Having a screened-in porch is great if you live in a year-round temperate climate, but in a place like Philadelphia, where those perfectly mild days are few and far between (it's more of a hot-and-humid or freezing-and-snowing kind of place), there's not much time to enjoy it. So when we bought a house with a decrepit porch already attached, we thought it made more sense to turn it into a fully-enclosed garden room that we could actually enjoy all year—and would add about 300 square feet of living space to the first floor.
Since one side of the room of the room would have windows and the other would have French doors leading out to the backyard, we chose Ply-Gem windows and doors of a similar scale so that everything would feel symmetrical, then added transoms above to let in as much light as possible. They're really well-insulated to keep the room cool in the summer and warm in the winter (and our electric bill in check). They look historically accurate to what would have been there when the house was built in the 1920s, but with all the modern day-necessities.
We'd originally planned to replace the beadboard ceiling, but when we demoed it, we discovered that the beams underneath weren't actually load-bearing, which meant we could actually remove them and open up the ceiling. It makes the room feel so much bigger without adding to the footprint. When the builders were installing the new sheet rock beneath the roof, we had them use spray foam insulation, which is 10 times more efficient than traditional insulation.
We also needed to figure out how to install heating and cooling. Because it's an exterior porch, the HVAC was tricky; the room needed four forced-heat vents, and while it was fairly easy to install two on the brick wall that connects to the main house, it would've cost thousands of dollars to bring the HVAC around to the other side of the space for the remaining two vents. So to make up for the lack of those extra two vents, we added radiant-heat flooring, which keeps the space toasty. (Plus it feels great under your feet!)
The electrical mat for the floor wasn't too expensive—around $1,500—but it has to be installed in a wet bed, and getting a new one poured isn't cheap. But it turned out that the original cement slab under the porch was cracked and not structurally sound, so we were going to have to repour it anyway! To offset that cost, we chose a simple off-the-rack marble tile from Avalon Flooring, but made it look more custom by adding two-inch squares of onyx (which we had cut from larger 12-inch tiles) in between.
All in all, installing the new heated floor probably cost about the same as adding those extra HVAC vents would have been, but it looks so much better—and it's actually more efficient than forced air.
Finally, we had to decide what to do about the original exterior brick wall. I initially wanted to cover everything in stucco, but before making that commitment, we tried just painting the brick in a high-gloss white paint (Alabaster by Sherwin-Williams) and loved the result! It looks great and we saved ourselves about $3,000 that we would have spent on stucco.
Our garden room is now finished just in time for spring entertaining, but we know that even as the weather outside heats up (and eventually cools way, way down), we'll be able to keep using the space!
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