Conservatories – how to cost, plan and create your dream room

Thinking of adding a conservatory? We answer all your questions to ensure you get the right style to suit your needs

Let there be light. Transform your home with glass, and make space for a living and dining area, a playroom or office, or simply somewhere to enjoy your garden.

There is plethora of wonderful conservatories that will add ‘wow’ factor to your property, and a range of experts who can create them.

If you want more conservatory advice and inspiration, visit our conservatory ideas landing page

Whether your dream is for extra living space, to bring more light into your home or simply to enjoy your garden all year round, a conservatory is a delightful way to achieve it

What are conservatories?

conservatories

Image credit: Colin Poole

Popular amongst the Victorians, conservatories were built to hot house their beloved exotic plants. Traditionally described as separated from the rest of the house by a set of external quality doors, the idea of the classic ‘bolt-on’ conservatory has been changing.

‘Now we are seeing more and more designed as an integral part of the house, used as an addition to the main ground floor living space,’ says David Salisbury, MD of David Salisbury Conservatories.

Available in classic Victorian and Edwardian-inspired, as well as modern designs, conservatories can be made to fit the side or rear of the house. Alternatively being made to wrap around a corner, to make the best use of available space.

Although the names are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between a conservatory, orangery and a garden room.

What are the design differences between conservatories, orangeries and garden rooms?

Conservatories

Image credit: Colin Poole

A conservatory is made largely of glass, including its roof. An orangery has more brickwork and is more of a flat roofed extension with large glass windows and roof light. While a garden room usually has walls, a solid roof and generous windows. These ‘hybrid’ rooms make good use of modern advances in high performance glass, designed to minimise heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer.

One of the key traits that traditionally separates a conservatory-type structure from an extension is the presence of an external-grade locking door, between the addition and the main house. There is also a limit to the permanent services such as water, drainage and heating that can be installed too.

To all intents and purposes, it is a stand alone building attached to the main house. But this has changed in recent years with many conservatory companies creating open extensions in the classic conservatory style which can house a kitchen or a dinning zone that is open to a kitchen in the main house.

Classic designs are most popular with shapes and designs influenced by the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and a conservatory can be designed to fit a range of footprints to the back or side of the house, or can wrap around one corner to make the most of all available space. Construction materials include UPVC for low maintenance affordability, timber for its sustainable qualities and traditional look, and aluminium for its sleek, contemporary design, strength and anti-corrosion properties.

What materials can you use?

conservatories

Image credit: David Giles

PVC is a great choice if you want low maintenance affordability.

Timber has a whole host of sustainable qualities and is generally a lot more environmentally-friendly. Timber can also be painted in many different finishes.

Aluminium is one for the lover of minimalist and sleek style. It is also known for its strength and anti-corrosion properties.

What you need to know about glass extensions?

Conservatories

Image credit: Nick Carter

There’s no denying a contemporary glass structure can make a striking addition to your home. The trend towards simple glass ‘boxes’ with minimal framing is not just about crisp architectural looks. It is a popular option with planning departments. Especially for period properties, as there is no attempt to create a pastiche.

A glass box is upfront about being an addition, with the added bonus of being transparent so the original building can still be viewed beyond.

Greater access to daylight and a better connection to the environment offers the most beneficial living conditions for your health and wellbeing. Therefore, a well-designed glass extension will blur the transition between inside and outside, and allow you to enjoy your garden all year round.

The most important factor when building a glass extension is to assess the performance of the glass and the expertise of the supplier. If you want to avoid the too-hot-in-summer and too-cold-in-winter scenario – we suggest that you invest in high performance glass. Be prepared this may come with a price tag somewhere between £1,800 and £2,000 per sq m.

New technology is being incorporated into glass units all the time, making large expanses of glazing both practical and efficient. Budget in the region of £15,000 upwards for a glass extension project – including architect and structural engineer’s fees as well as the relevant planning processes, materials and labour.

How do you plan the build?

conservatories

Image credit: Matt Spour

While adding a conservatory or single storey extension to your house may be considered to be ‘permitted development’, meaning that you do not need to apply for planning permission, larger structures are likely to require it. An estimated 85 per cent of conservatories need planning permission.

The ‘rule of thumb’ guide here is that permission is required if it extends more than 3 m from the rear wall of the original house if it is an attached property. More than 4m if a detached house, more than single storey or if the property is listed.

How to choose an architect

conservatories

Image credit: Jonathan Gooch

While many conservatory companies often offer a complete turnkey service, from design to obtaining planning permission to build, a more individual glass extension is likely to need an architect.

Consult the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Its UK directory of members allows you to search more than 3,000 UK firms by name, location, area of expertise and services offered. You can ask locally for recommendations, view online portfolios and examples of past projects to see if you like their work.

Want more project planning advice? READ: Loft conversions – how to plan and cost your dream space

What are the building regulations?

conservatories

Image credit: Nick Pope

Building regulations will generally apply if you want to build an extension. If your conservatory is built at ground level; is less than 30 sq m in floor area; has an independent heating system; and is separated from the house by external quality walls, doors or windows – it is normally exempt.

However, even if the conservatory itself is an exempt structure, any new structural opening between the conservatory and existing house will require building regulations approval. Part L is an important, relatively recent update to the regulations, covering all matters thermal.

You may also need to involve your neighbours. The Party Wall Act 1996 provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes relating to party and boundary walls.

What else should you consider?

conservatories

Image credit: Matthew Williams

  • Consider the aspect; a south-facing extension may be too hot and too bright for comfort
  • Reduce glare and control temperature with blinds. Some use coatings to help reflect heat and glare in summer and retain warmth in winter
  • Ventilation is important. Do consider automatic opening roof lights, so that your room never gets too hot, even in the height of summer.
  • One of the most effective methods of heating a glass-walled room is by installing underfloor heating.
  • Rather than masses of downlights, do think about lights at different levels to add interest.  We suggest using some some uplighters by the doors, some table lamps and then some downlights around the perimeter. This will make the room seem larger.
  • When it comes to finishes for furniture and décor – choose fade-resistant materials – such as natural stone and porcelain tiles. Don’t forget to line curtains and blinds.
  • Extraction is essential in an open-plan kitchen and down-draft extraction is an excellent that requires no wall or ceiling fitting. It rises from the work surface when in use and disappears discretely when not.

For more details, consult the UK government’s online planning resource.

Related: Small conservatory ideas – brilliant designs for sunrooms and garden rooms

Whichever structure you choose one thing’s for sure, you won’t regret adding space to your home.

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