This page was compiled in 2000.

Please bear that in mind when reading - technologies and prices change.

 

The Conservatory Guide

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The independent and impartial guide dedicated to help you choose the right Conservatory at the right price.

 

Scroll down to see Contents - and then continue scrolling (or just "PgDn") to see the rest of the Conservatory Guide, without having to keep going to separate "pages".

 

1. An introduction to this site and its purpose.

2. What type of living space do you want your Conservatory to be?

3. Will your chosen style enhance the look of your home? 

4. How much should you pay for a conservatory?

5. Which company should you choose?

6. How will you pay for your conservatory?

7. What else should you know? (Reference section)

8. When the salesperson calls do you feel in control?  

9. The author's conservatory. Have a critical look!

 

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 1.     An introduction to this site and its purpose.

This guide aims to give no-nonsense, unbiased and independent conservatory advice from the people who really know what it's like living with conservatories: Conservatory customers.

I have compiled ideas, opinions and advice from my own experience and that of other owners. I have also included other useful information following considerable research. Please take time to read through this guide. If you disagree with any of the points raised that's OK, at least it means that you've considered the issues raised, which has to be a good thing.

Why bother going through this guide?

A conservatory is a major home improvement (hopefully) and a major investment. Spending a little time checking out this site will do you no harm and it might raise some issues you hadn't considered. It might help you save some money, but more than anything, I hope it will help you choose and get the conservatory you want and will be happy with for years to come.

 

2.    What type of living space do you want your

                    Conservatory to become?

It is unfortunate, but all too common for people to have a conservatory built without taking enough time to really consider it's function as a part of their home. Sure, they've seen a show-site, got a vague image in their minds of Summer evenings, barbecues, etc....

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So how about these to get you started.

The Garden Room              

Or any number of other titles. This is the image we most have of conservatories, with it's tiled floor, cane furniture and potted palms. You can get a feel for these at any number of show sites.

Dining Room                        

Increasingly popular. The image of eating in airy surroundings are indeed appealing. Try a visit to a local pub to sample this type of installation!

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Living Room                        

Need not be the same inside as the garden room, especially if it is to be used extensively throughout the year. Can be hard to find examples of this underestimated use of the installation.

Study / Studio                      

Wonderful light, sometimes a little too wonderful for a study without plenty of blinds. Care needs to taken to keep it looking good from outside.

Play Room                             

A conservatory is one of the cheapest ways to extend a home as your family grows. It can also have its use changed as your needs change.

Others                                     

I've come across examples of a conservatory being used as a utility room (complete with washing machine), as a place to keep the family pets, as a workshop, as a place to keep bikes (including motor bikes), as a green house, a garden shed (complete with lawnmower). I'm not here to judge these applications, just to list them.

Do have an interior that suits what you want, but do consider the practicalities as well as the glossy sales images. Don't forget to refer to the Reference section (7.) for information about materials, security and temperature control.

 

3.     Does your chosen style enhance the look of

                                 your home? 

This is where some existing conservatory owners might get offended. Rather too many conservatories look like they were bolted on to the back of someone's house. OK. Conservatories usually are bolted on to your house, but they should look as though they were built at the same time as the house and be an integral feature.

It's not the particular style that makes a conservatory look good, it's the way the style of the conservatory reflects and enhances that of the house.

You could design a conservatory which perfectly matches the features of your house. Designing a conservatory like this is not that hard if you are careful. Getting this exact style built may be difficult and/or expensive. Remember that many manufactures sell set designs.

Choosing a conservatory that doesn't exactly match is what most folks do. It is remarkably difficult to judge accurately how such a conservatory style will really look in the "flesh". With the right choice of design, such conservatories can look dramatic and really enhance the look of your home.

Too many get it wrong. A prospective house buyer may not realise why, but will notice whether the conservatory looks right or not.

Unless you have no doubts at all, it is well worth looking at as many conservatories as possible and that means real conservatories attached to real houses. Show site constructions fitted to a piece of wall won't give the full effect.

Here are two examples, both in hardwood. One matches and one doesn't.

 

I'm not labelling these examples as good or bad, just different.

 

4.     How much should you pay?

There is no point trying to list any actual prices because it all depends on your particular installation, but there are roughly four cost bands available (five if you include total self-build).

Budget. Very low cost path to a finished conservatory.Can seem very cheap and amazing value. However you will probably have very little choice of styles and trust me, when compared to a quality conservatory, the difference in profiles structure and fittings is very apparent. Don’t get me wrong, these are in no way a rip-off, but don’t expect something for nothing.

Be sure to allow funds for all the accompanying work which will be needed but not included in the price.

DIY Store own-brand. Low cost and reasonable quality.

These again can be very good value. Big name stores still need to make a profit, and even with their buying power you won't get something for nothing.

To keep manufacturing costs down you may find that the number of styles and sizes are limited. Quality is sometimes quite good given the cost limitations. Again allow plenty more in your budget than the headline prices you'll see.

Mainstream. Reasonable cost and in some cases very good quality.

This includes the bulk of companies, including some of the big names, and is probably the best combination of quality, service and cost for the average buyer.

Never assume that a major company will be any better than a small one – see Watchdog if you need convincing. Cost comparisons must be done carefully to make sure that you compare like with like, matching options, services, etc.

There is tremendous variation within this group and you must do your homework.

Prestige. Usually very good and very, very expensive.

Everything is normally included and the service is usually very good, but you pay dearly  for this. If money is no object go ahead, but the quality will not be three times as good if it costs three times as much! This is the route you take if you want to display the maker's name with pride.

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5.     Which company do you choose?

Always speak to several companies, even if you don’t think it’s necessary. Given the size of your potential investment and the variation in companies you’d be rather short sighted and less able to get the right deal unless you can compare

Is the price right?

    The most important factor for most buyers.

    You must make sure you compare like with like, especially when some prices include "everything" and others are for the basic structure, with everything else being an extra. Don't forget that some companies charge extra for absolutely everything.

    Don’t worry about which style of pricing is best, just add up the totals to get to the same end result and then compare.

    No matter which route you take, even if you go through a buying consortium, still do the comparisons.

Do you like the conservatories they offer?

If you buy from one company because they are a bit cheaper, but don’t like the product quite as much, you are asking for "post construction depression!" If you aren't completely happy with the conservatory don't buy it - even if it is cheap.

See examples built for real customers, not just a Garden Centre show site.

You will then see how the product looks in a real life situation and be able to speak to the owners about the whole experience. This is an essential part of your research.

Wherever you check out a company's work you must be disciplined. Forget the style for a moment and pay attention to the detail. A lot of companies use the same PVCu extrusions, but the skill and care taken by the manufacturers and installation teams can vary considerably. I was horrified at some examples of "good" work I have seen. I am very fussy I'll admit, but as the paying customer I like to get what I'm paying for.

The longer the conservatory has been up the better. Some don’t age too gracefully.

If you have been directed to owners by a conservatory company, be aware that they will probably be offering the owners some commission if you proceed. This should not put you off, but just be aware of this when you are being told how wonderful everything is.

What will the construction experience be like?

Some people have the pleasure of owning a conservatory almost ruined by a bad experience during construction. This is usually avoidable. You need to check with existing customers and make your expectations crystal clear with any of your potential manufacturers

Technospeak.

    With so many companies offering very similar products the sales staff will need to distinguish their product from the rest. Their James Bond case of sections will herald a speech explaining why their construction is stronger, longer lasting and more secure than anybody elses.

    Don't forget to check out the Reference section (7.) for information about materials, security and temperature control.

Personal recommendation.

Can be the real clincher, but don't get carried away. Only proceed if your other criteria are met.

          Will they still be in business next week?

    A big name is no guarantee of corporate health.

    So treat them all as though they will go bust tomorrow and go for an insurance backed guarantee which will look after your investment whatever happens to the company.

          What about service - presales and aftersales?

Phone up the company and ask some questions.

How well (or not) they deal with you here can be a good indication of how well they will deal with you in the future. However, don’t write off small companies if they don’t have hundreds of staff waiting to answer your call. Staff are paid for by customers.

Insurance backed guarantees can be more complex and varied, but can also be a lifesaver if the manufacturer ceases trading - which does happen!

 

6.    How will you pay for it?

Not always as clear cut as it may seem. There are so many variations and deals on offer that you must be very careful that you make fair comparisons. Unfortunately, what does tend to be the case is that if you can't afford it, you can't afford it.

Outright.

Lucky you if you have the funds to do this. This is the way to the best possible price, but only if you push. If the salesperson suggests that a credit price is cheaper, the headline figure may be, but the total after interest paid won't.

Finance.

Do your homework. Compare the costs of different finance providers very carefully.

Check your total monthly payments and the total payable. Some conservatory company finance deals are good, some look good, but aren’t when you do the sums and some are awful! Again, ignore the headline price, look at the total credit price when comparing deals.

Beware, some companies may offer you a big discount if your use a particular finance company. Remember to do your sums as such deals can actually end up costing you more!

Special promotions to recover some of the cost.

A promotion or show site scheme may earn you some useful pocket money. Basically, the commonest schemes involve you helping secure new customers and saving the company some of their marketing budget, part of this saving is passed on to you. No-one loses. Regard this as a bonus rather than as a way to finance your conservatory.

If the money being promised is fantastic, ask yourself where this money would be coming from. Too good to be true? The answer is probably yes.

If you can’t afford a conservatory, watch out.

Don’t enter into any kind of scheme as a way to get a conservatory you couldn’t otherwise afford. The chances are that you will come unstuck big time.

7.    What else should you know? (Reference Section)

In this section we hope to give you information which will help you make decisions about the various options open to you when it comes to security, windows and roofs. Don't be baffled by technospeak!

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Security.

Locking mechanisms:   

Good locks and fasteners are obvious, but don't get carried away. A Fort Knox multi-point tungsten hardened locking system is fine, but remember that conservatory break-ins are often achieved by removing the glass rather than beating the locks.

Internal Glazing:       

The double glazed units are installed from the inside so the glazing retaining beads cannot be reached from outside. However, a blow in the right place can pop the beading inwards, dislodging the window. Probably a little more secure, but not burglar proof, whatever you might be told.

External Glazing:     

The doubled glazed units are installed from the outside. The beading is also on the outside and this has to be removed to remove the glass, which is precisely what burglars do. Probably a little less secure, but fittings are improving all the time and don't rule out a perfectly good conservatory just because of this.

Polycarbonate roofing:   

I get really angry when I'm told that this is stronger than steel. Fine, weight for weight it is. A sheet of steel the same weight would be little thicker than baking foil, so what kind of comparison is that!? Polycarbonate sheets can be easily drilled and cut with standard tools by DIY'ers, builders (and burglars).

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Types of Double Glazed Units

You have the following main options when it comes to thermal performance of double glazed units.     

Standard glass, air filled unit. This is what most double glazed units are like.
Standard glass, Argon filled unit.  Argon, as a Noble gas, has a poorer thermal conductivity than the mixture of gases in air - in other words it's a better insulator.
Low-E glass, air filled unit. Low-E glass is made to reflect a higher proportion of infra-red  radiation. This helps the glass to let less heat in during Summer and keep more heat in during Winter.

To put the above into context, use the following table as a guide. Notice how much more heat all of these let through compared to a normal wall! Dwarf walls are more than just decorative. They offer good insulation, and a place to site electrical sockets and heating.

We will start with a standard insulation filled cavity wall. We will take this to have a heat loss value of 1. The following will show heat loss relative to this. Larger number = More heat loss. (Based on U values) 1
Standard glass + Air filled gap 8.3
Standard glass + Argon filled gap 6.6
Low-E glass + Air filled gap 8.1
Low-E glass + Argon filled gap 6

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Roofing material

Glass Best looking by far. No expansion noise, quiet in rain.  Risky to walk on, expensive, needs strengthened roof.  Shows any and all dirt - needs more regular cleaning!
Polycarbonate

(Twin wall, 3-wall, 4-wall, 5-wall.....)

Light weight needing less roof strength, thicker types can be walked on, triple, quadruple and even more wall versions are good insulators and stronger (but much more expensive!). Noisy expansion and rain impact (less as you increase number of walls). Polycarbonate is less attractive, and has shorter ultimate life of surface film.

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Temperature control

Conservatories are going to be less well insulated than an ordinary room. This is inescapable.This means that apart from tending to get hot in the Summer, they can get quite cold in Winter.

We all know that overheating can sometimes be a problem in Summer. This can vary depending on the aspect of the conservatory and be largely overcome with the  fitment of blinds, ventilation, air conditioning , etc, etc. Ceiling fans can help, but not if hot air can't get out and cool air can't get in. Adequate and secure ventilation is important.

                                

Getting cold in Winter is a conservatory problem that can sometimes be overlooked. Even if a sunny winter's day can be a delight in the conservatory, the evening will get pretty chilly! Don't forget to put in adequate heating. You may be tempted to put in some simple electrical panel heaters, cheap and easy to install but expensive to run.

Without considering these things you may find you have a room that is not really useable throughout the year. The conservatory featured in the picture above (mine) is used comfortably on the coldest of days.

Flashing - a personal view!

The join between the roof of a conservatory and the walls of your house involves a strip of flashing. This is cut into the wall and lapped onto the conservatory roof. The cheapest, quickest and easiest option is to use flashing covered with a thin skin of aluminium. Lead is the traditional material. It is harder to shape and much more expensive and looks it  - and worth every penny!

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Planning permission

Not usually necessary unless your home is already extended or your conservatory will be very large. All this is usually taken care of for you by "mainstream" or "prestige" suppliers. I have done lot's of things to our house and have always been impressed by the friendly and free advice given by the "Building Control" department at our local council offices - I kid you not!

Building Regulations

I would personally like to see conservatories covered by the same rules as a standard extension. Why? Yes, some installations would cost more, but the quality of installation would be more consistent. Remember, costs can be cut in the work you don't see as well as the bits you do. The main area of difference when it comes to regulations are the foundations. For conservatories the rules are less strict. Make a point of asking a prospective supplier what they do about foundations - in terms of structure and insulation. If you are to do the base yourself, don't cut corners, and bear in mind this can make your guarantee more tricky.

8.     What do you do when the salesperson calls?

Some sales staff are a credit to their employers, but you need to be prepared for those who can sometimes be a bit too pushy. Some customers find dealing even with the better sales staff uncomfortable, so remember....

Don't be afraid of the salesman or woman. They are under pressure, not you. Keep on reminding yourself of that fact.

Almost without exception, part or even all of their salary in some cases will be determined by their sales performance. They need to sell to earn, this is why some are so hard to get rid of. They can be so persistent on their first call because they know that if they leave empty handed, statistics suggest that the odds of you subsequently signing are much reduced.

If you want to get the best value you will need to see a number of companies. Try and enjoy it. Take notes. Keep remembering that they are in your home and you are the boss!

Don't sign anything yet.

Make it crystal clear from the start that you will not sign anything under any circumstances on their first visit. You may need to keep reminding them.

Why is this so important?

  • They may say otherwise, but you will not end up missing the special promotion and may even save more. (Doesn't apply if you're bargaining for ex-display stock, etc.)
  • The reason they normally stay too long is that they are trying to persuade you to sign. They know that once they leave, the odds aren’t in their favour.
  • You need time to reflect on the information gathered.

You choose the conservatory that you want.

Don’t go picking styles, options or anything else unless you really want them.

The salesperson is there to earn from a sale. The more you spend usually means the more they earn from that sale. Be aware of this, because to them a sale is more important than you getting exactly what is right for you. Don't expect them to give impartial advice, but don't be to harsh - they're trying to earn a living!

Technospeak.

With so many companies offering very similar products the sales staff will need to distinguish their product from the rest. Their James Bond case of sections will herald a speech explaining why their product is stronger, longer lasting and more secure than anybody elses. See the reference section (7) for more information.

      9.     The Author's Conservatory.

Here's your chance to cast a critical eye over the author's own conservatory installation.

Look closely at the style, detail, and how well (or not) in your opinion the conservatory "fits in". This style wasn't just picked from a brochure, it was designed to fit in with our home and our particular requirements.

                  

Notice how the windows, walls, brick and the pitch of the roof all reflect the corresponding features of the rest of the house.

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Remember, it's all in the detail, such as the tie rod integrated with the fan. The tie rod was necessary because of the extra weight of the glass roof. You might notice that frilly lights aren't compulsory!

I am often being asked who built our conservatory, because people like what they see and assume that the link to this guide makes the company a worth considering.

Firstly, I must say that yes, we are thrilled with all aspects of our conservatory, but then I must balance this by saying that I do not wish the The Conservatory Guide to specifically promote any manufacturer. This would make a nonsense of the terms "independent" and "impartial" in the description of this guide.

 

Please read this.

This site has been compiled using information submitted by private individuals who have conservatories. Please accept that what you read are the personal opinions of individuals.

Copyright  2000-2007               

 

The design of this site is deliberately simple. Having most of it on one page means that while you read the first section, the rest will be loading below. Going to a new page for each section would simply slow things down, as would lots of bells and whistles.