Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products
Volume 44, Issue 5 June 2005
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Builders and Dealers See an Increase
In Demand for Sunrooms
by Megan Headley
photos by Dawn Campbell
Dawn Campbell, a graphic artist for SHELTER magazine, recently told her coworkers about the newest addition to her home: a three-season sunroom. Although she has been regularly sharing details of her new home since her big move, she had a feeling that this planned addition would pique the interest of her coworkers and the magazine’s readers as well.
Opting for an addition that offers more advantages than a screened-in porch, but without the expense or fully-enclosed feeling of a glass sunroom, Campbell settled on a three-season room with Eze-Breeze vinyl windows from PGT Industries of Venice, Fla.
However, what Campbell discovered is that it’s not the frames of these windows that are vinyl—it’s the lites.
After 25 years of manufacturing this unusual sunroom option, both the manufacturer and PGT’s window dealers know their answers to product questions. However, with consumers’ interest in sunrooms growing, getting the word out about product options and getting more jobs done may be the next big task.
According to Ron Wunderlich, a contractor and owner and operator of All Decks & Carpentry Inc. based in Ruther Glen, Va., the demand for sunrooms is rising.
Wunderlich builds porches, decks, gazebos and other outdoor structures, but says that, lately, sunrooms have made up most of his business.
“Sunrooms are coming—that’s all people have been asking for this year,” said Wunderlich.
Wayne Brechtel, of PG Awning in Annapolis, Md., agrees that sunrooms are in high demand right now.
Although his business sells retractable awnings and all-season sunrooms as well as three-season rooms like PGT’s NatureScape, Brechtel says he began the Sunrooms Plus branch of his business to reflect consumers’ change in demand.
“Our phone rings more from the sunrooms,” said Brechtel.
Brechtel believes that a couple of factors are influencing this increase in demand. Greater focus at home shows, as well as in magazines, has led consumers to become more aware of what a sunroom can offer them. In addition, Brechtel says that more companies are getting into sunroom construction; builders who started out constructing decks, or installing windows and siding, are branching out now.
Phil Shiflet of Deckcrafters Inc., a PGT dealer in Fredericksburg, Va., has also seen interest growing in the Eze-Breeze products. “We’ve been using a ton of the Eze-Breeze panels,” Shiflet said.
Shiflet noted that a good economy has led homeowners to make more purchases for the home, particularly at a time when home sales are strong and the popularity of home improvement is growing.
He added, “People like to feel like they’re outside, without the mosquitoes or elements, the wind, the rain and the heat.”
According to Wunderlich, that’s the biggest benefit that sunrooms offer homeowners: they provide “the best of both worlds.” Three-season rooms, like the ones created by PGT’s Eze-Breeze panels, allow homeowners to enjoy a largely clear view of the outdoors through all but the coldest or hottest days of the year, while protecting them from wind, weather and insects.
After she made the decision to add a sunroom, Campbell’s next step was to explore her options. She looked first at prefabricated sunrooms, but felt that the ones she saw had a “plastic” look to them that she said resembled a trailer more than an addition.
Moreover, Campbell found that in many instances the prefabricated rooms were more expensive than the price estimated for the construction of a custom-made enclosure. With that in mind, her final decision was to create a deck that was enclosed on three sides by glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Although she already had a deck outside her kitchen, the existing structure wasn’t suitable for enclosure. She hired All Decks to start her sunroom from the ground up.
The company had plenty of suggestions for how to make a sunroom suitable for her needs.
Wunderlich, who had constructed a multitude of similar structures, made the suggestion that Campbell install the vinyl Eze-Breeze windows.
Wunderlich said that he often recommends these windows to homeowners.
“These windows are innovative,” he said. However, he added, “I know she was very skeptical about it.”
The reason that Campbell was so skeptical was because the glazing in the windows is actually made of 10-mil vinyl. The durable material offers a memory of its shape—if accidentally distorted, the vinyl glazing will return to its original shape within minutes.
Brechtel said that the material can be pushed in approximately four or five inches and still return to its original shape.
Brechtel compared the texture of the material to a boat’s roll-down screen. Searching for her own comparison, Campbell said the product, which she examined in another home where it had recently been installed, reminded her in a way of the plastic wrap used to cover food. Being able to see the unusual product for herself installed in someone else’s home became a selling point for her.
Shiflet agreed that reading the brochures or visiting the company website isn’t enough for homeowners to understand what makes the vinyl glazing different from a traditional glass or screen room.
“You have to feel them to really understand,” Shiflet said. “A picture really doesn’t do them justice.”
Another reason Wunderlich says he recommends these windows is their durability. It’s a feature that Wunderlich said he was able to see firsthand. One day while driving on the highway behind a company truck carrying the windows, he saw the truck’s back door open. Nine of the Eze-Breeze panels tumbled out. He watched as the panels rolled from the highway down the side of a hill. After rescuing the panels, he said the only damage he noticed was several scratches to the frames.
In addition to durability, Brechtel added that because the windows are vinyl, rather than glass, they are not as cold to the touch as regular windows. In addition, these particular windows offer 75 percent open space for more ventilation and a more open view than a glass-enclosed room.
As far as installation, Wunderlich said the one-day process was relatively easy. The only real consideration he said that he kept in mind for the windows’ installation as he completed the structure of the sunroom was that the windows’ frames could not have a width of more than 5 feet.
“[The width] affects the integrity of the window,” said Wunderlich.
When it came time to install the windows, Wunderlich had to keep in mind that the aluminum windows would react to the pressure-treated lumber that made up the sunroom’s frame. To prevent future corrosion, he ran a piece of weatherstripping on the interior of each window, creating a buffer between the windows’ metal frames and the copper in the treated wood.
Getting the Word Out
Brechtel says that there is only one goal behind the sunrooms that he offers. “Our goal is to get the homeowner outside.”
To further that goal, and get the word out about his windows, Brechtel attends a number of trade shows.
“With these particular panels, the best way to get the word out is a home show or event,” said Brechtel.
His business has gotten a great deal of attention that way, particularly from people with existing porches who notice the difference between the benefits of the screened room and the vinyl-enclosed room.
For his sales, Shiflet said that he depends primarily on word of mouth. “We don’t do a lot of the trade shows,” he said. “We try to stay more on the custom side, so we don’t do mass advertising.”
Since his business offers both completed, manufactured sunrooms and the products for creating custom rooms, offering a little of everything seems to be the reason customers keep talking about his business.
The Outdoor Room
Campbell’s 13-by-19-foot sunroom features PGT’s sliding panels around three walls.
To match her home’s roofline, a row of stationary PGT windows were installed below a high gable. Heavy-duty aluminum frames hold the vinyl glazing in place. Although the company offers an option of bronze or gray tints to reduce solar glare, Campbell opted for the clear windows.
With her new room completed, Campbell has been making plans for how she will be spending more time in the semi-outdoor space. She said that she and her husband have planned on moving their ping pong table to the sunroom. Maybe it won’t make much difference if a few stray plastic ping pong balls hit the new windows, but if paddles start flying, Campbell will likely be glad that she opted for something other than traditional glass windows.
Megan Headley is an assistant editor for SHELTER magazine.
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