Sunrooms add value to any property. They provide property owners with utility and enjoyment, usually at a lower cost than a fully-integrated room. A sunroom provides an enclosable, transitional space. It offers better shelter and climate control than an open-air space like a patio, but doesn’t necessarily require the full-scale integration of power, plumbing, ventilation and insulation that a traditional room does. This makes them cheaper to build. As the name suggests, a sunroom typically has abundant windows and usually faces south, west or east in order to benefit from the daytime motion of the sun.
The most primitive sunroom consists of a narrow enclosed space, typically situated on an existing wooden deck or a concrete foundation like a porch. The sunroom’s frame will consist of plastic or aluminum, and its windows will feature either glass or transparent plastic. If you already have an available foundation or deck and plan to do the construction yourself, you can buy the necessary materials for $500 to several thousand dollars, depending on the dimensions of the room. Laying a foundation or building a deck typically costs in the low thousands of dollars. You must also obtain all necessary building permits from your municipal or county government, typically at a cost of several hundred to a few thousand dollars. With these core costs you can plausibly expect to spend between $2,000 and $10,000 for a small and simple sunroom.
Unless you are a contractor yourself, or plan to build a very primitive sunroom, you should hire contractors to build it for you. General contractors typically charge by the square foot or by the entire project, while specialized contractors such as electricians often charge by the hour. The size of your sunroom plays the major role in determining labor costs, and the structural sophistication of your sunroom plays the other big role. For instance, the addition of utilities such as electrical outlets and HVAC registers will cost thousands of dollars in specialized labor, in addition to the costs of the materials themselves. Typically, you can expect to spend thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in labor costs, and labor constitutes the main cost of building a sunroom. Be wary of cutting corners or accepting the lowest bids, and do your due diligence in inspecting a prospective contractor’s prior work and client satisfaction. Always secure written contracts before proceeding with any work.
Wood or steel frames offer stronger and more aesthetically appealing alternatives to plastic or aluminum, and add more value to your home. They also cost more, potentially a lot more if you want to use expensive woods like red cedar. Amenities like carpeting or tile floors can add hundreds or thousands of dollars to your total bill. If you want a year-round sunroom, you will have to pay thousands on insulation and ventilation. The most elite sunrooms actually are full traditional rooms, differing only in their luxurious walls and ceilings of glass. You can realistically expect to spend anywhere between $5,000 and $80,000 to build most sunrooms, including core and labor costs. Approximately $20,000 is a good estimate for a solid project of modest proportions and upscale quality.
Because sunroom costs vary so dramatically, you have to determine in advance how much you can and should spend. The cheapest sunrooms can provide comfort and enjoyment, but they won’t add much value to a home and may even look tacky to some buyers. The most expensive sunrooms can grow into budget-busters whose value you might never recoup in a future sale, especially if the rest of the house is modest or run-down, or if you live in a neighborhood with low property values. Speak to your real estate agent if you have one, or hire a consultant to advise you. Generally, strive to build a sunroom that reflects the per-room value of the rest of your house. You can save a great deal of money, while maximizing the sunroom’s resale value, by planning a narrower room that hugs the main structure of the house without extending more than six or eight feet away from it, and then using higher-quality materials to construct this smaller space.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.