Sunrooms are terrific living spaces that allow lots of light in and can provide beutifull views. But they are not all the same. There are five categories in Florida. These are classified as habitable or non-habitable and conditioned or unconditioned. Habitable means the space is considered "living space" in the home. Conditioned refers as to whether there is air-conditioning. Each type has different building requirements. Category 1 having the least strict and Category 5 the most.
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Sunrooms are defined as:
1. A single story extension on an existing home with glazing (glass) occupying 40% of the combined square footage space of the exterior walls and roof.
2. 65% of the exterior wall space, from the floor to 80" high, is glazing (glass).
So basically, we are talking about rooms with a lot of windows.
Here are the requirements.
Category 1 Sunroom
Roof covering of an outdoor space. This may or may not be enclosed with insect screening and considered non-habitable and unconditioned. The floor must be a minimum 4" above the ground. A simple screen room is a Cat 1 sun room.
Category 2 Sunroom
A roof covering of an outdoor space with walls. The wall openings can be enclosed with plastic windows (also known as acrylic windows). This is considered non-habitable and unconditioned. The floor must be a minimum 4" above the ground. There are commonly called "insulated aluminum enclosures". The acrylic windows are placed within the aluminum enclosures metal supports. Not conventional material like wood or concrete block. The windows are rated for upto 75 mph. They are intended to be removed during high wind events (although most people don't). These are the most economical enclosure. The cost increase to the next category is steep.
Category 3 Sunroom
A roof covering of an outdoor space with walls and windows that meet hurricane requirements. The windows can be non-impact with shutters or just impact. The cost for windows with shutters is about the same as impact windows. There is no reason to go that rout. The room is considered non-habitable and unconditioned. The floor must be the same height as the finished floor in the home (not just 4" above grade like 1 & 2). Any doors or windows in walls shared with new space must remain. A light is needed.
Category 4 Sunroom
A roof covering of an outdoor space with walls and windows that meet hurricane requirements. The space will be heated and cooled separate from the home. We build these enclosures with mini split air-conditioners. The floor height must be equal to the finished floor in the home. This room is considered non-habitable and CONDITIONED. Any doors or windows in walls shared with new space must remain. Electrical upgrade is needed. Wall outlets and a light must be added.
Category 5 Sunroom
A roof covering of an outdoor space with walls and windows that meet hurricane requirements. This enclosure is designed top be opened to the home. Windows and doors are removed. The space is intended to be cooled or heated using the existing home system or a new seperate one. Your home a/c will need to be upgraded or an additional a/c unit will need to be installed in the enclosure. The floor height must be equal to the finished floor in the home. Electrical upgrade is needed. Wall outlets and a light must be added.
What is a Three Season Room?
All five categories are sometimes refereed to as "Season Rooms" in conjunction with the category number. So a three seasons room is a category 3 sunroom.
Sunroom Category Selection
So, why is this important? Sunrooms are expensive. It's important to know the subtle differences so you can get your arms around the costs. On a daily basis I see homeowners that want a sunroom added to their home. That is until I give them an approximate cost. The biggest obsticle I help homeowners grapling over is an impact sunroom vs an acrylic sunroom (know more commonly as an insulated aluminum enclosure). Just about everyone tells me at the start of our conversation, that they want an impacted rated system. And they want the new space to become part of the living space. This is a category 5 addition.
That means it has to have electrical outlets on every wall, a light and air-conditioning. A new electrical circuit for the wall outlets and separate new circuit for the air-conditioning is required. Two additional permits are needed, electrical and mechanical (air-conditioning permit). You need to buy and have a new a/c unit and have it installed. That's expensive and drives up the cost. But an acrylic system doesn't need any of that. Also, acrylic doors and windows are less expensive than impact. So for most people an insulated patio room with acrylic windows is a better choice. Sure, they are only rated up to 75 mph. The windows are supposed to be removed during high wind events. But I don't know anyone that does, and they seam to do just fine. I even have clients install hurricane shutters over them when I leave. I'm not recommending your do this. I'm just saying.
Air-Conditioning a Sunroom
Everybody wants their new enclosure air-conditioned. But technically you can only install one in a category 4 & 5. System. Your are not supposed to install one in an acrylic enclosure. Even if you could, you would need the unit, the electric work and permits. So if your determined to have one anyways, you have two choices.
1. Wait untill we leave and have an unscrupulous contractor install them after the permit is closed. I wont do it, but I'm sure you can find someone who will.
2. This is a better choice. Install an a/c unit that is categorized as an appliance. You don't need a permit f or your microwave or ice machine because they are appliances. A window mount air-conditioner is also and appliance. We affectionately refer to them as "window shakers". You can buy them in Lowe's or Home Depot. You don't need a permit to install one and you get your cold air.
A big misnomer and a question I get a lot is, if the house air-conditioner can handle the new space by leaving the doors open. NO, no that does not work and its a bad idea. Here is why:
1. The air-conditioning system for your home was sized for nominal conditions in its design. The number of openings in the walls, size of the openings, skylights, the amount of insulation in the attic, so on and so forth. There is no way it can keep up with a new addition packed with more windows. It just is not going to work.
2. The building code requirements get stricter every year in Florida. And if you pull a permit for air-conditioning a sunroom, trying to use the old house unit, it will have to be brought up to the newest building code requirements. That means new energy calculations, SEER ratings and (and this is the kicker) the duct system for the entire home. Not only will you be buying a new and bigger air-conditioner, you will also be replacing all of the duct work.
Category 4 & 5 sunrooms are conditioned space. Notice the language as to air-conditioning them. The Florida Building Code commission recognized that Building a sunroom and requiring the homeowner upgrade the entire air-conditioning system, could be excessively costly, so they allow you to just add a new one for new space only.
Selecting the Sunroom Category for the Purposes of the Permiting.
The added expense for air-conditioning and electric can be cost prohibitive in building a new sunroom. It is for most of my customers for sure. So we get plans for them designed as a category 2 or 3 for most installations. Remember, you can cool the new space with an appliance. I think a mini split air-conditioner, plugged in to an existing outlet, may qualify as an appliance. I'm not sure, but it's a thought. Many of my clients find someone else to install air-conditioners when I leave. I am not condoning or suggesting this. I have an air-conditioning contractors license and I won't do it. I'm just saying.