Bringing the Outside In

Bringing the Outside In

When former congresswoman Patricia Schroeder started her new job as president of the American Association of Publishers, people began to send her books, lots of books. That wouldn't have been so bad if her family hadn't already filled up an apartment in New York, a home in Florida, and their house in Alexandria with books that Patricia and her husband James had collected since college.

While the Schroeders weren't sure of how many books they owned they did know that some of them were valuable. Walking through his Alexandria home, James Schroeder pulled down an autographed first edition by Jack London, a first edition by Ernest Hemingway and a McGuffey's Reader from 1875.

"I figured out that if we had collected all these books before I became the president, how many would I have after?" Patricia Schroeder asked.

As a way to organize their personal library and give them a sunny place to read, the Schroeders recently added a 10' x 15' sunroom to their Alexandria home. The $60,000 addition included a skylight and glass wall which provided year-round sunlight for reading.

CRAIG DUROSKO, PRESIDENT OF SUN DESIGN REMODELING SYSTEMS in Burke, and a recognized expert at turning unpromising corners into sunny residential living spaces, was responsible for the addition to the Schroeder's home.

The first thing that Durosko discussed with the Schroeders was the difficulty in figuring out the volume of glass the new room required. To ensure that the room would be usable all year long, the glass surfaces had to be off-set by extra insulation behind walls, floors, and ceilings so that the structure would meet the Model Energy Code.

Most municipalities in Northern Virginia have adopted a uniform Modern Energy Code, which makes installing of more then 14 percent glass in new year-around living spaces a complicated affair.

Many people want a new room to be a transitional place between the outdoors and indoors and still be a room that can be used all year round. They want a room with either large or many windows that allow them to see the outdoors without feeling rain and wind.

"We're meeting homeowners who've been told by professionals that, because of the new regulations, they can't have anywhere near the amount of glass that they want in a year-round room," said Durosko.

"And when a homeowner is talked out of a beautiful view by a contractor who doesn't know what's possible; that's a tragedy."

According to Durosko, almost anything is possible. All a homeowner or builder has to do is come up with an effective insulation strategy and a design that will maximize the view while being energy efficient.

When Durosko transformed the Schroeder's' carport into a sunroom, he installed insulation in many different places. To off-set the glass surfaces of the skylight and the big windows of the sunroom, he added extra insulation behind walls, floors, and ceilings. Even the built-in bookcases were filled with extra insulation.

The Schroeder's home backs up to a substantial wooded area. The sunroom has a stronger visual connection to the outdoors than the house's original design offered. The new windows make it possible to see the garden.

"You can enjoy the outdoors, and you don't have to worry about the rain," Durosko said. One other thing he likes with the room is its seclusion from the rest of the house. "It is kind of a get away," he said.

BOB KILLORAN AT WOODCRAFT BUILDERS in Lorton started to sell year-around sunrooms four years ago. He agreed with Durosko that determining where to put the insulation is the hardest part of installing a sunroom. When someone wants a year-around room he hires an engineer to work out the insulation details.

Cost is also a big consideration when adding a sunroom. Killoran estimated that a room designed to meet the Model Energy Code costs 10-20 percent more to build than one that doesn't.

Tim O'Rourke and his wife at Van Branch Road, Falls Church, converted a screened-in porch. Their children Michael, 14, and Kathleen, 10, had taken the living room as their retreat, so the adults needed some space for themselves. "We wanted the additional space as the children are getting older," O'Rourke said.

O'Rourke engaged Wentworth Levine Architect Builder for the project. "We have to pay more attention about how much glass we use," said Bruce Wentworth, vice president at Wentworth Levine Architect Builder. "We need to be sure that the wall, floor, and ceiling are insulated."

THE TRANSFORMATION of the O'Rourke's house started in August 2000. The changes were a larger and lighter kitchen and dining room and a sunroom with a stone fireplace. "Adults go there," O'Rourke said. "You know, read the paper and relax." It is a television-free zone, visually linked to the kitchen; there the parents can enjoy a moment for themselves. "They did a terrific job," O'Rourke said.

The renovation was finished in January 2001 and cost about $200.000. O'Rourke is satisfied with the job. Double French doors lead out of the sunroom to a set of rounded flagstone and brick steps, and a walk into the outdoors

According to Durosko, a homeowner who installs a sunroom would probably recoup the cost of the installation when the house is resold.

"It is probably one of the best returnable investments you can do," Durosko said. "You can enjoy the room every day the whole year around."

"People are definitely getting their money back," said John W. Byrd at Matrix Group, Inc.

"In the past, this job would have been relatively simple," Durosko said of the Schroeder's new sunroom. "But now, every aspect of the design is critical if the room is to be used year round. Saving energy is a worthy quest. So is having a room with a beautiful view. It's good to know that with the right design and materials, you have it all."