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Sunroom Ideas on a Budget: See How We Did It

So you need some sunroom ideas on a budget, eh? We did too! We built our sunroom on a budget of $15,000 all-in: here’s how we did it.

sunroom photo

When we moved into our home, it felt huge. And to us, it was! Compared to our 777 square-foot apartment, our new house was a mini mansion—clocking in at almost 1,300 square feet! We could do big-house things now, like shop at Costco and store toilet paper for months (a little-known feature that would save our behinds come 2020).

But as our circle of friends increased in our new town, and family and friends came for weekend visits, we realized our 150-square foot living-room-slash-dining-room was a bit petite. By no means was it unlivable (and believe you me, we made it work for years!), but a little more elbow room would’ve been…nice.

When my in-laws came for a long weekend, my father-in-law (who is always looking for his next house project, bless his heart) had an idea. Why don’t we add a small sunroom to the back of the house? Nothing fancy, just a little extra room. Besides, there was already a cement slab in place for the patio. We could just build right on top of that.

Before picture of house—it’s cute, right?! The table and grill are resting on the cement slab.

My husband and his dad sketched the sunroom design on the back of a napkin. With this addition came the promise of a cozy sunroom filled with natural light that would add almost 300 square feet to our house’s footprint, and would easily become the biggest room in the house.

Sunroom Ideas on a Budget

After some brief back-and-forth, we decided to go for it. Here’s how we did it.

1. We Set Our Sunroom Budget

If you Google “how much does a sunroom cost,” you’ll be greeted with a very unhelpful snippet that states a sunroom “costs somewhere between $8,000 and $80,000”—minor detail, that extra zero. Plus, if you’ve been an eavesdropper in any conversation about home renovations, you know these types of projects tend to eat money like a 16-year-old boy eats pizza. There’s just no end to their appetites.

So at one end of the spectrum is an $8,000 sunroom: which equates to a bare-bones version of a screened-in porch, and on the $80,000 end of the spectrum would be the gabled, rock-fireplace modern sunrooms I’d been frantically pinning on Pinterest.

Once my expectations were set accordingly for our sunroom, we approached the financial question from a slightly different angle: how much could we afford to spend? We didn’t want to go into any debt to pay for this non-essential project. For us, our traditional sunroom budget was $12,000-$15,000 all-in (including furniture, throw pillows, area rugs, etc.—the works!). Framing it this way got us playing offense instead of defense on this project from the get-go.

It was pretty easy to find this number because of You Need a Budget (or YNAB for short). We had been using this budgeting app to manage our day-to-day finances, and it’s also one of the reasons we were able to entertain the idea in the first place. We had developed a habit of leaving wiggle room between what came in and what went out: enough to build up a nice cash cushion for something like a sunroom addition. Seriously. If you don’t have a budget yet, it’s well worth your time—because projects like this can happen with a lot less stress and angst than they would otherwise.

2. We Made a List of Projected Costs

I set up a separate budget in YNAB called the “Sunroom Bludget” (nope, not a typo…I’m just weird), and funded it with an initial cash injection of $10,000. We made a list of everything that would require dollars related to the project.

We then took the $10,000 and split it out into the categories that would need the money first. The project started in September and our goal was to have the whole thing enclosed before the bitter winds of a Midwest winter hit: so that meant all the materials for the walls and doors were needed right away, along with permits.

Here’s how that $10,000 was split out among the categories when we started in September:

Our sunroom budget set up in YNAB with the first $10,000 allocated.

You can see how much money we earmarked for each category in the “budgeted column,” the actual September spending in “activity” column, and how much money was remaining in the right column. This budget was by no means set in stone, but it forced some easy decisions right away.

Those cool glass accordion doors that slide? Not a chance. They cost $10,000 and would eat ⅔ of the budget, even if they were gorgeous in every way. The more expensive gray floor instead of the brown floor? Yes—the budget helped with that too! I knew we could afford the gray (which was slightly more expensive, thanks, interior design trends), because we were spending less on the heater.

3. We Got to Work

When I say “we” I should definitely clarify at this point that my husband Brian was really the biceps and brains behind this whole operation. Call me the CFO/master chef and I will wear those hats proudly, but it was really Brian who was the project manager, operations lead, builder, organizer, and grunt man for the whole thing. But I write stuff, so here I am, telling the tale.

He pulled permits, the city sent letters to neighbors (our neighbors rock, BTW), bags of cement were bought and returned (heaviest returns ever). He organized a work weekend with friends that was like a straight up Amish barn-raising: only with fewer beards and more beer.

The friends & family work crew, with Mr. Hunkypants there in the middle

A brief aside: we have a group of 4-5 families that all of us sort of “help” each other in this way: the group of guys sort of “trade” work on each other’s houses over the last few years: a weekend here and there and they’ve done everyone’s houses (except for Josh! Josh! Why don’t you just ask them to help! They will, they owe you one!). They’ve done everything from kitchen remodels, painting, deck building, and for us: the sunroom.

4. We Kept Working

The walls went up quickly and then came the much slower, longer work: a few hours after work, long Saturdays blipping in and out of Menards, weekends with our dads who came to help out (thanks family!).

We hired help for the tricky things: garage door installers, an electrician, the heater guys. For the rest, we put on our work clothes.

5. We Updated the Sunroom Budget

They say the last 10% takes the longest, and we’ll add a tally for that argument.

The sunroom budget changed and flexed accordingly as the months went on: we added a $570 rebate from Menards (Brian timed the giant materials purchase to one of Menards’ 11% rebate deals for the win!). We bought a couch online and then promptly returned it because it just wasn’t comfortable. We allocated some extra dollars for a new couch from Costco that was love at first sit (and still is). My dreams of a charming little wooden stove turned into “should we get a gas stove?” and then turned to “let’s just get a gas heater” (and prices accordingly went from $1,000 to $5,000 to $200).

We added another $5,000 to the budget once we had a few more months of income into our accounts and distributed the dollars accordingly: heat that was now an essential. More paint, more materials, flooring.

You can see the spending was by far the highest in the initial push of the project, with additional costs trickling in for the next nine months.

YNAB reports
The outflow of cash required for our sunroom, shown in YNAB’s reports.

6. We Finished It!

The finished sunroom!

After buckets of sweat, buckets of money, and buckets of decisions were made, the sunroom was finally finished.

It was indeed filled with light: two glass garage doors make up the side that opens up to the backyard, and they get opened frequently in the summer months. Each side wall has a set of sliding doors.

The walls and ceiling are tongue-and-groove boards painted (and repainted…and repainted) in polar bear white. We used vinyl plank flooring that can withstand the harsh winter temps and sweltering summer temperatures with ease.

It was set up to be a three-season room, but a wall-mounted heater allows it to be comfortable in all but the coldest weeks of the year (and you better believe we use it unless it’s hovering in the single digits!).

Two glass garage doors lift up from the back to make it an open-air covered room.

Links to Doors and Flooring

The sunroom cost $14,165 (furniture and all!). We finished it over the course of nine months (but it was usable after about four, and use it we did!).

screenshot from YNAB

Most of the cost came from materials, while the garage doors and furniture rounded out the top three expenditures.

The sunroom budget visualized in YNAB

You can see a more complete breakdown of our sunroom on a budget of $15,000.

money snapshot 2020

It’s been two years since we finished it. Since then we’ve hosted countless dinners, hangouts, and even a wedding right here on these vinyl-plank floors. I have a rolling standing desk out there, and our dog sits on her bed and stares at squirrels all day (and did we mention we added a dog door? Sanity saving in itself right there). It might just be the best money we’ve spent in a long while. It’s given us an al fresco place to dine and hang—and who knew this design would be so Covid-approved?

If you’re embarking on a building or renovation project, I hope this can be a frame of reference and inspiration for you as you start your project. I totally realize everyone is at a different point in their financial situation, and not everyone has friends and family available and willing to put in some hours with you. You’ll have your own things that come in handy: and part of the fun is taking your strengths and playing to them.

But there is one thing I hope you don’t overlook: and it’s one that everyone has within their grasp. It’s the power of a little sweat and a humble little budget to get you in a financial place to take the dreams you have in your head and make them a physical reality…and hopefully one where you can enjoy the view.

Now that you have sunroom ideas on a budget, you just need the budget! Start your own with the award-winning YNAB software. You get 34 days free, no credit card required!
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Sunroom Ideas on a Budget: See How We Did It