Looking to add some living space to your home, but reluctant to take on a full renovation? Consider adding a sunroom. Usually constructed onto the side of a house, a sunroom is intended as supplemental living space; it allows you a sheltered place to enjoy the surrounding landscape, happily protected from bugs, rain, wind, and other adverse conditions. It won’t be plumbed, and traditionally it isn’t wired for electricity—although, with digital devices as almost constant companions, most homeowners now insist that any additions to the home have a number of outlets. Even with wiring, a basic sunroom will still have a lower per-foot cost than a regular addition.

Though adding a sunroom isn’t as thorny an undertaking as a major addition or renovation, it’s still a construction project, and great care must be taken. The planning stage of adding a sunroom is the most critical, and many decisions will determine the final success of your addition.

  1. Set a budget. Decide ahead of time how much money you want to commit to the project, and stick to it. Your design options will be guided by the amount you are willing to spend. It may even be wise to consult a realtor or appraiser before you begin planning. Even if you only want to add the sunroom for your own enjoyment, talking to an expert about how it will affect the value of your home can help you decide how much you want to invest in it. While you can’t expect to recoup the entire value of any renovation, knowing the cost-to-value ratio can help you tailor your plans accordingly.

  2. Examine your property. Where the sunroom is placed in relation to the rest of your house is very important. Two things you should keep in mind when planning your sunroom are its impact on the rest of the house as well as how much sun will hit the room—most people try to add a sunroom to the south-facing side of the house to get the greatest amount of sunlight. Also consider the sight lines from the street—be sure that a new structure in the area you have chosen won’t compromise your home’s curb appeal.

  3. Check the zoning and permits. Contrary to popular belief, even a sunroom addition has to have permits pulled. Your local zoning board will be able to issue the correct permits and can help you understand the building codes that must be followed. These codes will also be important guides to help you decide the features and appearance of your sunroom.

  4. Plan for construction. There are two types of sunroom additions: prefabricated and site built. A prefabricated sunroom is assembled at the manufacturing plant, then broken down and shipped to your house, where it will be reassembled by the installer. This option may limit your design possibilities, but it can also save on time and costs. With a site-built sunroom, you can opt for just about any combination of flooring, windows, and roof style that you can dream up. Of course, that level of customization means you will pay more, and it’s easy to allow flights of fancy to overtake your set budget. Whether standard or customized, the sunroom must rest on a solid foundation, which should be considered in the building plan.For examples of the most common types and purposes of sunrooms, check out Friday's blog.

    If you are adding a site-built sunroom, it might be wise to have an architect draw up blueprints for your contractor to follow; however, if your budget is more constrained, there are computer-aided design programs that you can use to create plans at a significantly smaller cost.

  5. Get estimates. Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to look for a company that can make your dream a reality. When asking for an estimate, be sure to show the contractor your building plan so that any special features that may affect the overall cost can be accounted for. Also, ask about the time frame the contractor foresees in the completion of the project; a sunroom may be less complicated than a full-room addition, but any type of remodeling work is going to be a disruption. It is better to know up front how long you’ll have to accommodate workers on your property.

Whether you opt for a simple glass enclosure or a dramatic, lavish design, a sunroom can open up space in your home and let in more natural light. With a little bit of forethought, you can plan out a new room that will allow your whole family to enjoy the outdoors without sacrificing a bit of comfort.

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Sources: Better Homes and Gardens; PhillyBurbs.com; Remodeling Magazine; RESNET; San Francisco Chronicle.

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