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Dear Jim: I want to add an efficient sunroom kit on the south of my house. I am not handy with tools, so a kit would be best. What design features should I look for if it will be used for living space and plants? - Dave M.
A: If you are looking for an attractive, efficient sunroom, you probably don't want a kit you build yourself. Most sunroom companies use factory-trained local contractors to build their sunrooms at homes. An efficient sunroom is a more complicated structure than you might realize.
There are some simple sunroom kits which use aluminum frames and clear plastic windows. They can be converted to a screened porch during summer by snapping out the self-storing plastic windows. They are functional and not terribly difficult to build, but they have somewhat of a "kit" appearance.
Another option are ready-to-install sunrooms which are delivered to your house already assembled. These are high quality with beautiful solid wood frames. Once the foundation and slab is ready, you can be enjoying the sunroom the same day it is delivered. They are one of the more expensive sunroom options, but you can finish the wood yourself to save some money.
You mentioned the south side of your house. This is a good location in cold climates if you want to use the sunroom during the winter without dramatically increasing your heating bills. In warm climates, or if you plan to use it as a three-season sunroom, an east or west orientation with deciduous trees for efficient shading may reduce summertime overheating.
The two key features to consider are the frame material and the type of glass. Aluminum frames, anodized or powder-coated, require the least maintenance and they are very strong. An aluminum frame should have a non-heat-conducting thermal break between the indoor and outdoor surfaces. This is more efficient and reduces wintertime sweating.
Wood frames are the most attractive and offer more decorative curved eave options. Wood is typically more expensive and requires periodic maintenance. If you like the appearance of wood, but not the hassles, select a combination wood/aluminum frame. The exterior surface is aluminum, but the interior is stained natural or painted wood.
Select double-pane glass with a low-e coating and argon gas in the gap. This will be efficient year-round and the low-e coating will block more of the UV (ultraviolet) rays. This will reduce fading and deterioration of carpets and furniture and your plants will thrive better with less UV.
Include some type of movable shading and ventilation methods. Intelligent venting skylights and inlet vents are available which open at a preset temperature and close if it rains.
Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 992 - buyer's guide of 12 efficient sunroom/kit manufacturers listing designs (curved eave, straight eave, conservatory), frame materials, glazing options, ventilation options, shading systems, features and passive solar heat producing tips. Diagram and helpful suggestions on how to turn your sunroom into a heat-producing space to reduce overall heating bills.
Dear Jim: I just installed a new oil-fired water heater. Whenever the central air conditioner and the water heater are running simultaneously, I smell oil fumes in the house. What could be causing this? - Rachel A.
A: One likely cause of the problem is your cooling ducts are not balanced properly. When the air conditioner runs, it is creating a lower air pressure near it and this may cause the water heater to backdraft.
This is a serious problem and you should have it checked by professionals. They can evaluate the return and supply ducts sizes and make sure there are not any return ducts leaks in the utility area which would draw in fumes.