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July 2, 2014

Does a Sunroom Make Sense in the New England Climate?

pic2In northern states where weather is a big factor in the everyday life, we have seen an important surge in the popularity of solariums in recent decades. Are you considering building one at the moment? Like any addition, sunrooms are a great way to add space to the home, but as the name suggests, these sunrooms allows a lot of sunlight into the room and hence, call for many special considerations. Here are a few answers to questions that you might already be asking yourself as you continue your planning.

Solariums, known more generically as sunrooms, are additions built with glass roofs and walls to let as much natural light inside the home as possible, which can lead to various home functions. These include allowing for more idyllic dining areas, recreation or spa rooms, indoor gardens or nurseries for those with a green thumb, or simply scenic relaxation or meditation spot.

As an added benefit, natural light coming through the sunroom can cut down lighting energy consumption. Another big benefit may also include passive solar gain lowering one’s winter energy bills. Southern site orientation is the best way to take advantage of this “clean,” free solar energy and can supply more than half of some homes’ heating needs, provided a door or other thermal barrier is utilized at night; otherwise heat gain during the day may be lost more quickly.

30708008Since thermal transfer is also a big concern during the other seasonal extreme, energy efficient windows and double-pane, insulated, fixed glass must be used for building a sunroom to protect against summer heat absorption, using low-E coatings to reflect more of the sunlight and keep the rooms from getting excessively hot. Since without AC, this is often not enough, window coverings or thick mesh sunscreens are often recommended to keep the room even more comfortable. Following these guidelines, homeowners will have fewer problems with their heating and cooling arrangements for the solstice seasons.

Although there is a good amount of regional ebb and flow to just how much you may find for dollar-for-dollar return on your investment once you decide to sell your home, one thing is for certain, the sheltered contact with the outdoors that a well-built sunroom provides remains one of the very best ways for you to add more market interest to your home, especially in locations with cooler climates like we have here in New England.

February 7, 2014

Can A Sunroom Actually Help Your Winter Health?

Filed under: Health,Solarium,Sunlight,Sunrooms,Tips — marco @ 11:13 am

 

Beating The Winter Blues

If you are affected by seasonal depression, you’re not alone. Millions of others who live in places with long winter nights are also at a high risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder.  To extrapolate from CNN’s estimate, around 5 percent of the population in the Northeast could be clinically diagnosed with SAD but as much as 20 percent could be affected to at least some lesser degree.

In trying to alleviate the issue, people have tried numerous solutions.  Nutrition-based solutions are among the most common, given that even neurological conditions relate back to diet in some way.  Of course, everyone’s body functions differently so that even the same problem could have a somewhat different cause in different people.  That means that no single treatment, whether natural or man-made, always works for everyone. 

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Many who have tried prescription anti-depressants find they numb the mind to a point where they perceive feeling better. However the risks involved in not being in full control of your mind can greatly outweigh the benefits. The herbal remedy St. John’s Wort has done very well for centuries for thousands of people affected by different forms of depression.

 More recent research turned up a newer remedy: a lesser known amino acid compound naturally synthesized in your body and mine, as it is in most mammals, named S-Adenosyl Methionine or SAM-e.  The concept is that the brain requires SAM-e, along with folic acid (B9), B6, and B12, to synthesize certain neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that are linked to mood, including specifically dopamine and serotonin. Interestingly, mega-doses of folic acid (alone or combined with B6 and B12) have been successfully used to remedy depression as well.

Another popular remedy is a different amino acid called L-Phenylalanine. Basically, Phenylalanine is brought straight to the brain, converted into the amino acid Tyrosine and then directly converted into the neurotransmitter, dopamine. A Tyrosine supplement may be equally effective. Either way, these combat the type of feelings caused by a lack of dopamine which is a very low energy depression, with a complete lack of motivation.  You probably won’t have trouble sleeping, but you will have trouble getting going in the morning.

One easy way to tell whether one or the other of dopamine or serotonin might be your problem is to listen to your cravings.  If you are low serotonin, you would be craving carbs, dairy or even bananas as your shortcut to quick energy.  If you are low dopamine, then you tend to reach for stimulating foods such as coffee or chocolate.

Since the cholesterol in our skin produces vitamin D when one is exposed to enough sunlight, and since there are many fewer hours of sunlight in the wintertime, finding ways to raise your levels of vitamin D have long been indicated as a potential solution for seasonal depression. It is true that brain cells all have vitamin D receptors and there is some evidence that increasing your vitamin D might be another way to stimulate your brain to produce more dopamine.  A related link has been suggested between seasonal depression and the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, especially since D is a fat soluble vitamin.

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Research and our current experience tells us that the best solution in this case is not fish oil but cod liver oil, which is much higher in natural vitamin D, but must be cold processed if you do not want the vitamin D to be deteriorated before you even purchase.  Nevertheless the big advantage of vitamin D is really its boost of protection against winter colds and long term health problems as well as being essential for your body to maintain strong and healthy teeth and bones.

This must have something to do with sunrooms, right?!  Well, it turns out that anywhere above 37 degrees N latitude, the sun’s angle in the sky is too low for at least part of the winter to generate that vitamin D effect in your skin.  This means that, sunroom or not, you will not necessarily be getting enough D in the wintertime. 

latitude-vitaminD
However, where a sunroom CAN help is with seasonal affective disorder is with your brain’s pineal gland.  My what?  The pineal gland actually makes melatonin so that your body can fall asleep, a process controlled by the light-sensitive ganglion cells in your retinas.  This is how light controls your circadian rhythms, and if our daily functioning is not in tune with those rhythms, you are at a much higher risk for seasonal affective disorder.

In other words, if you are affected by SAD, you might have a higher light set point needed to shut down your pineal gland and trigger the “awake state” and your body would stay drowsy when the days are shorter.  This is reasonably enough to irritate and depress anyone.  A sunroom is the best spot in the home to soak in that morning blast of sunlight throughout the year, to switch off your pineal gland and keep your circadian rhythm on track. 

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Whatever your experience, Seasonal Affective Disorder can be a real and recurrent emotional challenge each winter for you or your loved one especially in homes without a sunroom, and with a lack of as much exercise due to the colder weather, until one has discovered which types of foods or nutrients can be used to best address these symptoms.

References:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060501113832.htm 
“Melatonin Improves Mood In Winter Depression.”  May 2, 2006
http://blog.lef.org/2012/01/link-between-vitamin-d-depression.html 
Rodriguez-Paez, Maylin.  “Is There A Link Between Vitamin D And Depression?”  January, 2012.
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/76/5/1151S.full 
Bottiglieri, Teodoro.  “S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAMe): From the Bench To the Bedside—Molecular Basis of a Pleiotrophic Molecule1,2,3.”  2002
http://drwardbond.weebly.com/1/post/2013/05/depression-low-dopamine-not-low-serotonin.html 
Bond, Dr. Ward W.  “Depression: Low Dopamine, Not Serotonin.”  May 4, 2013

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