What is a Solarium? What Does it Take to Build One in Toronto & Other Cold Climates?

By Stephen Bristkey
Last updated on August 30, 2023

A solarium is a glass-enclosed home addition that allows you to enjoy the beauty of Canada's great outdoors while being sheltered from the cold, dirt, insects, and harsh weather conditions that come with colder climates like Toronto's, and pretty much everywhere else in Canada.

These spaces are designed for maximum sunlight exposure and give you the best of both worlds – the feeling of being outside while in a comfortable, climate-controlled room – if done correctly. And aside from providing you with extra living space and year-round access to the outdoors, professional solarium installation and solarium kits for DIYers are a relatively simple way to enjoy many other quality-of-life improvements. But before digging deeper into the benefits of a solarium, let's first get on the same page regarding what exactly a solarium is.

Understanding Solariums

Unlike room additions, solariums are essentially glass structures. They come in various shapes, sizes and styles, but each is generally a form of one of the following types:

  • Attached solariums, which are connected to the existing home structure.
  • Integrated solariums that blend seamlessly with the architecture.
  • Freestanding, standalone solariums that work as a separate structure on your property.

The choice of construction materials, especially those used for the glass, framing, and flooring, plays a crucial role in the overall thermal (and therefore energy) performance and the durability of your solarium.

Just as your car is warmed on a below-freezing Toronto day if the sun is out, a solarium works in a similar way. However, there are several factors to consider when it comes to climate control and energy performance, with the main ones covered in the "Designing Your Solarium for Toronto's Climate" below.

The Lifestyle Benefits of Installing a Solarium

By bringing the outdoors indoors, solariums offer several compelling benefits, regardless of where in Canada or the United States you are, giving you a connection to nature regardless of the weather outside.

Exposure to natural sunlight, especially during grey-sky winter months, is well-documented for having positive effects on mental health, mood, sleep, and overall well-being.

Unlike installing a skylight, a well-designed solarium can also become a year-round, much-used space, providing you with a relaxing place to unwind and host guests. That extra square footage of livable, usable space may also help improve your property value (compared to not having one) if/when you sell your home and can make it more attractive to potential buyers, accelerating its sale.  

Challenges of Building Solariums in Cold Climates

Constructing solariums in cold climates comes with unique challenges.

One primary concern is the ability of the structure to withstand heavy snow loads and strong winds commonly experienced in regions like Southern Ontario.

Proper engineering, including foundation design and framing, is essential to ensure a solarium can endure a climate's harsh conditions.

Outside view of a solarium with an open door.

Designing Your Solarium for Ontario's Climate

Designing a solarium that can withstand Canadian winters requires expert advice, and it's recommended that you work with solarium design experts.

Firstly, selecting the right orientation and placement of the solarium is essential to maximize exposure to sunlight and minimize exposure to cold winds. South-facing orientations tend to receive the most sunlight during the day, making them an ideal choice for solariums in cold climates.

Secondly, solariums have the potential to be energy-efficient spaces. Choosing the appropriate glazing is crucial. Low-emissivity (low-E) glass with insulating properties can help retain heat while still allowing sunlight to pass through. The captured solar heat helps maintain a comfortable temperature inside the solarium throughout the day.

However, you must also incorporate thermal mass materials, such as stone or concrete, to store collected heat during the day and slowly dissipate that heat at night when the sun is down to help maintain a relatively stable temperature throughout the day and night inside the solarium.

Finally, your solarium needs the right insulation materials that offer high R-values and effective sealing against air leakage to maintain a comfortable indoor climate and reduce energy consumption.

Homeowners should prioritize sustainable and eco-friendly options wherever possible, considering both the environmental impact and long-term benefits of energy savings they can provide.

Legal and Permit Considerations

Before starting a solarium construction project in Toronto, you must understand and comply with local building codes and regulations.

Building permits are typically required for solarium construction, and these regulations often include specific guidelines related to glazing, insulation, structural integrity, and energy efficiency.

Consulting certified contractors and engineers with experience in solarium construction, like our team at Florian Sunrooms, can ensure compliance with all relevant codes and standards.

Failing to obtain the necessary permits or meet building requirements can result in costly delays and potential fines and legal issues.

Hiring Professionals for Solarium Construction

Building a solarium requires skilled craftsmanship and expertise. Hiring a reputable and experienced contractor is vital to ensure the success of your project. It's essential you research potential contractors thoroughly, checking their credentials, portfolio of past projects, and client references.

Getting multiple quotes from different contractors allows for a better understanding of the overall and itemized cost and scope of the project. While it may be tempting to opt for the lowest bid, quality should not be compromised. A poorly constructed solarium can lead to future problems and increased maintenance costs.

Reputable contractors typically offer warranties on their work and assure homeowners of support in case of any post-construction issues.

Clear communication with whoever you choose is essential when discussing the project's timeline, materials, costs, and any additional customization requirements to create a solarium that perfectly fits your vision.

Maintaining Your Solarium

Regular maintenance is essential to protect the longevity and optimal performance of your solarium.

Keeping the glass clean allows maximum sunlight to enter the space and optimizes your solarium's heating benefits.

Additionally, cleaning and inspecting the insulation, sealing, and ventilation systems help maintain the solarium's energy efficiency and comfort.

Winterizing your solarium involves preparing it for the colder months, which may include adding additional insulation or using thermal curtains to reduce heat loss.

Addressing any repairs or upgrades promptly is also crucial to prevent further damage and ensure that your solarium continues to serve as a pleasant and functional living space.

Get a hassle-free & no obligation consultation today from experts in the industry with over 17 years of experience.
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