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Old 03-18-10, 08:10 PM   #1
MetroMPG
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Default DIY temporary sun room ... with plastic shower curtain "windows"

To sun room, or not to sun room...

My parents have been waffling about whether to put a small sun room on the side of their house for 2 years. They've heard horror stories about them being unbearably hot (which is likely true in the dog days of summer).



To help them make a decision about what to do, I suggested "test driving" a very simple, inexpensive, temporary design to try out and see what they liked and didn't like about it. This way they could make an informed decision about what features they want on a permanent one (if they decide to get one).

What's "eco" about a sun room? Well, it probably improves the insulation value of the wall it's on.

And as my neighbour pointed out today: "if it gets really warm in the solarium, you can just open the door to the house and let the heat IN!"

But the main aim of the project is to have a bright, warm place to sit in the fall/winter/spring. The house itself has very poor direct sunlight to the inside.

----

What material for windows?

"Cheap" being the prime directive, it wasn't hard to rule out glass, plexiglass or lexan for the covering.

Couldn't find any vapour barrier or painting drop sheets that were clear (opaque at best).

Another option I looked at was marine window plastic (used in canvas boat/camper tops). It's got very good optical qualities. But the price - around $200-$300 seemed a bit steep for a "test" structure.

Then I got the idea to use clear vinyl... shower curtains! They're almost as good optically as boat plastic, with the exception of having creases from being packaged folded up.

I bought six $10 shower curtains.

Design considerations ... and learning Google Sketchup...

To keep things quick and easy, I sized the structure to fit the shower curtain "panels".

I've never designed or built anything like this before, and decided to kill 2 birds with one stone and learn to use Google Sketchup as part of the process.

It's likely I spent more time learning Sketchup and modeling the virtual corner of the house and the sun room than I will actually spend working on it!



CAD is cool! We knew exactly how much lumber to buy, and what cuts were needed for lengths and angles. Of course this didn't prevent me from screwing up and needing to make 3 separate trips to the lumber store for materials.

Electric delivery vehicle!

As a side note, with a small project like this, it was fairly easy to use the electric car to get all the materials. Hatchbacks ROCK. 12 foot boards go all the way through the car, from the passenger footwell, out the hatchback, with a flag on the end. Secured with tie down straps - perfect!



ForkenSwift.com - electric car on a beer budget!

Construction ...

I made it with my brother. We didn't follow "typical" building construction - not that I've done any, but my brother has.

We screwed the sills (base) together, raised it up on a picnic table, and screwed the studs to it from beneath:



Here it is all assembled, staining underway. It's put together with 2.5 inch deck screws.



Staining finished:



Compare to the Sketchup model!



This weekend we'll add the plastic "windows", then secure it to the side of the house. I'll post more then.

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Old 03-18-10, 08:20 PM   #2
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Oh - the other great thing about using Sketchup is I was able to show the design idea to my parents before we even started. I imagine it could be an excellent sales tool for renovators/contractors!
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Old 03-19-10, 06:42 AM   #3
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Very cool Darin.

How long did it take you guys to get this far?
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Old 03-19-10, 08:31 AM   #4
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About 6-7 hours, two of us not working terribly hard - talking to neighbours over the fence, including making extra runs to the store to buy more wood.

It's funny - even though with Sketchup I could tell exactly what materials & how much I would need, I still managed to not buy enough and had to go back 2 more times.
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Old 03-27-10, 10:53 PM   #5
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Project update:

Shower curtains are up, and it's pretty much finished. It's not physically attached to the house - but the sides which touch the house have sill gasket foam strip tacked to the wood to make a rudimentary seal.

The plastic isn't perfect - some wrinkles in some panels. But it's just an experiment after all (is what we told ourselves when a panel didn't turn out as nice as some of the others).







Comments & thoughts...
  • It gets ridiculously hot inside this thing in full sun. The wise crack about using this to heat the house is actually a reality. On several sunny days, we've left the sliding doors open and you could feel the heat coming in. I guess those passive house people are on to something after all.
  • I need to build in some ventilation options - like a screened, opening window panel.
  • You can see some cardboard in one of the roof sections. I was experimenting with a retractable 3-part sliding shade. The roof will need some kind of shading option.
  • For a structure like this to be usable in all kinds of weather, it will need to be extremely versatile/convertible in terms of ventilation and shading. Think Swiss army knife versatile.
  • It's a very enjoyable room to use. We're already coming up with ideas/refinements for sun room 2.0 -- the slightly bigger (since its size won't be dictated by shower curtain dimensions),permanent , proper version.
  • The plan is to leave it up at least to the spring/summer transition to see what modifications it needs to continue enjoying the space as the sun strengthens and temperatures rise.
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Old 03-27-10, 10:55 PM   #6
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Oh - and total cost of materials: around $160 (CAD).

Approximately 20 person hours to build (at a very liesurely pace). Not counting design time in Google Sketchup!

And all of the building materials will be saved for re-use in other projects when this is eventually disassembled.
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Old 03-28-10, 10:48 AM   #7
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It looks very nice for a quick little project. Very cool Darin.
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Old 03-28-10, 11:55 AM   #8
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Very hot, actually. :P
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Old 10-06-11, 05:43 PM   #9
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I got this comment by private message, and I thought I'd add a post-script to this thread for posterity's sake.

Quote:
Dear MetroMPG ~ Thanks for the details on your great project! We've got an open porch in the back (roof but no walls) and did an interesting wraparound with netting to provide bug relief for the summer. Now we're thinking of how to keep ourselves on the south-facing porch through the cold Midwestern winters and the idea of clear, heavy plastic sounds perfectly in line with our modest vision and even more modest budget. We'll post our results!
Thanks! Looking forward to some pictures.

Personally, I LOVE me a sun room.

This "temporary" sun room was left up until early this summer (2011).

Important stuff learned:

1) Stinky vinyl shower curtains.

You know that smell of a new shower curtain? Multiply that by 6, and that was the odour inside the sun room for several months. It was so strong that some people wouldn't go inside.

After a while, it off-gassed (I suppose that's what was going on) and dissipated.

So if you're sensitive to that sort of thing, you have been warned. Cheap or free (glass) windows may be a better option (window installers are always giving away free, old windows).

2) Ventilation

When it got warmer out (early summer), I ended up installing several removable window "panels", with screen on the outside. I put one down low, and one up high to get a current of air flowing through the room.

3) Shades.

Since this had a clear roof section, it needed shades. I ended up getting a trio of roller blinds and attached them to the peak crosspiece. Pulling them down, then they were fastened to the "eaves" portion of the structure. Of course, depending on where you're sitting, you could deploy them one, two, or three at a time.

---

So that's it. In the end, my parents decided not to pursue a permanent, enclosed sun porch. They ended up getting a retractable awning that's installed in the same spot the "peak" of the sun room was.

I used the sun room a lot when it was up, and my sister whenever she came over would head for the sun room.

If my new place didn't already have a south facing enclosed porch (with windows), I would be building this again.
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Old 10-06-11, 06:23 PM   #10
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Sounds like the cure for SAD..

When I first saw this post, I pictured an add-on sunroom on our south side.
Then I pictured my wife whacking me upside the head with a fry pan.
Since the front door of our house faces south..
There wouldn't be any hiding what she would consider an eye-sore..
(But, I would consider a good wintertime place to have a lawn chair with a cup holder for beer)..

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