Conservatories: Your Best Options

With conservatories acting as everything from a second living room to an extended garden space, there are many elements to consider in the planning of this popular extension choice.

Conventionally, conservatories acted as an extra room attached to the house as a dedicated area to grow plants. Today in Britain, however, the distinction between conservatory, garden room, orangery and sunroom has become muddled.

If you’re considering adding this popular extension choice to your home, the first step is to decide what you’re looking for in a conservatory: list the ways in which you intend to use your conservatory, as this will affect the final design, construction, layout, proportions, and décor.  

PLANTS OR PEOPLE

An important, if not obvious question––who is your extension for? If it’s a space for socialising, or gardening, or both, this will hugely impact which conservatory you choose. ‘It is quite the dilemma; actually’, says Anne Swithinbank, celebrated member of the Gardeners’ Question Time team and author of The Conservatory Gardener, ‘You really do need to work out, in advance, if your conservatory is a way of extending your living space, or extending your garden. Are the people to slot around the plants, or the plants to slot around the people?’

Building a conservatory will inevitably take up garden space, but should aim to create a seamless link between indoors and out. Brendan Day, Head of Design at Apropos, stresses that ‘a conservatory could meet your planting needs just as well, if not better, than your garden space.’

SOUTH SIDE

Despite being the most obvious choice for year-round sun, south-facing conservatories will get very hot in the mid-day sun, and the sun’s rays can become magnified and burn through glass. The air will also become dry and hot, creating an environment that no person (or plant) will enjoy. If you do choose south facing, it’s worth investing in quality blinds and appropriate ventilation. Plaster ceilings underneath glass are also a good choice to make a conservatory habitatable. 

A north-facing conservatory can create a more breathable atmosphere and more comfortable social space, but can become cold in the winter. Again, the position of your conservatory depends on the intended usage.

PLANNING PERMISSION

In the majority of cases, planning permission isn’t required: but there are exceptions. If your conservatory is planned to cover more than half the area of the land around your house, or the conservatory is higher than the highest part of your property’s roof, if you’re including verandas, raised platforms or balconies, you may need planning permission.

Visit the planning portal, planningportal.gov.uk, for full list of conditions or check with your local authority. Many specialist conservatory designers and manufacturers will also deal with planning permissions, so you don’t have to.

MATERIAL WORLD

The cost of your conservatory depends on what type you choose, and the pre-existing style of your house. PVC is the cheapest option, and hardwood is the most expensive. Aluminum is long lasting, as well as being strong and durable.

Glass is an important consideration: despite bringing in sunlight, it also draws in too much heat in the summer and not enough in the winter. Alternatively, you can now buy glass planes filled with the dense but invisible gas Argon, making it harder for warm or cold air to pass through. However, glass is not the only option for the roof; solar controlled glass, polycarbonate and rain sensors can all be added in if you’re willing to invest. The overall cost of your conservatory depends on the materials you use, as Paul Scholfield of Apropos explains, ‘Aluminum buildings cost from £13,000 up to £25,000, but add at least that much to the property’s overall value.’

MATCH UP

Conservatories often have a bad reputation of being an eyesore to a property. A successful conservatory will match the house it’s attached to, in design and style. For example, PVC would not compliment a period property. For a seamless result, aim to emulate the style of the house with the same look of the conservatory. It’s also worth noting that the conservatory doesn’t necessarily need to be attached to the back of the house; it can be wrapped around the property in an “L” shape.

Lisa Rawley, who works with garden-room firm Alitex, says, ‘in one sense, a conservatory is just part of your house. In another, though, it’s not simply another room, it’s a completely different environment.’ 

SEE ALSO: Update your Bathroom

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