June 26, 2017

Is your conservatory working for you?

The conservatories of the 1980s and ‘90s promised a lot but didn’t quite deliver. If you have one attached to your house, it could be transformed into a valuable asset that works for the way you live now.


Traditionally, a conservatory is a glazed room to be used as a greenhouse or sunroom. The 19th century was the golden age of conservatory building in England, and beautiful examples include the Temperate House at Kew Royal Botanical Gardens and the Palm House in Belfast Botanic Garden.


In contrast, the conservatories that popped up in their thousands in the 1980s and ‘90s were often added onto houses to provide an additional room rather than a space for growing plants. They were quick to put up and homeowners filled them with cane furniture and hoped that, because they were double glazed, their conservatories would be used all year round. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case.


Conservatories tend to overheat in the summer whilst being too cold in the winter – putting in heating costs a fortune and opening them up means that heat from the house will quickly be lost. All that glass allows light to flood in, which sounds great but is impossible if you want to watch television – and who wants to wear sunglasses indoors? Companies selling bespoke conservatory blinds made a fortune from the trend as people tried to deal with the glare, incurring extra expense and finding that the blinds gathered dust and soon looked tatty.


The problem with most conservatories installed during this era is that they were intended to be garden rooms but people wanted them to be habitable rooms. Many of the older examples are constructed from solid blockwork and have no thermal insulation qualities in the walls or the floor. And many structures have suffered from leaky polycarbonate roofs.


The way we live has changed and what is desirable now is a connection between the house and its outside space. The typical 20th-century conservatory has double doors giving access to the garden, but a glazed wall that can totally open up provides a wonderful transitional space that works for our often unpredictable climate.


So what is the solution to an outdated conservatory? A quick fix is to put a solid roof on an existing structure, but this won’t resolve all the issues. The combination of inspirational design and technological advances means there are so many more exciting possibilities. The existing construction could be upgraded or replaced, resulting in a sunroom that blends solid and glazed elements with high insulation and controlled solar gain which can provide better levels of thermal comfort.


The existing uPVC framing structure could be removed and a pitched roof added – either a mono or a dual pitch. Or you could put in a solid wall to replace a glazed wall, so that you can have a television and add electrical sockets and lighting – all of which are difficult to incorporate into a conservatory with a glazed roof and walls. If you’re starting from the base you won’t necessarily need to redo the foundations, although they will have to be checked for stability. This is the time to consider whether the space is large enough; you might be able to connect more rooms by replacing the conservatory with a larger extension.


Create Chartered Architects have undertaken many renovation projects and have not only transformed homes but added value too. Mon Desir is a good example of a contemporary extension which enhances and complements the existing property, a 1950s bungalow. An old PVC conservatory which was bolted onto the back of the house was removed and in its place a modern, part-glazed, vaulted dining room added and the space opened up to provide an open-plan kitchen/diner and sitting area with access onto the terrace.


Another proposal shows the existing conservatory replaced with a vaulted pitched roof complete with rooflights, creating a lovely kitchen/diner with glazed gable.


Next-level possibilities include opening up entire corners, vaulted ceilings, even a mezzanine. Glazing technology has come a long way in recent years – you can have solar-control or self-cleaning glass – and you can incorporate electric roof lights with rain sensors.


Ricky Mahy, Director, at Create, says,

‘Updating or replacing your conservatory could transform your home, add value and realise the space that you – or the previous owners who installed it – were probably hoping to get in the first place.’

So if you want to bring your conservatory into the 21st century, get in touch with Create Chartered Architects to request a free consultation.