Conservatory Structural Components – What to Choose

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. 

An example of an aluminum conservatory

An example of an aluminum conservatory

Keeping a Conservatory Cool with Shades

By Paul Zec, Founder of Parish Conservatories

Many conservatories or sun rooms are sold without roof blinds. Blinds are often sold as an aftermarket product and come in several different styles such as:

  • Pinoleum roman shades
  • Pleated fabric blinds
  • Roller fabric blinds (with or without cassettes) 
  • Roman fabric blinds

Make sure the fabrics you choose will hold up to the amount of sun they will be exposed to.  Years ago pinoleum blinds were put together with cotton fabric which fell apart after a few years in the sun. They are much improved today and can hold up for many years of service.  Pinoleum is normally the most expensive choice.  It generally knocks out about 65% of the light.  This exact percentage changes with the type of pinoleum and the color chosen. 

Fabric blinds can block out anywhere from 65% to 100% of the light. Be aware that if you choose a total blackout fabric that the room will feel much different than it would when the shades are down.  One of the most common and best fabrics to use is called Solar R.  This fabric has two sides: the side that faces up has a silver finish which reflects sun back out and the side that you will see from the inside looks to be one of several neutral colors. 

Blinds can make a huge difference in the comfort level of the room and are available mostly from specialty conservatory or sunroom blind dealers. Many strip mall or home center blind dealers cannot make the complicated shapes that are required by many conservatories.  If a room has relatively simple lines and a straight eave detail then they may be able to help you. 

Blinds can be manual or motorized. Motorization is expensive might add 50% to 100% of the cost of manual blinds.  Some designs such as Orangeries or skylights might require motorized blinds to keep any cords out of the middle of the room. 

Whatever your choice, conservatory blinds can help make your room more comfortable in warmer weather and keep your air conditioning bills down. 

Conservatory Glass – What to Choose

By Paul Zec, Founder of Parish Conservatories

When buying a conservatory there are many choices of glass to use in the structure.  Most companies use tempered over tempered clear as the standard glass in their pricing module for both the side and roof glazing. 

Some areas will require tempered over laminated glass in the roof as well.  This is always true for commercial use, pool covers and some states.  Tempered over laminated means the top piece is tempered but the bottom is simply two pieces of annealed glass laminated together.  The point of laminated glass is to keep broken glass from falling into the room.    There is a new film that is being touted to turn tempered over tempered glass into what building departments will accept as tempered over laminated glass.  The advantage of using a film is that tempered over tempered glass is much stronger than tempered over laminated glass.  Before installing any films check to see if it affects your warranty on the glass. 

Some less expensive conservatories especially pvc manufacturers offer different types of polycarbonate in the roof as an option.  These are sometimes clear and sometimes have a honeycomb shape inside of them.  These companies also sell many conservatories without any type of venting system in the roof.  You may be sorry if this is the way you go because the room will be unbearably hot if it gets a lot of direct sun and shades may cost half as much as the original conservatory and may not be enough if the room is not properly vented.    Many people do not understand what buying a conservatory without roof vents will mean to them until after they are living in the space.

There is no best choice of glass for everyone.  You need to understand the choices you are making prior to ordering your conservatory.