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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Dream Sunspace Design No. 1| Exterior

Friday, May 7, 2021

Where do you begin designing a dream sunspace for your home after your initial daydreams? You have collected photo clippings, pinned images to your Pinterest boards, drooled over sunspaces in tours of design houses, drawn rough sketches on the backs of paper napkins while dining out, and have some overall vision of what you would love to build. 

What should you consider to translate your sunspace daydreams into reality? 

Dream Sunspace Exterior Design

Take a journey with me in the design of the sunspace in my French Country inspired dream home to get some practical design ideas for your own dream sunspace. Everyone's dream sunspace is different, but read about what to consider including in your own variation of a sunspace. 

Part one of the journey in my dream sunspace is this post about the design of the exterior. Parts two and three in the sunspace design journey will be 2) sunspace interior design and 3) sunspace purpose/uses. 

Photographs used to illustrate information are over several years and for different times during the year. Look at the caption below each photograph for when the photo was taken. Note the sunlight in each photograph. 

S U N S P A C E   D E S I G N 

No. 1   |   E X T E R I O R 

Determine  Location  

Dream Sunspace Exterior Design
August - The sun is high in its path in the sky.
Notice the second floor windows are in the shade due to a deep roof overhang. 

The photograph above gives a good exterior view of my sunspace oriented for a southern exposure, location of shade trees, and how the sunspace fits the house. The photo is an in-progress shot of when the old worn-out open deck was removed to be replaced with a new covered porch. 

Location  based  on  sun  exposure

A critical factor in building a sunspace is choosing a good location based on sun exposure. The following gives information for the best location of a sunspace in north Texas in the Northern Hemisphere.  

🌝 South 

The best direction to face a sunspace is south to maximize the amount of sun the area receives all during the day. The sun rises in the east, follows a southern arc across the sky during the day, and sets in the west. The southern arc of the sun's path during the day changes a little every day, moving higher in the sky in the summer months, and lower in the sky in the winter months. 

Sun comes in through the side trapezoid window in the early morning, then through the roof windows and the four windows on the length of the space during the day, and finally, then comes in through the opposite side trapezoid window in the late afternoon. 

Trees help control the amount of sunlight at different times in the year. In winter the trees are bare and allow sunlight to shine in through the sunspace. In summer, the trees shade the roof windows and the left trapezoid window, helping to prevent too much sun which causes overheating the sunspace.

Landscape shade cloth netting can be placed over the top of the sunspace during the summer months to provide additional uniform shade all during the day. Then, it can be removed during colder months allowing more solar heat into the sunspace. Garden centers usually carry a selection of shade cloth which is commonly used for shading home garden plants and garden center greenhouses.  

🌛 East 

East is the second best orientation for a sunspace with direct sun until midday.

🌞 West & 🌚 North

West and North are a toss-up for last place based on individual location conditions.
West sunspaces can overheat due to afternoon direct sunlight at the hottest times of the day with no sun during the morning hours. Deep shade from trees can prevent heat build-up, but could also not allow enough light for plants.

North sunspaces could be shaded by the house completely if the house is multi-floors. In the winter, north receives very little direct light since the sun is so low in the sky on the south side of a house. Plus, cold winds blowing from the north in the winter will make a sunspace very cold. Pale, northern light may be good for artists, but not for gardeners.

Research  Sources 

One of the best places to research for a sunspace is window manufacturers. 

My sunspace is down-to-earth, built within a middle-income budget of a teacher and a translator, and made of quality materials designed to last. The sunspace was built as part of the original new house and is not a later add-on. However, this style could be added onto an existing house. 

Dream Sunspace Exterior Design

We chose Pella Windows to be installed throughout the house when we built for the following features. 
  • Wooden frames, stainable or paintable interiors 
  • Metal-clad exteriors, available in factory-painted white 
  • Energy efficient double-panes 
  • Interior removable glass panes for easy cleaning
  • Double-hung for easy operation and cleaning 

The windows were a substantial portion of the cost of our house, but we decided to invest in quality wood windows and doors. We chose to save money in other areas such as laminated countertops instead of more expensive surfaces, in-stock ceramic sinks, sheetrock walls instead of wood, no wallpaper, less expensive tiles for floors, moderate-priced builder-grade light fixtures, and plain sheet mirrors in the bathrooms. 

We reasoned we could replace those items over time, but the windows and doors would be more difficult and more expensive to replace at a later date. Over the years, we added wall wood paneling in several rooms, added wallpaper in bedrooms and bathrooms, upgraded some builder-grade light fixtures, and replaced sheet mirrors with French style framed mirrors. But, we still have the original laminated kitchen countertops, and I love them!

Sunspace  Structure

Dream Sunspace Exterior Design
January - The sun is low in its path in the sky. 
Notice the second floor windows are five-sixths in direct sunlight. 

Since we already had contracted for Pella Windows, we talked with the sales representative about what we wanted in a sunspace. He configured the sunspace using eight in-stock windows.
  • Two trapezoid-shaped windows for the ends of the sunspace
  • Four operable windows for the width of the sunspace 
  • Two fixed roof windows 
All eight of the windows are clad with metal on the exterior. 

When we built the new covered porch, we added a ribbed-metal panel from the top edge of the trapezoid window to the roof porch to protect a corner of the porch from rain. However, the metal piece was not nailed or screwed into the sunspace metal cladding in order to maintain the integrity of the sunspace's metal coverings. Instead of nails or screws, we used caulking to seal the connections to the sunspace. There were no holes added to the sunspace metal cladding which could allow a leak to develop. We used screws at the top of the ribbed metal panel to attach it to the new porch roof, which anchored the panel. 

Dream Sunspace Exterior Design

The size of the sunspace is about 3'x14', determined by the sizes of the eight in-stock windows. The width of the kitchen, to which the sunspace is attached, is about sixteen feet. Vertical wood posts at each end connect the 14' sunspace to the wider kitchen. 

The roof slopes. The height at the outer edge of the sunspace is 6' 6", and the height where the sunspace connects to the kitchen is about 8'. The height of the outer wall could be taller by using taller windows. In turn, the higher outer wall would cause the top of the sloped ceiling to be taller. Whoever designs the sunspace at the window company can configure a sunspace to fit the existing connecting wall. 

My sunspace has a horizontal wood beam (part of the post and beam house design) where the sunspace connects to the kitchen, dropping the height of the sunspace to about 7' 6". 

Houses with conventional stud walls and 8' interior ceilings would not need the horizontal beam for structural purposes. 

I love the look of wood posts and beams! Conventional stud-wall houses could have wood beams and posts similar to mine added for decorative looks. 

Dream Sunspace Exterior Design

The exterior cladding protects the sunspace structure in all kinds of weather. 

Dream Sunspace Exterior Design

The trapezoid windows at each end allow a larger view to the outside than a series of windows flush with the exterior wall. One end window is great for looking to see who has arrived in the front driveway. The other end window looks onto the covered porch and beyond to the garden shed in the backyard. 

Dream Sunspace Exterior Design

Two more posts about the sunspace design will cover the sunspace interior and the sunspace purposes/uses. Many more ideas with photos to come! 

S o u r c e s 

Sunspace - Pella Windows (no affiliation) 

Pinterest Board Post and Beam Dream House