It’s that time of year again: when all the big box stores roll out their patio furniture and gardening supplies, and we all start getting 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 (and will be yet for a while), 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.
A lot of indoor/outdoor spaces fall under the blanket category of “sunrooms,” and sunrooms are known by a lot of different names depending on your region (“Florida room” here in Michigan, for example). The most common by far, though, are three-season rooms. Like most “sunrooms,” three-season rooms are an extension added to the outside of your house, but usually uninsulated and not hooked up to your home’s heating or cooling. Ultimately, that means they’re a lovely place to sit in the spring, summer, and fall, but usually stay closed off during the winter months because it’s too cold to be in them comfortably, and they can seep cold into your main home. That said, most three-season rooms are built with really nice 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 do come with an associated cost: four season rooms are a full extension, which 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, but you can still 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 a bit of an old fashioned word, and one that might make you think of a certain murder mystery board game. But while the term has more or less gone out of vogue, the actual rooms are starting to come back in a big way. So what, exactly, is a conservatory? It’s a sunroom made with entirely 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, and if you already have a covered porch, it’s definitely the easiest upgrade on this list. Rather than having a simple awning above your porch, these are surrounded on all sides, either by screens, window panes, both, or special windows that can be changed out so you can use either. 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, so you can enjoy a gentle breeze in the shade… where mosquitoes can’t get you. If 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.
Outdoor kitchens have been on a lot of design must-have lists for years now, and they’ve only gotten more elaborate as they’ve gained in popularity. While the term once meant a nice built-in grill and maybe a sink, these days outdoor kitchens are incredibly high tech, with 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 a few columns, outdoor kitchens are more closely related to covered patios than true sunrooms, and don’t provide much in the way of heating, cooling, or protection from insects or the elements. That said, having an awning and a ceiling fan and/or fireplace can help keep you and your guests comfortable even when the weather isn’t absolutely perfect, so 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: indoor/outdoor kitchens that make creative use of 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 it’s taking out a whole wall to allow people to wander in and out freely, or even just a single window that lets you pass and serve food from the kitchen directly to your guests outside, with no extra trips needed.
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.