It’s that time of year again: when all the big box stores roll out their patio furniture and gardening supplies. You know, when we all get inundated with advertisements of kids in kiddie pools and dads stationed at the grill. But if you, like me, live somewhere where there’s still snow on the ground? That imaginary BBQ in the back yard can feel pretty far off. The good news is, there’s more than one way to enjoy your outdoor spaces. Especially if you live somewhere with short summers and a looooong off season, hybrid indoor-outdoor spaces like sunrooms might be a better option than a conventional deck or patio.
Many indoor/outdoor spaces fall under the blanket category of “sunrooms,” which you might call something different depending on your region (“Florida room” here in Michigan, for example). That said, most so-called sunrooms are three-season rooms; typically an exterior addition that’s uninsulated and isn’t hooked up to your home’s heating or cooling. They’re a lovely place to sit in spring, summer, and fall, but usually stay closed off during the winter months. They’re a little too chilly to be in in cold weather, and can seep cold air into your home. That said, most three-season rooms have quality windows – double paned to keep out the worst of the heat and cold, and either accordion-folding or otherwise removable so you can have the space open to the air outside when the weather is pleasant. The more and bigger the windows, the more “outdoors” a three-season room will feel.
Don’t like the idea of having a room you can’t use in the winter? Four-season rooms are an answer to many of the shortcomings of a three-season room. But they come with an associated cost: four season rooms are a full extension. That means insulated walls and windows and linking the room to your home’s HVAC system; a project with a much higher final price tag. That said, it’s also the one you’ll ultimately get the most enjoyment out of. Big, well-insulated windows (up to and including full floor-to-ceiling glass walls) let you enjoy your view no matter what the weather and won’t leech heat or cold from the rest of your house. As with three-season rooms, you can open up or remove the windows when the weather is nice, and enjoy the space on really hot or really cold days by closing up and turning on your climate control.
Good Old Fashioned Conservatory
“Conservatory” is an old fashioned word; it might might make you think of a certain murder mystery board game. But while the term has gone out of vogue, the actual rooms are coming back in a big way. So what, exactly, is a conservatory? It’s a sunroom with glass walls and a glass ceiling. Originally used as a combination greenhouse and sitting room, conservatories are great for catching and making the most of sunlight (including excellent passive heating) and bringing a little live greenery indoors. Even if you don’t aim for a different climate inside than out (either drier or more humid, usually per the preference of the kind of plants you’re growing), the glass-and-metal structures that make up a conservatory are incredibly trendy right now and can add a beautiful industrial touch to your home.
Enclosed porches are probably the most common type of hybrid indoor/outdoor spaces. If you already have a covered porch, it’s also the easiest upgrade on this list. Covered porches typically only have an awning. Enclosing means adding screens, window panes, or both all the way around the porch. Covered porches are usually pretty low-tech, but they’re a classic for a reason. Screened windows (or even roll-out screens) keep out insects on humid summer nights while promoting airflow. That means you can enjoy a gentle breeze in the shade… where mosquitoes can’t get you. Want to go a little higher tech? Consider replacing a standard overhead light with a ceiling fan to help keep you extra cool on a hot day.
Cooking outside used to just mean a nice built-in grill and maybe a sink. But outdoor kitchens have evolved as they’ve grown in popularity, and have become incredibly high tech. I’m talking a full suite of appliances (refrigerators, ice makers, kegerators, and so on) to complement built in grills, lighting, ceiling fans, fireplaces, brick pizza ovens, and even built-in TVs and sound systems. The one thing outdoor kitchens don’t have is walls. Usually supported on columns, outdoor kitchens are more closely related to covered patios than true sunrooms. They don’t provide much in the way of heating, cooling, or protection from insects or the elements. That said, an awning and a ceiling fan and/or fireplace can keep you comfortable even when the weather isn’t perfect. If you want to show off your cooking skills outside, this is really the way to do it.
Connected Indoor/Outdoor Kitchen And Patio
The next natural step in the evolution of outdoor kitchens is actually one of the top trends for 2019 (and beyond): indoor/outdoor kitchens that use the removable and accordion-style window walls used in sunrooms to connect indoor kitchens with outdoor dining areas. Now I’ll admit, while I love the look of these and think they’re a genius use of high-tech architecture, it might not be a great option if you live in somewhere with short, wet, buggy summers; it’s a look much more suited to a dry southwestern climate. That said, if you love throwing big parties and feeding a crowd during the summer? Connecting your kitchen to your outdoor space isn’t a bad idea – whether you remove a whole wall to allow guests to wander freely, or a single window that lets you pass and serve food from the kitchen directly to your guests outside.
If you’ve ever felt discouraged from pursuing a big outdoor project just because you live somewhere with a short warm season, take heart. While a traditional deck or patio might not get as much use as you’d like, a sunroom or other hybrid indoor/outdoor space can help you enjoy the great outdoors…even when the weather isn’t great, let alone enjoyable.