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Sunrooms: Pre-fab or site-built?

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | May 23, 2014

Adding a sunroom to your home can be a great way to expand living space, enhance the view of the great outdoors, and create a serene addition that is sure to be enjoyed for years to come. For homeowners with an eye toward selling their home, a sunroom could provide a welcome boost to the asking price.

But as with any remodel or addition, much of the decision comes down to money. How much does it cost to add a sunroom? Should you go with a pre-fab sunroom or one that is built on your property from the ground up? Here's what to expect from either option.

When a pre-fab sunroom is your best bet

The cost of a sunroom varies greatly from homeowners to homeowners. Though basic facts like where you live can impact price, so can details like the size of the sunroom you want, whether you want it to be three-season or all-weather, and how many bells and whistles you envision for it (like cathedral ceilings, remote control blinds, etc.). Whether the sunroom is pre-fab or built on-site will also impact the final cost.

Why choose a pre-fab sunroom? The pre-fab version typically takes less time for installation, as it comes either as one solid piece or in large sections that can be put together by a professional contractor. Choosing a pre-fab version also cuts out much of the design and planning phase, so the sunroom is in place faster. It's also lightweight, so it could be installed over an existing porch or deck. All of this means your pre-fab sunroom could very well be less expensive than a site-built one. With that big "pro" in place, you may wonder why anyone chooses to go another route. Well, the biggest downside to pre-fab sunrooms is that they have a limited number of design choices, so if you have a vision for exactly how your sunroom should look and it doesn't match one of the pre-fab options, you'll either need to sacrifice your vision or go custom.

When nothing but site-built will do

According to the Remodeling Magazine Cost vs. Value Report for 2014 the national average cost for a site-built sunroom is $73,546. That includes 200-feet of new living space that can be used during all four seasons, slab foundation, post-and-beam framing, insulation, glass windows and screens, ceiling fans, windows shades, and a tile floor.

Why choose the site-built sunroom? Though the sunroom construction is more expensive and time-consuming than the pre-fab option, the addition could add more to the resale value of the home. It could also be more energy-efficient, with more insulation than the pre-fab sunroom. And it can be configured in any way you please, leaving open the possibilities for other uses -- a dining area, a playroom, even a guest bedroom.

How to decide on the sunroom addition

There is little doubt that a sunroom can add beauty to your home, but how much value can you get out of the addition if you choose to sell your house? The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) estimates that homeowners could make back 70% of their investment upon resale, while the 2014 Cost vs. Value Report found a return on investment of 51.7% on a sunroom addition.

To help decide exactly what kind of sunroom would be best for you, answer the questions below:

  1. What will you use the sunroom for -- personal use or a retreat for the whole family?
  2. Do you want a sunroom that is comfortable year-round, or just during the warmer months?
  3. What materials and designs appeal to you?
  4. Is the layout of your home conducive to a full addition, or would a pre-fab be a better fit?
  5. If you choose a pre-fab model, can it be customized?
  6. How long will construction or installation take?
  7. What can you do to make either option more energy-efficient?

And as you move forward with this exciting addition to your property, be sure to find a professional contractor. Obtain at least three written estimates, and get clear details on what is included in the price -- for instance, does it include the cost of permits, disposal fees, and all clean-up work? Check into the reputation, licensing, and insurance of the chosen contractor before giving the green light to begin.

When that's all done, breathe a sigh of relief. Take your time to furnish the new space, then sit back and enjoy the view!

About the Author

Shannon Lee has been writing professionally for two decades on a wide variety of topics, including medical and health issues, education, home repair and relationships.