#1. Assuming that the addition complies with zoning
All city, county, commonwealths, township or parish locales have zoning regulations that govern the construction of any new or add on structure on a particular parcel of land. Specifically there are setbacks or boundary distances that must be maintained from the structures on your property to those of your neighbor that may restrict the sunroom dimensions you want to build. Check with your local zoning officials before diving into the process of getting a sunroom built.
#2. Assuming all sunrooms are essentially the same
A sunroom is like a car a house or a boat. There are a wide array of styles and degrees of quality that go into its construction. A sunroom built by one contractor may be built with the cheapest components available to get the job done while another may use only top of the line components. Do your research and ask to see what materials and engineering are being used so you can compare one to the other. Ask to see a job in progress or a completed sunrooms to make sure that the components you are being shown are indeed the ones being used during construction.
#3. Assuming home improvement companies are just as good as a sunroom specialist
If you needed a knee operation would you go to a general practitioner to have it done? Of course not, you would go to the doctor you felt had the most experience and performed these procedures on a regular basis. Constructing quality sunrooms affordably, requires a skill set that only comes with experience and repetition. The sunroom specialist can develop economies of scale thru bulk purchasing and streamlined procedures that will save you money. “Home Improvement” companies that perform a laundry list of services typically will charge a premium for sunroom construction because it is not part of their basic skill set and therefore must charge you more in order to maintain their lofty profit margins. As a result, you get low quality materials, inexperienced installation crews, at an inflated price because if there is one thing they are good at, it’s selling.
#4. Assuming that price reflects quality
Don’t be misled by the estimates you get and make quality assumptions based on price. There will usually be a significant difference between your highest and lowest bids. This is because contractors operate on margins. These margins reflect the amount of overhead a business requires to keep its doors open and the business coming in. The margin needs for a high profile company that does extensive advertising and employs a large office staff may be much more than that of a smaller outfit. As a result you will see prices that reflect this difference. Instead, look for value. Is the price being quoted reasonable based on what is being offered? If you are getting a high end price, are you getting high end materials and the best installation staff? Is the high price just a consequence of their higher expenses and overhead? On the flip side, if the price seems impossibly low find out what is being offered, ask to see a similar job they may have done in the past and ask the contractor how they can do the job for so much less. The answers may surprise you and make your decision an easier one.
#5. Assuming all sunrooms are properly engineered
Beware of words like “custom” or “site built” when meeting with prospective contractors. These words take on a whole different meaning when it comes to sunroom construction. A sunroom requires detailed engineering and can be built in a myriad of ways. Unlike conventional construction, sunrooms are typically framed with aluminum framing members. Every aluminum framing member has a specific thickness, size and alloy that determines the “span“ at which it can be used. Due to the fact there are so many aluminum variables, engineering problems arise from the improper use of a particular framing member. In addition, the load conditions (wind, snow, seismic) further restrict the “spans” of these framing members. For example, a vertical upright that is sufficient for use in a 100mph wind load area is not sufficient for a 140mph wind load yet installers who “custom” or “site” build, use undersized framing members regularly. Sometimes this is due to lack of engineering knowledge and sometimes it is maliciously done to cut costs. Pre-engineered sunrooms remove the “design in your yard” mistakes that are typically made by “site” or “custom builders”. Don’t be fooled by these fancy adjectives as they can be very misleading and result in an unsafe structure.
#6. Failing to get several estimates
It is always advisable to get more than one estimate for your sunroom project. Many customers fall pray to a high pressure salesman whose only goal is close the deal. When you can compare one company fairly with another in an informed way this is typically the best route to go. Beware of high pressure sales tactics or bad mouthing competitors that are designed to get you to forgo other estimates and making a sound decision. Ask to go see some work in progress or something recently completed by the contractor. If they are not willing to do this then the decision is simple.
#7. Failing to get the estimator to give you an estimate on the first visit
Any experienced sunroom company worth their salt will have the ability to give you an estimate on the spot upon reviewing the site and discussing design options with you. However, many unscrupulous companies will play a game and tell you they will get back to you with a price later. Save for an extenuating circumstance, this is purely a stall tactic to get back in front of you after you have gotten your other estimates. They manipulate the timing in order to gain leverage over you. Instead tell them your time is valuable and if they want to be considered for the job they need to play by the same rules as everyone else and provide you with an estimate now.
#8. Failing to see the materials to be used on your job
If you cannot make it to see an actual job, the next best thing is to see the materials up close that will be used on your job. A good sunroom company will have smaller sample versions of their construction components to show you. You wouldn’t buy a car sight unseen nor should you a sunroom.
#9. Not getting a detailed description of work to be done.
Beware of the estimate written on the back of a napkin. If a company cannot give you a written estimate, detailing the project in depth that is acceptable to you they should not be considered for the job. The level of detail in the estimate usually reflects the company itself. Basic estimates like “build 10’ by 10’ sunroom with insulated roof and 1 door” are of no value because it says nothing about how it will be built. Vaguely written estimates give a contractor room to cut corners and cheapen the product. A reputable sunroom company should provide you with an estimate detailing all of the “specifications” or specifics related to your job.
#10. Falling prey to high pressure selling or misinformation
High pressure sales tactics are still being used by many organizations as a way to prevent you from doing your homework. If a company tells you that the price is going up 3k if you don’t sign tonight you should really think twice about whether or not doing business with that company is a good idea. Salesman in the Home Improvement Industry are notorious for tactics that are designed to get your signature now rather than later. That is because the reputable companies that are truly worth your time don’t need to sell like this and they know it. Once they leave your home, these hucksters realize their chances of getting your business are zero. In addition, they don’t want you to be informed by being able to compare and do your homework. As a result, they will misinform you about the competition and even resort to badmouthing. This should throw up an immediate red flag. A reputable company does not need to badmouth the competition or pressure you into making a purchase because the quality of their work should speak for itself.