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An architect for a sunroom?

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Q. I’m buying a sunroom for my breakfast room on the back of my split-level house, about 8 feet off the ground. I’m being told by the contractor that I need an architect and sealed plans. Since it’s basically a kit of parts that will go on my existing deck, why do I need this? It seems like a lot of extra expense the sunroom people didn’t tell me about. If I already have a permit for the deck, it should be allowed, right? I haven’t bought the sunroom yet. I’m just trying to be sure I know the whole story before I do this, probably by spring, when the weather is better for construction. Any advice would be helpful.

A. Do things once, the best way. A deck isn’t habitable, but a sunroom is, and a permit is required. Plans have to show structural support, energy and building code compliance. Rain, moisture and ice are your primary concerns.

You need the whole story without the sales part. Just like any purchase, issues you might not expect are still important, like finding out what kind of oil to add to your snow blower before the engine seizes or that windows without factory tinting can allow ultra-violet sunlight rays to fade your carpet. As an architect for a largely popular sunroom manufacturer in the 1980s and ’90s, I experienced many issues with their construction.

Pre-engineered panel systems are designed by the company, hopefully by engineers, and should come with plans, from the manufacturer, that can be sealed and signed by their in-house engineer. If not, plans may need to be drawn from scratch by an architect or engineer that you hire so those plans can be integrated with your house. Integrated means that the company generally just sells you a product and doesn’t necessarily give any indication of how to support the unit or how to attach the unit system to your house so that it won’t leak or move.

This is the general failing of the system, since, as I experienced with most of the installations, the part I could detail was free of leaking or movement, but the units themselves leaked nearly every time. We could detail how the edges of the unit could be sealed and redundantly weather-stripped and flashed, but the frames around the glass and wall edges would unseal and leak. I even met with the corporate president/owner and identified the specific problems. Promises to correct leak issues were made but not kept, and eventually I gave up.

I looked at a two-year-old system while discussing other work for a home recently. The owner described the back-and-forth misery he and his family were experiencing with their sunroom and the company. Even 25 years after I gave up, the same company is still doing things the same way. You need a detail-oriented architect and installer, even if you think you don’t. The cost of doing things twice is much greater. Good luck.

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.