Old house additions: how to add on a sunroom

Jeffrey Anderson

For an old house enthusiast, character and architectural details are often the most important considerations when choosing a particular home. Whether it's the intricate gingerbread on a Victorian painted lady or the no-nonsense exterior of a Craftsman bungalow, almost every old house style has its own unique look. But those same details that make the home so attractive can also make planning an addition somewhat challenging. The last thing any old house owner wants is an addition that looks out of place from the rest of the structure. Not only can it be an eyesore, but a poorly planned addition could even lower a home's value.

5 tips for adding a sunroom to an old house

Adding on to an old house properly may be challenging, but can almost always be done with good planning and by hiring the right people. One of the easiest home addition projects to consider might be a sunroom. Most sunroom additions are only one story and are attached to the rear or sides of a home where they aren't quite as obvious. However, you still want them to appear as though they are a part of the rest of the home. Here are five tips to help you get started:

  1. Check your plat -- Regardless of your home's age, there may be restrictions in your jurisdiction on how close you can build to your lot lines. When you purchased your home, a plat should have been provided that showed how the house was situated on the lot and what setback and easement restrictions are in existence. If you don't have an official plat, copies are normally available at your local public records office.
  2. Historic designation - If your home, or where it's located, has an official "historic" designation, any addition normally has to be approved by a committee before proceeding. They often want to see the plans for the renovation or addition which should include a list of the interior and exterior finish materials. Their concern is usually the same as yours: that the addition fits in with the rest of the structure and the surrounding area.
  3. Hire an architect - In many parts of the country, the construction drawings required for a building permit for a small addition such as a sunroom can done by a homeowner. Unless you happen to have architectural training, the drawings for your old house addition should be done by a professional architect - preferably someone with older home experience. Every old house style has its own unique details and carrying them over to the new sunroom addition is one of the keys to blending the new with the old. Rooflines, window and door sizes and styles, and all of the exterior finish materials play a big part in making the sunroom look as if it were a part of the original home. It almost always takes an architect to get it right.
  4. Consider salvaged materials - A sunroom is going to have a lot of windows and while you may want the sizes and styles to match those in the existing home, the units themselves should be constructed to meet modern energy efficiency standards. Those with an Energy Star rating should help keep heating and cooling costs for your sunroom under control. However, other materials used during construction can often be obtained from companies that specialize in salvaging old items from homes and buildings being demoed for one reason or another. Interior doors, crown moldings, wainscoting, tin ceilings, and many other products may be available to match the materials used in your Victorian, Craftsman, or Foursquare home.
  5. Hire the right contractor - You can use an architect to draw your plans, consult with the historic committee, and gather up salvaged materials for your sunroom addition, but if it isn't all put together properly, it may still look out of place or even worse, detract from the existing home. For an addition to an old house, it's not only important that a licensed and insured contractor be hired, they should also have experience in working with old structures. While most construction methods have remained the same over the years, it's not all that unusual to tear into an old house wall only to find some surprises. If your home has a historic designation, using a contractor with a background in working on those types of structures can help with approvals as your sunroom addition goes through the inspection processes.

Adding a sunroom to an old house is a project that just about anyone can do, but if you want it to look like part of the existing structure, it's almost always best to get some experts involved.

About the Author

Jeffrey Anderson has a Degree in English from V.M.I., and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. He worked in Residential and Commercial construction management for 25 years before retiring to write full time. He spends his time writing, remodeling his old farmhouse, and in animal rescue.

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