How do I choose the right conservatory for my home?

A conservatory will maximise light and provide you with valuable extra space, says Andrea Dean. Here's all you need to know about getting a conservatory installed

How do I choose the right conservatory for my home?

A conservatory is probably the most versatile improvement you can make to your home. The space they create can be used for lounging, dining or studying, or to extend and open up your kitchen.

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Being constructed predominantly of glass, a conservatory will also boost natural light throughout the ground floor and allow you to enjoy views of your garden all year round.  

Do you need planning permission for a conservatory?

In most cases conservatories are unlikely to require planning permission, unless you live in a property that’s listed, in a conservation or other protected area or the proposed size exceeds certain limits.

‘To be exempt from planning permission, a conservatory can’t take up more than half the area around the original house,’  says John Evans, managing director at Stormclad.

‘The maximum height is four metres, but the maximum length depends on the property: four metres for detached houses; three for semi-detached or terraced. Building regulations approval is required if fixed electricity points, a toilet or a sink are installed.’

How much does a conservatory cost?

Although competent DIYers can go down the route of buying a conservatory kit online and assembling it themselves, most homeowners prefer to invest in a bespoke conservatory. Expect to pay approximately £4,000 for a kit and £20,000-plus including installation for a bespoke structure, while modular packages composed of pre-designed panels start at about £10,000.

Find a conservatory company through recommendations, arrange to view similar completed work and ask for at least three quotes detailing everything from preparing the base to finishing touches, such as flooring and lighting. All but the biggest conservatories should be completed in around six weeks and disruption will be kept to a minimum if there’s side access and an outside water tap.

What type of conservatory is best?

The design of your conservatory should be sympathetic to your home’s exterior, so pick one that blends in as much as possible. Although every conservatory is unique, they’re all based on a handful of classic styles that have stood the test of time – these include bay-fronted Victorian glass houses with crested roofs, less-fussy Edwardian models and pared-down, flat-fronted lean-tos.

There’s no rule book when it comes to your preferred style of conservatory – although a specialist installer can advise you on the best choices to match both your property and your needs. Just remember to bear in mind that a minimalist, fully glazed conservatory could be a better bet for a period property, both practically and aesthetically, than trying to match up windows, bricks and rooflines.

What are the different glazing options available for conservatories?

As the main component of a conservatory, glazing has to work extremely hard. It needs to be secure, structurally sound, meet energy-efficiency standards and allow a comfortable temperature to be achieved all year round.

Choices for glazing include low-emissivity glass to minimise heat escape and solar control glass for sites that catch the sunlight for most of the day.

Self-cleaning glass is coated with a material that reacts with rainwater to break down dirt and is most effective on steeply pitched roofs, while noise-control glass is a good idea for homes beneath a busy flight path or close to a railway line. If you’re worried about being ‘on show’ with so much glass, a dwarf wall or an orangery with a semi-solid lantern roof will provide more privacy than full-height glazing.

How you are going to access the conservatory?

Traditionally, a conservatory was tacked on to the back or side of a house and you entered it via the existing external door. But you may prefer to integrate yours fully by removing the dividing wall to create a much wider opening – when extending the kitchen, for example. But before you decide to go ahead with this option, get a structural engineer to assess whether a steel beam is required to provide the support lost by removing the wall.

If you’re intending to use the conservatory as a sunroom or office, retaining or replacing a single or double door will suffice.

Depending on the conservatory’s size, fit one or more sets of French doors leading from the new structure into the garden, or run bi-folds across the full width of the structure to enhance the indoors/outdoors connection.

What’s the best type of frame for a conservatory?

Glazing panels sit snugly inside the conservatory frame, which can be constructed from timber, aluminium or uPVC.

A wooden frame requires the most upkeep and you’ll need to keep on top of any repairs as well as repainting or resealing it every few years. That said, wood has the best eco-credentials, being both sustainable and recyclable.

Aluminium is durable, low-maintenance and incredibly strong, so is capable of supporting large expanses of glass with the slimmest of sightlines.

uPVC, the cheapest of the three materials, doesn’t rot or warp and also benefits from being long-lasting and easy to look after.

But unlike wood or aluminium, both of which can be painted any shade you desire, colour choices are limited with uPVC and critics claim that it lacks elegance.

How do you ensure the conservatory is both warm in winter and cool in summer?

Although installing glass with specific properties will help to control the extremes of temperature, some form of heating is vital or else your conservatory will be far too cold to use in winter.

Fix a radiator on a dwarf or solid wall after checking that your boiler can take the extra load. Alternatively, look into fitting a wood-burning stove or an unobtrusive underfloor heating system.

Adequate ventilation is equally important, so include opening roof vents, which will also help counteract any condensation. Operated manually or electronically, they can incorporate rain sensors so they can close themselves automatically as soon as the first drop is detected.

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As well as being a feature that you can colour and style to your taste, roof and window blinds help to regulate heat loss and reduce glare.