Room to Improve's Dermot Bannon on creating a sun-trap
You don't need an old-fashioned conservatory to make the most of the sunshine in your home
My husband and I built a new home in 1999. Apart from being twice as big as we need, we are happy with it. We are in a small estate where we had to keep the house in accordance with the other homes, hence the large size.
We had a large downstairs bedroom included to meet our needs when we got older, which is now - my husband is 81.
We find our time is being spent more at home and, in winter, we love to spend all our days in the conservatory, which is lovely and bright and sunny. However it lacks the cosy comfort that our living room provides. To address this we are thinking of installing a stove, which I think provides a homely atmosphere too.
Our plan is to knock the dividing walls between the dining area and conservatory. We also plan to replace the window in the conservatory with a floor-to-ceiling window with up-to-date insulation. We would be very grateful if you could give us your valuable advice.
Teresa and Jack , Kilkenny
Dermot replies: The first thing that struck me about your letter is the fact that you built the house twice as big as you needed to fit in with the estate you were living in, and now it is much too big for both of you. It's a big flaw in how we plan our communities, we really need a range of house types and sizes of homes to allow families to move into larger homes and people to downsize into smaller units when they need to, while still staying in the community where they are settled.
It was very wise at the time to use the extra space that you had to create an extra downstairs bedroom for yourselves - if possible, every home should have the provision for a bedroom on the ground floor, it makes a house very flexible.
I am going to assume that it is just the two of you living in the house, and you are retired or not working, as you have said that you spend most of your time in the home. There are a couple of children's chairs around the place in your photos, so I am assuming that you have little ones to visit from time to time. On account of this, I think it is really important that the house really functions for you.
For you the problem is the conservatory: you would like to use it as a proper living space off the kitchen and dining area and to do that you want to make it a lot cosier. Conservatories by their nature never made good living spaces and they are one of my pet hates. They were very fashionable in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s - the must-have accessory for every home at the top of the wish-list, but to my mind in most cases they did more damage to the house than good.
Yes, you may have had more space but they were seasonal; you froze in the winter and baked in the summer on account of the glass roofs, so you could only use them for a couple of months in the spring in the autumn.
Another thing that conservatories did was really affect the light levels in the room you were adding it on to. During the late 1990s, conservatories became sun-rooms - the glass roof was replaced with a proper roof. These were still colder than the rest of the house but with the loss of the glass roof it further darkened the room it was connected to!
This may be a bit of a curveball but do you need the conservatory at all? Would you be better to demolish it completely?
From the plans that you have sent to me, it looks like you have a lounge and a living room directly adjacent to the kitchen and dining area. Do you use them? What will happen to these rooms if you upgrade the sun-room? Will it make these rooms completely redundant?
From what I can gather, the sun in the afternoon shines directly into the sun-room, which is why it is a nice room, but at the same time it blocks the potential afternoon and evening light from getting into the living room.
Your dining table is in the darkest corner of the kitchen with no adjacent view out to the garden - again, the light and view are blocked by the sun-room.
If you could knock a wall to connect your living room to the kitchen and put a large corner window in the living room where the sun-room was, the living room would be a really bright space connected to the kitchen. And, as you said in your letter, it is already cosy.
If you convert the sun-room into a proper living space you may never use the living room again. Another big advantage of taking out the sun-room is that your dining area will now have a view and a connection to the garden instead of over the kitchen cabinets or through the sun-room.
I know that this may not be what you wanted to hear and, yes, putting a stove into the sun-room will make it cosier, but only when it's lit - that means more work for you.
You are essentially trying to create another living space in a house which already has two. However, removing the sun-room will improve the existing living room by allowing more light into it. Breaking through will connect it to the kitchen dining space, meaning that you will use it throughout the day, and getting rid of the sun-room will dramatically improve the dining and kitchen area and give you a larger sun-trap outside in a house that is, as you said, twice as big as you need it to be.
Conservatories and sun-rooms do a house more damage than good. You freeze in the winter, bake in the summer, and they affect the light in the room they're added on to
Dermot's next column will appear on September 26 in our New 16 page Weekend & home section. If you would like him to solve your house problems, email a detailed description to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include photographs of the building.