From the Forum – Converting part of a roofdeck into a sunroom/solarium

Photo by PoPville flickr user DC Tropics

Rooftop sunroom?

“We have a townhouse in Logan with an awesome rooftop deck, approximate 15 feet square. Husband just came up with a great idea to look into turning the deck into a sunroom/solarium. The deck is all concrete and very structurally sound – with concrete 4 foot high walls. It was built when the developer flipped the house 15 years ago, and everything was done up to code. We want glass walls (above the existing concrete half-walls) and a glass roof. We would probably only use 2/3 of the deck so we could keep some of the outdoor deck, and have bi-fold doors between the two. We know it will be expensive, but we’d love to add a useful room to our otherwise small condo. Has anyone ever looked into this?”

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11 Comment

  • Aaaand suddenly you’ve got an ugly pop-up on your hands. This is why we can’t have nice things. 😛

  • I’d check to see if you’re in an historic district first. If you are, your plans may run afould of HP laws.

  • Perchance to do you mean 150 square feet? if not, you’re talking about the world’s tiniest solarium!

  • Historic district is a very valid concern and could kill this idea. That said, assuming historic doesn’t rule things out completely, you begin with the zoning game —

    If it is enclosed at all by more than 50% (or some seemingly arbitrary rule) then it becomes “indoor” space according to zoning. Then it becomes a game of what is your house zoned for and what is the permissable floor to area ratio (FAR). That is a big stumbling block for houses that have been maxed out by development.

    If you have FAR to gain then go through the standard permit process and build away. The best way to figure that out – and have it be beyond question by the desk jockeys at zoning – is to have a pre-design review meeting with the zoning administrator. That is where he will look at your plans and make a determination on what is/is not included in the FAR, and if he would allow this.

    How do I know? I did the same type of thing for my project currently under construction. We have an open entryway (gate, 5×5 open space before front door) where we store garbage cans. It is wide open to the elements and street, but since it is enclosed by more than 50% the zoning admin (Matt Legrant) decided it counted as interior space. Then we had to play the FAR calculations game and lose a 5×5 portion of the addition I was planning on building. Stupid but true.

  • I can’t remember the last time I saw a sunroom on top of a building but I’m guessing it would get very hot very quickly unless it has major shading, excellent ventilation, and/or air conditioning. Personally I think you’re better off keeping it as a roof deck. Add some nice furniture and a canopy or some other kind of simple shading, and you’ve got a nice outdoor “room” already (and for a whole lot cheaper too).

    • Put a split-level HVAC unit in the sunroom, that way you can quickly turn just that room cool if it is heated up and you want to use it, without requiring you to cool it all the time. This does require you to mount a compressor somewhere which may be tough in a condo situation.

  • Historic won’t stop you but will limit what you can do. We recently added a third floor in place of a tall attic in the historic district, and we had to angle the ceiling from low in front to high in the back so it can’t be seen from the street, but it’s 12 feet high at the back and great. We used a product called “kal wall” for the ceiling because it lets in diffused light but is insulated, you might want to look into that as an option instead of glass.

  • Awesome idea and good luck. Send us some pix when you design and or build!

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