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By James Dulley, Published August 28 2009

Several good options for screened porches

Dear Jim: We enjoy spending time outdoors on our patio, but the insects are bad. There is a nice breeze out there, and we have to air condition the house less. What are my options for installing a screened patio room? – Chris N.

Dear Chris: Spending more time outdoors is enjoyable, and it may allow you to air condition your home less and save electricity. You should be able to set your air conditioner’s thermostat a few degrees higher because, by spending more time outdoors, your body becomes more accustomed to warmer temperatures.

A concrete or masonry paver patio baking in the summer sun is a heat reservoir with huge thermal mass. This hot mass, which stays warm well into the evening, can make the adjacent rooms in the house warmer. The roof of a patio room will reflect the sun’s direct rays and shade the patio, keeping it – and your house – cooler.

Since you mentioned just a screened patio enclosure, which will accomplish your goals, you might also consider a three-season patio room. It is called a three-season room because, for all but very warm climates, you should be comfortable in it except during the winter. It is not designed to be as energy efficient as a four-season room that will be heated during winter.

Almost all screened or three-season patio rooms can be built using a concrete patio as a base. In many parts of the country, a patio is not built with deep footers. If you plan to attach the patio room to an existing house wall, you must first stabilize the patio.

When I built an attached three-season patio room at my home, I dug six large 3-foot-deep holes around the perimeter of my concrete patio. I drilled holes at an angle into the patio slightly below the ground level. I made L-shaped steel rebar rods and inserted them into the drilled holes. The long end extended down into the large holes that I filled with concrete.

Most three-season patio rooms have one or two sliding glass doors and horizontal slider windows. When all the screened windows and doors are opened, 50 percent of the walls are screened. This should provide plenty open area for adequate cross-ventilation. Installing an opening skylight in the roof can quickly exhaust the warmest air up near the roof.

The roof is made of aluminum- or steel-skin panels. The panels are typically 3 inches thick with lightweight rigid insulating foam between the skins. These do a very good job of blocking the sun’s heat, and they are strong enough to withstand snow loading.

A less expensive option is a truly screened room with a metal tubular frame and tough vinyl skin. These kits can be installed in just a few minutes and are available in sizes up to about 200 square feet.

The following companies offer patio rooms: Artistic Enclosures, (800) 944-8599, www.artisticenclosures.com; Craft-Bilt Manufacturing, (800) 422-8577 www.craftbilt.com; Kay Home Products, (800) 626-5296, www.kayhome

products.com; Patio Enclosures, (800) 480-1966, www.patioenclosuresinc.com; and Thermal Industries, (800) 245-1540, www.thermalindustries.com.

Dear Jim: Now that there is an energy tax credit again, I would like to install a new central air conditioner. The outdoor space is limited, and the outdoor unit I saw was larger than my old one. Why are the new ones bigger?

– Jan F.

Dear Jan: Many newer high-efficiency central air conditioner units are larger than old ones. In order to attain the new super-high efficiencies, the condenser coils are larger in order to provide better heat transfer.

The shapes of manufacturers’ outdoor units do vary, so check on many of them.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.