that much, only occasionally. The winter sun is so intense (no shade) that the sunroom is usually warm enough on sunny days, even when it’s cold.
For the summer, we were lucky enough to find a sunroom with windows that open, we chose sliders, so it converts into a screen room.
The other thing is, it looks like you have overhanging trees like we do, which will also help in the summer months if they provide shade. But you’d also need to be prepared to clean the roof in the spring and fall if leaves fall there. We also keep the snow and ice off the roof in the winter, using a snow rake. We found it’s better to keep it clear than to allow ice buildup. Other than that the maintenance is minimal.
Good luck and enjoy!
(Sorry this isn’t about solariums but I do want a 4 season sun room in our finished project so I’m excited to read all the posts!) We recently moved into our 1957 renovation project on 4 acres. I’m so thankful to have found you and I’m soaking up and making notes from your wisdom. We are adding on first, moving into the new addition, then starting the renovation of the old house. We have a demolition project before the new addition that will begin in the fall, then the fun starts (and the hard work – we are doing most of it ourselves and expect the whole project to take us around 4-5 years)! I’ve already gotten your ebooks and the color wheel, certain I will get the boards but it’s just way too early and space is tight! I’m so excited (but not surprised since your design choices are always right up my alley) to see me dream rug in your mother’s sitting room! For several years I’ve been on the watch for the right pink and orange area rug! Do you have a source for it or a brand? I’m looking forward to working through the design process of “Classic and Timeless”! All the best and continued success, Laura Covington
It was from Wayfair! Maria
Boy your mom looks so much like you besides that if the side of the house is facing west and even south you must take into consideration the afternoon heat so if you have a solarium there search for one that does not have a glass roof or if it does ensure it has retractable shades in the roof panel otherwise she will be so uncomfortable with the heat ventilation can also be an issue look into that. Also if she is going to use this year round you will need a source of heat for that room to take off the chill. There are so many options it all depends on what your mom wants and how and when she wants to spend her time there. A trellis sounds wonderful you could have mandevillas climbing along there it is a lovely tropical, or passion flower I am sure she would love them, brugmansia is another lovely tropical it gives off a intoxicating aroma around eight in the evening these plants all love the sun. Hope this helps
Building an addition to your mom’s house so she can watch the goats and enjoy the sun sounds lovely. Although I have never had a solarium, I have had two homes with sunrooms, and both my mom’s & my aunt’s houses had them. I echo what others have said: a sturdy, well-insulated foundation is a must. Three of those rooms were built above thick concrete pads, and one above a deck. The one above a deck was so much more problematic for temperature control, and animals tried to make a den under it one year!
I prefer a roof due to too much summer solar gain and winter heat loss in New England, and birds that fly into too big an expanse of glass. If you go with a roof vs. all glass, design one with a big overhang, so your mom can sit & watch the rain with the windows open in the summer; it’s delightful! Three had 8′ ceilings, but one was open to the roofline about 15’ at the peak, with four large skylights. It was spectacular; we had a 14’ Christmas tree in there. Skylights often leak (ours did after a hurricane), so buy the best and get the best flashing, and roofer around. Or perhaps a metal roof, if you can afford it. Operable skylights with built-in shades and a remote are the way to go. Expensive-absolutely, but worth every penny! Everyone talks about enjoying these rooms in the day, but it’s a joy to watch the moon rise, too.
No one has mentioned aging in place features, but make sure the room will work for your mom if she develops mobility issues. Flooring the same level as the house with no threshold is important. When my mom grew frail, she stopped using her sunroom due to the two steps down. And, check carefully for how easy the windows are to open and close. Crank windows are difficult-we had 18 in the tall room, and when a sudden thunderstorm came up, it was a race to get them all closed. In the spring, after they had been closed for a few months, we had to tug and tug; these were thermopane Anderson’s, too! If it’s south or west-facing, she may need window coverings for climate control. Remote control shades are pricey but will be really helpful as your mom ages. She can even have Alexa open & close the shades!
I’ve experienced sunrooms with no heat source (still usable on sunny winter afternoons with snow on the ground) and electric baseboards (Mini-splits weren’t available yet.) The best was my aunt’s. She had in-floor heating under a tile floor, cozy in the winter, yet the tiles were so cool in summer that the cat loved to stretch out on them. Look for tiles that are designed not to be slippery. She also had a small wood stove in the corner (you could do a gas fireplace, too), but she only used it on severe winter nights. With deciduous trees giving summer shade, that room got the most use of all of them.
Sigh. Maria, look at what you made me do; all those beautiful memories mean I have to put my house on the market and move, as I can’t have a sunroom here!
A Great idea .. 👌❤️️ I adore solariums, and I think they are perfect for cold or rainy weather when you can’t sit outside. I personally would order the sliding windows that would open the solarium to a maxim extent when the weather is good ..😃🌳🌲 Cute room and decore ..🌸💡 and the goats are soo sweet ..😚🐐🐐🐐
My mom expanded a breezeway to her garage and created a very pretty 3 season sunroom with a tall ceiling, skylights and large windows. The only thing I wish we had done differently is to install casement windows instead of separate “storm glass windows” that go over the screens every fall. Right now – the big storm windows are heavy and once they go up in October, they stay there until May. Sometimes the room is too cold to use in October (before the storms go up) or too warm in May (before the storms get taken down.)
I am so excited that your mom is getting an outdoor room. Here is my advice. First think about how to use the space. Will it be for dining? Will it be more of a sitting room? Will it be used to raise/house plants? How will the furnishings be arranged? I stress this so that you will be able to determine the right size of space and finishes for the activities that your mom wants to do as well as the placement of the doors from the house and to the outside. A door in the wrong place can negatively impact furniture placement. Keep the structure simple so that the space can be easily cleaned, especially for your mom who is aging in place. For example, my greenhouse had a glass ceiling and it was a pain to keep clean on the outside. I hated looking up at the glass ceiling to see bird poop or algae building up in the corners of the glass, so I don’t like a glass ceiling from a cleaning perspective.
I had both a sun room and a greenhouse/solarium for 19 years, so I echo some of the same suggestions as above. Floor at the same height as the adjoining room and a water/sun resistant floor (I had red brick) are important points. Orientation to the sun is a key consideration. An east side can be lovely for morning light and a comfortable escape from the hot southern and western exposures. I had a sliding glass door leading from the house to the greenhouse, so I could block the heat or cold during extreme temperatures. Depending on the weather and room orientation, heat can build up in an all glass structure. Also, one winter there was ice hanging from a nearby tree that fell and broke a glass ceiling pane. It was very difficult and expensive to replace the broken pane. I had a natural gas heater, but the plants did not like the fumes. They responded better to electric heat. A ceiling fan is very nice, especially when you can open the windows for fresh air and for natural cooling. I like windows with screens so that I can shut the windows during pollen season and keep my furniture clean and then I can open the windows for fresh air without letting any bugs in. Since you deal with furnishing, you probably already how wonderful Sunbrella fabrics are for outdoor spaces in terms of little fading and easy to clean.
If you design the solarium correctly, I bet your mom will be using it more frequently that she uses her current sitting space. The light-filled space can bring much joy since you feel as if you are in nature and you can get a dose of sunshine happiness in the dead of winter. If it is not heated, simply bundle up with an electric blanket and hot tea to enjoy.
I look forward to seeing progress on your lovely mom’s space!
We put a heated tile floor in our sunroom. Nice and toasty warm for our feet in the winter.
I do have a solarium however it is built as a portion of the home and is open off of the kitchen area. That said; it consists of windows all around, two ceiling skylights with a shingled roof and exit door to the backyard but shall warn thanks to Mother Nature with her fluctuation in temperatures (here in Canada); structures have a tendency to shift and eventually you will experience leaks …. somewhere. To conclude; keeping that in mind good luck on whatever you decide and sorry I couldn’t be more assistance. KEEP WELL! -Brenda-
I would not recommend a glass roof. Despite going through three different well- recommended vendors and having the entire structure completely rebuilt at great expense, it still leaked. Finally, an independent roof specialist told me that a glass roofed solariums almost always leak. In the end, I kept outdoor furniture in the room.
I had installed fans, vent, heaters, thermostats, everything that was recommended for a solarium, but it was extraordinarily hot in the summer and too cold to enjoy in the winter. It was a folly.
I recommend a roof; it’s a good thing. Install climate control for heat and cooling and the best sliders you can find with screens. Enjoy the breeze and the sunshine, and stay dry and comfortable.
What about making more of a solid structure, with a roof that has skylights to let in the light, but blinds that could be adjusted if it gets too hot. Or instead of solid glass for the sides maybe some accordion doors that can be opened up in the summer. That would be great to help increase the nature connection during the warmer months.
Building is always exciting and I hope you will keep us abreast of developments But, IMHO, never have a small step down into a room. I know two elderly women, one being my mother, who tripped over a 1″ door sill, fell, breaking their hips and, sadly, dying. If you have a step, have a step. Even better, have a handrail even if it is only one step. A small step is harder to see, and easier to miss, that a full step.