You’ve undoubtedly seen sunrooms on TV, in home magazines and on the Web. The rooms are featured as attractive add-ons to your house that let you feel like you’re bringing nature into the privacy of your home—a cozy tête-à-tête on a luxurious sofa or an elegant dining experience against the backdrop of a lush, green landscape.

We agree that when you have a beautiful view from your backyard, you should take full advantage of it. When adding this type of viewing space to your home, there are three important things to consider:

  • The initial cost per square foot of adding a full-scale sunroom versus building your own smaller, customized room.
  • The ongoing energy costs of traditional heating and cooling methods for the room. How can you keep the costs down?
  • What will the roof look like? Typical roofs for growing plants are neither glass, nor fully insulated ceilings, like regular building construction.

A slight alternative to sunrooms, greenhouses range from small kit structures to spacious ornate models that are the Victorian or Edwardian conservatory incarnate. When you have a green thumb and enjoy extending your growing season well into fall, and before spring’s last frost, greenhouses and sunroom kits of any type can be alluring.

But if you want to grow year-round, the low up-front costs of ready-to-go kits may quickly be outweighed by the cost of wasted energy as you try and heat them in winter. It’s a losing battle because the energy is almost impossible to conserve.

So for indoor gardening enthusiasts who want a nice year-round growroom with a modest budget for initial cost outlay that maximizes space and energy conservation, my wife Madelyn and I have got some ideas.

As energy efficient home builders, Madelyn and I have worked with a variety of greenhouses on various homes over the years. They have ranged from the small-sized kits to the somewhat larger, more custom-looking models.

Our current greenhouse, which is attached to our home, was custom-designed by us without the use of a kit, and combines the sunroom and greenhouse concepts in materials, looks and functionality.

Perhaps solarium is the label that best describes this space. Like many sunrooms, all three non-house sides of our addition are sliding patio doors. In this case, the two side walls are two sets of patio sliders. The longer far wall, opposite the structure of the house, is three sets of sliding patio doors.

Structural posts separating the doors are made of treated lumber that has been seal-coated to protect against corrosion and then wrapped with aluminum or vinyl. This provides a solid structure attached to the house. It is as if it was truly another room—a real indoor space that protects against the elements.

We have found that this level of protection cannot be achieved with the Plexiglas panels and relatively thin metal framing supports that form the walls with kit greenhouses geared towards hobby growers.

As for the rooftop, basic rafters form the roof’s structure, which uses polycarbonate panels installed between rafters to form a greenhouse-style roof. There is also a thermostatically controlled venting roof section at the highest point where the solarium roof meets the structure of the house.

And the floor? No dirt, gravel or even stained concrete here. Polished black marble, anyone? Yes, it’s beautiful, but it is also ideal when it comes to energy conservation. Black marble absorbs the sun’s heat in the winter.

In addition to the black marble, there is radiant floor heating underneath we don’t worry about our green-leafed flock on frigid winter nights. The heat that builds up in our solarium during sunny winter days is then used to help heat the home as a set of French double doors are thrown wide open and fans blow the warmth right inside.

It may be an obvious point, but when building a solarium on your property, make sure it’s on the south side of your house.

Maximum energy conservation equates to a more budget-friendly growroom, regardless of its exact type or style, and for maximum energy efficiency for both growroom and house, this means a southerly orientation to take advantage of passive solar energy. Not to mention all that sun for your plants!

Looking to conserve energy this year? Get down to basics and work with Mother Nature. Don’t work against the elements of energy conservation. Adding a growroom to your home doesn’t have to break the bank.

The DIY version we’ve outlined here requires detailed planning, a good framer, an aluminum wrap siding specialist, and some building know-how. In our case, this DIY version has proven to be more cost-effective and productive than ready-made kits.

Keep this in mind when you’re strategizing cost-effective plans for adding a nice-looking, functional growroom to your residence.