What Is a Sunroom?

The term sunroom might seem glaringly (see what we did there?) obvious — it's a space specifically designed for the leisurely pleasure of soaking up rays. But, there's more to it than that most basic definition. Officially, sunrooms become defined as such by meeting certain technical specs, and have different classifications based on factors like energy performance. But there's also the fun stuff when it comes to thinking about creating a sunny space whether you're building one yourself or outfitting one you already have.

Sunroom Basics

modern scandinavian sunroom with window bench seating
credit: Arent & Pyke

A sunroom has one or more walls that are either made entirely of glass or covered with large windows. (If you want to get technical, per the National Sunroom Association more than 40 percent of the room's exterior has to be made of transparent materials in order to truly be called a sunroom.) Natural light is the primary design element in a sunroom, with special attention paid to seating (as the room's primary use is for lounging, naturally). This sunroom uses window bench seating to keep floor space clear.

Varieties of Sunroom

open kitchen leading to solarium style sunroom
credit: Sabon Home

There are many varieties of sunroom, and they go by many names: sun parlor, sun porch, solarium, indoor patio, lanai, conservatory, and more. They can be built into a home, or come as structural add-ons in porch, patio, or solarium forms (the picture above features a structure tacked onto an existing home). Different types of sunroom work in different types of spaces. The indoor patio type is likely the best option for an apartment; whereas, homes that have a lot of exterior space to work with can consider solarium or screened porch options (while a home with limited exterior space may be best served by a conservatory).

Heat and Cooling

Some sunrooms are designed with heating and cooling systems — these are known as "thermally isolated." Per the National Sunroom Association: "Category IV sunrooms do contain a heating and/or cooling system, but the existing house doors and windows are left in place, which 'thermally isolates' the sunroom from the home. These 'thermally isolated' sunrooms have special requirements that are listed in the energy code, which are known as the thermally isolated sunroom requirements."

However, if if you do not have a thermally isolated sunroom and live in a climate that gets either very hot or cold, a sunroom can pose challenges during different seasons. As a room made up mostly of windows, you may find the space becomes incredibly hot in the summer and freezing in winter. There are, however, some simple ways to ensure comfort. To cool a sunroom in summer, consider installing blinds or window tinting. In the winter, consider portable heaters and insulation.

Sunroom Decor

Sunroom decor usually utilizes light colors and minimal furnishings to maximize sunlight's reflectivity, making the space feel bright and open. Keep your decor simple and be cognizant of the sun's power! This is not the room in which to display your collection of wax sculptures or hang a brightly-colored tapestry — keeping valuables in sunlight can cause fading and damage. An upside to decorating your sunroom with a color scheme that's on the lighter side is that your textiles won't appear faded from extended sun exposure. (Pro tip: Ditch the TV and keep your sunroom media-free. Mixing sunshine and screens is a recipe for glare and eye strain.)


Karyn Cooper

Karyn Cooper

Karyn is a passionate wordsmith and creative thinker, currently pursuing a career writing and editing in the media and entertainment industry.