Conservatories – Letting the Sun In


Although conservatories are currently popular design features, housing anything from kitchens to reading rooms: they were originally designed and constructed by Dutch farmers over 300 years ago to house plants. The farmers wanted to devise a method which would accommodate and protect their prized plants during the formidable European winters. The conservatory was the basis for the modern day greenhouse and served the farmers extremely well.

For many years the conservatory remained a functional and practical attachment. Later conservatories could be spotted all over Europe and North America as fashionable appendages to stylish homes. Today the conservatory’s original purpose has given way to being used as an indoor/outdoor space. The successful conservatory is one which is created and designed to bring out the best elements of the home and the outdoors.

Build a conservatory!

Conservatories are stunning additions to any home, but they do take a fair amount of planning and decision making. One of the most important decisions is the design of the conservatory itself. There are several points to consider when making design decisions; the most important is that the conservatory must compliment your main building. Victorian style conservatories added on to über modern houses can look garish rather than stylish and visa versa. Many conservatory companies offer a range of styles from Victorian to Georgian and Lean-to but it is better not to get bogged down with styles. It is advisable that you decide, with the help of a designer, on the rooms’ purpose, position and size before you select a style. Your conservatory must work effortlessly with your home rather than overshadow it. Once you have chosen a conservatory company, you will need to work closely with them to ensure that your conservatory will be a unique and fluid extension of your home.

Planning Permission

In the UK you don’t usually require planning permission as most properties have a permitted development right to extend, though the size of this varies according to where you live. If you have already added on to your home, you may have used up some, or all, of your development right, in which case you may need planning permission for your conservatory. It is vital that you check with your local authority when considering any building at all, as each authority has different rules. It is always better to be safe than sorry when to comes to planning permission.


In the northern hemisphere, south facing conservatories get the most year round sun. In summer, they can get extremely hot so you’ll need to make sure you opt for opening windows and roof vents, which will give you excellent ventilation. Another two options are getting tinted (anti-sun) glass and/or air-conditioning. East facing conservatories get wonderful early morning sun which making them ideal settings for breakfast rooms. Easterly winds can be quite nippy so you may have to heat an east facing conservatory. West facing conservatories receive good sunlight on summer afternoons and evenings. Plants which thrive on indirect sunlight will love this location. A west facing conservatory is an amazing place to spend relaxing evenings, as they are pleasantly warm. North facing conservatories are without direct sunlight during the cold winter months and will need good heating and insulation to make up for this. In the summer these conservatories are warm and bright but they do not get direct sunlight.

The Main Structural Materials

The three main types of materials utilised in conservatory construction are PVC-U, Aluminium and Timber. PVC-U is available in many colours and is an extremely low maintenance material. This material is generally the most affordable option and works well with internal as well as external sealed glass units. Aluminium is another great low-maintenance option. It is lauded for its strength and slim sections which permit larger glazed areas. The most traditional material is timber which is a good insulator, but will need to be maintained. When making glazing decisions there are two main options, Polycarbonate and Glass. The former is a lightweight material which provides good insulation and is cheaper than glass but not as transparent or sound resistant. Glass is the preferred option as it is strong and transparent. There are several types of glass to choose from. Double glazed units will improve insulation but combining them with Low-E products and argon filling can improve this still further. Solar control products (tints or coatings) are most effective at controlling heat from the sun, internal heating and condensation. Another growing favourite amongst those who go for glass is the revolutionary self-cleaning glass which is making the lives of conservatory owners that much easier. This glass uses natural light and rainwater to keep glass cleaner and clearer and doesn’t require any daredevil stunts with a ladder and soapy water to keep your glass ceiling transparent and looking great.

There are a host of other decisions you will have to make about your conservatory including: ventilation, heating and décor but the initial decisions discussed here will prove invaluable to anyone thinking about building a conservatory.

A conservatory is a wonderful and aesthetically enhancing extension to any home providing that you take care when planning. There is nothing nicer than soaking up warm rays of sunshine in the total comfort of an indoor setting with stunning outdoor views.

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