Home Improvement

Open ‘Er Up! (Converting A Sunroom Into A Veranda)

Sherry and I were excited when we first laid eyes on our house’s sunroom. We were actually grateful for the barely budge-able glass sliders and the damp carpet because the sellers positioned this house as a real fixer upper, and we knew the raw state of this room was one of the things that put it within our price range.

When it came to brainstorming what we thought we could do with it, I had deja vu for our first sunroom, which we made over with some floor & ceiling paint, sheer curtains and some cozy furniture. My mind used that to fill in the blanks as to what this new sunroom could become.

And although so far we’ve only so far removed the carpet and plopped some furniture down randomly, I could already feel us heading in that direction…

But Sherry had a different vision. She honed in on a key difference between those two sunrooms: this one was surrounded by a deck on all sides. And those broken doors – in particular the two sets on the long wall that we literally couldn’t slide at all – were a barrier to us enjoying this outdoor space to its fullest.

So she wanted to take ‘em off. Leaving something “open and glorious” (to borrow her words) – like a covered porch complete with an outdoor rug, vaulted ceiling, and a tiled floor. Something decidedly less like a big fishbowl tacked on to the back of our house.

I was nervous and unconvinced (like I am before most big undertakings). What about in the winter? The drafty glass doesn’t keep it warm enough for winter use anyways, Sherry reminded me. What about bugs? We used to leave the sliders wide open in our last sunroom with the fan running and no bugs wanted anything to do with us thanks to the moving air. But, um, is this sort of covered porch a thing people do?

Then Sherry showed me this image.

Sure, we don’t have a fireplace (although maybe we could add one someday…) but that picture had me sold. Heck, it even got me excited. We’ve used this deck more than any other outdoor space we’ve ever had, mostly because Clara enjoys playing with her baby pool and water table out there. And I realized this change would only make that time better. We could still retreat to the shade of the sunroom and the breeze of its fan, but we wouldn’t feel so closed off from the outside.

But enough talking. Let’s get down to business. Taking the sliding screen and glass doors off was a cinch. The glass door was heavier so it took a bit more oomph, but I just lifted them both slightly and tilted them off their track.

Honestly, the toughest part was carrying the glass out of the way. We piled them up beside our garage (Habitat for Humanity is coming to pick them up next week since the slides are the only broken parts, so the doors and screens themselves are in great shape to be donated).

Next I had to remove the frame pieces that kept the glass doors on either side from moving. This involved some unscrewing, a bit of prying and even some light hammer taps, but it all came up pretty easily overall.

With the inner frame gone, the two stationary panes on either side came out just like the sliding door in the middle. A little lift and tilt, and out they came. Although from years of not having budged, they took lots of oomph.

Removing all of the doors (12 glass doors and 4 screens) probably took me about two hours (excluding photo taking time). And as each one came out, I was able to see Sherry’s “open and glorious” vision become opener and gloriouser (?). Part of me wanted to stop and just kick back with a tall glass of sweet tea for the rest of the day.

But demo was not done. Each doorway still had the metal frame around it that was a bit of an eyesore (and the bottom piece was a major tripping hazard). So after removing a few dozen screws and prying a bunch of metal free from caulk with several tugs and twists, the frames came out.

This process took me about two more hours. I admittedly wasn’t really doing it the “proper” way – which would’ve been to remove all of the wood trim around the doors in the sunroom and (theoretically) slide the frames right out with ease. But some of the frames were so warped that I wasn’t sure they’d easily slide out even if I spent hours ripping off all the trim first. So I just kind of manhandled my way through it while keeping the trim in place. There was some twisted metal to show for it, but it did the trick. And since we couldn’t donate those frames since they were the broken parts of the doors anyway, it all worked out.

There’s still a long way to go (more on that in a second) but we’re both CRAZY excited about the change. I wish I could convey how liberating it is to walk freely between these two spaces now, no longer having to wrestle a stuck door to do so. I feel like we’ve reclaimed a whole portion of our deck that we previously didn’t touch because of the wall of immobile glass.

We joked that we should start calling it the “veranda” to mark its evolution from the typical sunroom that we’re used to. And perhaps that fancier term will lend a sense of polish that the space will lack during this in-between phase. We just have to remember to say veranda, and not verdana (which is a typeface, not a covered porch).

So it looks like this’ll be our first big makeover here at the new house (aside from laying all of that hardwood flooring upstairs before moving in). As usual, we’re planning to tackle it in nice bite-sized steps – and hopefully we can knock a lot of it out before the temperature drops too much. Here’s the tentative plan:

Oh, and one last minor thing that we took care of right away was to swap out all of the outlets for covered outdoor outlets. Don’t want rain shorting out any electrical stuff in there! Thankfully the walls aren’t drywall (they’re all wood painted with exterior paint) since we believe this room was once a covered porch before someone made it a sunroom – so when we add that casing to the door openings and caulk everything, the room will be all sealed up and weather resistant again.

Psst – Cassie over at Hi Sugarplum played 20 questions with Sherry, so you can read all about her weirdest quirks, her current cell phone ringtone, and her favorite Halloween candy.

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How To Stain And Seal A Deck

You know that part in a movie where the dorky girl rips off her glasses and throws on some makeup and suddenly she’s a bombshell? Well, our deck has already tossed its spectacles aside (i.e. we stripped off the old finish) and now it’s time for some lipstick (i.e. stain). We’re not exactly aiming for bombshell status here, but we’d settle for – I dunno – sexy librarian? I think I’m getting lost in my own analogy.

The gist is that with our deck boards cleaned, we could finally apply a new protective finish. After some discussion, we decided to use a semi-transparent stain. Both of us prefer that look over something completely solid, but we didn’t want to go as light as the toner that we used on our last deck since we thought a deeper brown tone would look nice with this brick facade. We also wanted to loosely match the previous deck finish since we didn’t strip areas that were in decent shape, like the smaller vertical rails or the lattice around the outside. And we decided to stick with Olympic Maximum Stain + Sealant because we’d had a good experience with it on our last deck (we chose it for that project last year after many folks recommended it to us). Plus, they had a color called “Russet” that looked to be a pretty spot-on match to our existing color (we brought home their color booklet and held it up against the deck railing to pick the best match).

Here are the supplies we gathered for the task:

  1. Olympic Maximum Semi-Transparent Stain – we ended up needing 4 gallons for our behemoth 676 square foot deck, totaling $148
  2. Bucket – to pour stain into for easy roller dipping
  3. Paper Towels – since stain be messy, y’all
  4. Gloves & Mask – since stain be messy and stinky
  5. Wide Brush – for back-brushing (more on that later) and to get smaller areas like railings
  6. High-Nap Roller on A Pole – we chose a 3/4″ nap

The bucket is also useful when your job takes more than one gallon because you can help eliminate color inconsistencies. Just like with paint, combining all of your tinted materials at the start of a job means you won’t be surprised by a noticeable color change if one gallon is a slightly different hue than the one before it. We mixed two gallons at first and then added each subsequent gallon as our bucket level got low. I half expected Augustus Gloop to surface for air when I stirred it, but no such luck.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous about having trusted the stain swatch to match the old finish. We could’ve gotten a small test pot of stain to be sure before going all in on multiple gallons but Sherry was feeling confident. But we did decide to start in a low-risk area – the railing hidden on the far side of sunroom – just to be sure. Once again the lady-wife wowed me with her luck, and it matched the un-stripped-already-mocha railings perfectly. We stripped the top and the wider railing slats, so those have been re-stained in this shot, but the skinny ones are the old color. Can’t even tell the difference, huh?

Here’s another railing that we tackled next – and this time I remembered to take a before picture of it. I had attempted to strip this railing but it didn’t come off as well as I had hoped. But the coat of stain did a great job of covering up my spotting strip-job. Once it fully dried (it’s still wet here) it had absorbed and looked even better. Almost like new.

Since we had started our little test-run on the railings, we decided to go ahead and finish those first. It also made sense because we could work while standing on the deck, rather than having to wait for it to dry. It was tedious work, but with both of us plugging away at it (Clara was with my parents) we knocked all of the railings  – both the outside, inside, and tops – in about two hours.

We would’ve kept going but (1) it was 10am and Sherry had to put up the morning post and (2) the sun was starting to creep over the trees. This is another product they advise against using in direct sunlight because it dries too fast and can create visible lines where a freshly stained area meets an already-started-to-dry area. Since the sun was only going to get more direct for the next few hours, we knew moving on to the floorboards would have to wait. But at least the railings were starting to look sexier. Let’s just say she’s almost all that at this point.

Around 4:30 the sun dropped down enough on the other side of the house that the light had finally crept off the deck floor. Clara was back home and napping, so we had anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to tackle as much as we could as a two-person team before she woke up and threatened to slip and slide through our work zone. Because we were working fast we didn’t pick up the camera much, but the basic process involved me dipping my roller and liberally applying stain to a small area. I didn’t want to go too big at any time because we’d need to be able to reach any wet stain for the next step…

…which was back-brushing. If you remember from our last staining job, going back over the wet areas with a brush helps to even out any puddles (which could cause darker stain spots) and also works the stain into the wood better. Since we were working with older more weathered wood it was also an important step to make sure we got coverage in any small cracks. Plus, the roller didn’t do a good job of getting those between-the-board creases, so Sherry did each of those by hand along with back-brushing the top of each board that I rolled.

With over 650 square feet of deck to do, it was not a fast job. We got almost halfway done before Clara woke up and, rather than leave the deck half stained (and risk a big overlap line wherever we had left off) I continued on my own until the rest of the deck was done. Which conveniently was also about when it was too dark to see what I was doing anymore (so it was about a four hour job with two people for the majority of the time and me flying solo in the end). Here’s a full side-by-side of our process, which really shows how much better it looks. I’d say we achieved sexy librarian.

When we brought our furniture back out we were happy to see that the table could be placed right on the spot where the patched boards meet the old ones, so it’s not noticeable at all. The only problem? It’s looking like a larger deck calls for some more furniture.

A few planters from Target along with a clearanced umbrella from Home Depot are making it feel a little less sparse in the meantime…

… but we think some craigslist and end-of-season sale-hunting is in our future. Especially since the entire other end of the deck is completely bare.

But that, my friends, is a mission for another day. For now we’re just happy to be done spraying, scrubbing, rinsing, rolling, and brushing this baby, which leaves us more time for playing, relaxing and eating on it instead. And I gotta say, as good as painting the walls of a room can feel, refreshing a 676 square foot deck feels even better. Especially when this used to be the view:

You should see us out there wolf whistling at it.

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