The Essential Guide To Conservatories

Maryjane E. Cason

When a family has outgrown the house, the addition of a conservatory can be a more cost-effective solution than moving. Furthermore, in the inclement climate of the British Isles, conservatories enable us to make the most of the garden whether it’s raining or not, so it’s easy to understand their popularity.

Nowadays, a growing trend for larger kitchens with a dining table or informal living area has had an impact on the way conservatories and orangeries are linked to the home. If the conservatory is to accommodate a new kitchen or open-plan living area, then access provided by a single door will be inadequate. Opening up the back of the house into the conservatory requires substantial structural alterations, which, although perfectly feasible, will mean planning regulations apply.

Glass technology that was pioneered during the Victorian era continues to develop today; it is now possible to have glass that is self-cleaning, such as Pilkington Active, or one that offers greater thermal insulation, such as low emissivity glass. According to Jeffrey Gold, of Glass Houses, self-cleaning glass is “definitely worth considering as it does not involve much additional cost. We tend to specify it for the roof rather than the elevation walls”.

Before starting your project it is worth considering the styles of conservatory on offer. The most effective are those that are sympathetic to the style or period of your home. You should also define a use for the new room and decide how it will be accessed from the house. Above all, you need to find a designer or contractor you feel comfortable with and set a realistic budget.

Conservatory Styles


Conservatories in Victorian or Edwardian styles, and lean-to versions, remain popular and obviously suit older properties. Variations include structures with either full-height glass walls or dwarf walls with glass. You could also consider an orangery; these were originally developed for the cultivation of orange trees and have solid walls inset with glazed panels or full-length doors and a glazed roof. Jeremy Uglow explains, “An orangery has heavier joinery than the usual conservatory, and a roof lantern surrounded by a plaster ceiling in order to make a more substantial structure.”


Adding a light, modern space to your home is an increasingly popular option. Contemporary conservatories are generally bespoke, so prices tend to range from the mid to top end of the scale, but there is a wide variety of materials and styles available. Alan West at Trombé points out that, as English Heritage frequently use modern conservatories alongside period buildings, it’s fair to say that sympathetically designed structures will work if well planned and executed.

Professional Advice

A conservatory is a major financial investment and the cost will vary depending on the construction materials, whether it is from a standard range or bespoke, and the extent that the building work is managed. Kit or DIY conservatories are initially less expensive but the labour costs of preparing the site and carrying out the installation work should be factored into the equation. Unless you are prepared to oversee the building work, it is sensible to use a specialist conservatory company that will manage all aspects of the project, including dealing with any planning or building regulations. At the top end, companies that offer a bespoke service will design the conservatory to suit individual requirements and oversee the building work through to completion.

Practical Considerations


A conservatory can be heated by water or electrical underfloor heating. Alternatively, the central heating can be extended with radiators fitted against low walls or by ducting the heat through decorative grilles installed around the edge of the floor. It is advisable to operate the conservatory’s heating on a separate circuit and thermostat to the main boiler.


Laying practical, durable floors is advisable; for best results choose ceramic-tile or natural stone flooring.


Use blinds to protect furnishings, help maintain an even temperature throughout the year and provide privacy. There is a wide choice: retractable pleated blinds, fabric roller blinds and Pinoleum blinds, which are made from strips of wood. The blinds need to be made and fitted by an expert to ensure that they are properly supported and it is also advisable to fit an operating system for high windows.


Allow a budget for making-good areas of the garden damaged by building work and plan and install effective garden lighting.

Other Considerations

Glazing and Roofing

Double glazing is advisable, as is low-emissivity glass. This has a metal coating that allows sunlight (short wave radiation) through but reflects heat from radiators (long wave radiation) back into the conservatory. Safety glazing is mandatory for windows and walls within 800 mm of the floor and must comply to BS6206. Roofing can be either glass or polycarbonate, which is a lighter but durable material and may be required in some structures which will not support the weight of glass.

Conservatory Maintenance

The installer should advise you on maintenance; as a guide, wash heavy grime on windows, aluminium and uPVC frames with a solution of soap and water every few months. Solvent-based or abrasive cleaners should not be used and timber surfaces should also be regularly washed down to remove surface pollution.

Environmental Issues

Choosing the right material for the conservatory frame is also important. Traditionally, hardwood, aluminium or uPVC are used. However, Charles Turner of Richmond Oak says, “There is an increase in concern about the building materials used for conservatories. Some councils now insist that only timber conservatories are used on new-build properties.” This relates to the energy used to manufacture the materials, and timber requires substantially less. But the timber must come from a safe, non-endangered source. Consult the Friends of the Earth website,, which classifies timbers so you can make an environmentally friendly choice.

Useful Contacts

The Conservatory Association is a division of the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF), an independent organisation which promotes high standards within the industry. To find a GGF-approved conservatory company visit or call 0870 042 4255. Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF), 0870 042 4255;

Planning Permission and Building Regulations

According to The Conservatory Association, planning permission and building regulations are often confused. “Planning permission is concerned with the visual impact and size of the structure and not the technical integrity.” Building regulations, on the other hand, cover all aspects of building construction and are constantly reviewed – see for further details. It is important to check that your contractor or designer is aware of the new regulations. According to The Conservatory Association, planning permission is not usually required for small domestic conservatories, provided they comply with the building regulations listed below. It is advisable to consult your local planning department as rules may vary.

Instances when planning permission will be required include:

“The house is in a conservation area, national park or designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“The conservatory is not at ground level.

” It is a terraced house.

” The volume of the house will be increased by more than 15 per cent or 70 cubic metres, whichever is the greater.

“The house has already been extended.

The Conservatory Association advises that a conservatory is usually exempt from building regulations provided it is:

” Built on to a domestic dwelling and divided from the rest of the house by a door that complies with the requirements for an exterior door.

” Under 30 m sq in floor area.

” A single storey.

” Built at ground floor level.

” Glazed in compliance with safety glazing requirements of approved Document N of the Building Regulations and BS6262 Part 4 1994.

” Not within 1 m of the boundary.

” Fitted with a roof that is 75 per cent glazed and with walls that are 50 per cent glazed.

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