By Paul Zec, Founder of Parish Conservatories
The main choices when buying a conservatory for your project are timber, aluminum and UPVC. The following is a breakdown of the available systems.
UPVC: The biggest advantage to this system is price. You cannot get the type of detailing in a PVC system that you can get in a timber or even an aluminum system. Make sure the system is engineered for your location and that you have proper ventilation in the roof and side walls. Some lower end PVC companies sell systems without roof vents which could create too much heat gain in the space. PVC does not need painting so the maintenance should be lower but ask to see some older projects to see how the system has held up over time. The choice of colors is usually limited to white or brown. Larger conservatories often have to be reinforced with steel superstructures which can add to the cost and might detract from the appearance. These systems are in essence made of plastic. Make sure you will be happy with this type of finish on your home.
Aluminum: Aluminum is generally less expensive than wood for conservatory structures. It needs less maintenance but it cannot be detailed to the degree that a wood conservatory can be. It naturally lends itself to more contemporary looking structures but it can be used for traditional buildings as well. It is often the material of choice in locations like New York City because structures on rooftops there are required to be made of non combustible materials. Aluminum can be made in a wide variety of colors and can handle extreme changes in humidity if you are using the room as an orchid house or other type of greenhouse.
Timber: Timber is the most flexible of the materials that conservatories can be made from. They can be very ornate or simple depending on your taste and budget. There are a variety of timbers now being used such as cedar, Douglas-fir, pine, mahoganies and other hardwoods such as oak. Hardwoods are less susceptible to damage than softer woods such as pine and cedar. Pine must also be treated as it will not hold up to weather nearly as well as hardwoods or cedar. I would recommend against using any company that finger joints many elements of the conservatory. This can be a sign of an inferior product. Timber conservatories will need maintenance over time. The roof systems generally take most of the abuse from the weather are these are now generally clad in aluminum but the side walls will need to be repainted or stained along with the rest of the house. The look might be the most beautiful of all because of the detailing available in a timber system and some high quality timber conservatories can be built at or below the cost of aluminum.
The most important advice one can get is to see some projects the company has built and talk to the owners about their experiences with the conservatory company and the product itself.