Planning Ahead for Heating and Cooling Your Conservatory

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Another homeowner concern that I read on the internet is that of temperature control in the conservatory.

The orchid lover's greenhouse dreamhouse

The Orchid Greenhouse

Comments on Houzz often say “it’s beautiful but you will never afford to keep it warm in the winter” or “you will roast like a bug in an oven in the summer”

Funny thing, I never see that objection about a new Lexus or Mercedes! Couldn’t you say the same about them? Oh, but one thing, you assume the manufacturer has considered climate control in the vehicle, and you will always be comfortable.
I guess the ‘sunroom’ industry has deserved the bad rap it has earned. Too often, a sales guy, eager to close a ‘deal’ will do so with no consideration or discussion about climate.
That is a different company than Conservatory Craftsmen. Ask anyone who has worked with us. The discussions are long and detailed about how the conservatory is going to be used and what are the expectations of the homeowner.

Let’s start with the plants. When building a greenhouse, we assume all owners of a conservatory are going to grow some plants. Some people build the conservatory because they want to grow a serious crop of citrus and vegetables. Others want to enjoy sitting in the starlit evenings with the fragrance of Meyer Lemon filling the air. Either way, I have to make sure the humans and the plants can co-exist. Conservatory Craftsmen has been building conservatories in Minnesota for over 25 years. Does that say anything? We use these rooms 365, and my customers are happy.

A few rules to consider:

  • Jasmine at night in the conservatory

    Jasmine at Night in the Conservatory

    Plants never sleep. Keep a door between the house and the conservatory. In the winter, when it’s below zero, the conservatory should not be kept at 70 degrees while you are in bed sleeping. Plants respire at night, they have no sun so they change their activity from photosynthesis. They don’t want it to be 70 and dark. They grow long and leggy looking for the mythical sunshine that only lasts 8 hours in Minnesota.

  • Thermostat. The temperature of your conservatory should be set 45 to 50 degrees at night.
  • Heat Sinks. One of my customers has several ‘heat sinks’ going in their conservatory. Water columns hold heat and can be fun. Trombe walls and heat sinks all help to hold the day’s free heat into the night. This very customer is also a professor of engineering at the University of Minnesota. He keeps very close track of the energy consumption of the conservatory and tells me he has never spent more than $40 in any month of heating in Minnesota. My heating bill is more than that, but not crazy. We will spend as much as $250 in the winter to heat the entire home, conservatory and our hot water in the worst month of winter (ok, I admit, I have a heater in the garage set at 40 degrees too). That is less than many spend on just their homes.
  • Insulation. I will honestly say, the high-tech insulation and thermal efficiency of our conservatories make them easy to heat in the winter. You should never say ‘it’s too cold to use the conservatory today’.

Cooling, however, requires discussion also. One cannot build a conservatory and expect to cool with air conditioning. That is not a responsible choice.

Here is how we manage summer climate.

automated conservatory blinds and shades

Click for Info on Blinds and Shades

Plant a tree. If you are on the south or west exposure, you need shade. The beauty of a shade tree is that it is a natural, free air conditioner that loses its leaves in the winter and provides plenty of sun and warmth that time of year.

Use efficient glass. There is a battle between plants and humans when it comes to glass. We will have that discussion when planning the room. However, we can achieve great things with the glass we use, so chat with us about high-efficiency glass.

Blinds. We offer blinds for sloped glazing. We have the best products in the world for conservatory roofs. Our blinds can be manually operated or they can be automated to work themselves when it becomes too hot or sunny.

Move air. Commercial greenhouses don’t air condition. They move air and lots of it. Chat with us about air movement and how we can help you design a system to exchange the air in the room all day long. In the winter, capture that air for your house, in the summer; exhaust that air to the outdoors.

So, you naysayers who scribe on the walls of Houzz speak not from the hip, but talk to us and you will enjoy your conservatory, and the weather, any day of the year.

Five Benefits of Growing Your Own Food in the Conservatory

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A cornucopia of organic vegetables and fruits can easily be grown in your conservatory or greenhouse.

Starting Seedlings in Your Conservatory

The price of things seems to be higher these days, particularly at the supermarket, which is at least a weekly journey for most families. But what if I told you that you could skip those checkout lines entirely or at least reduce your bill by growing your own food?

Don’t have the time, the space, or the desire? Take a look at these 5 benefits of growing your own food at home; they may persuade you to reconsider.

1.Save money at the store
Did you know a packet of seeds is less than a dollar? You can also preserve, dry and can some of your summer crop to enjoy the whole year round. Watch as your grocery bill gets lower and lower as you begin to fill your kitchen with fresh produce from your backyard.

2.Improve your health
It’s a pretty well-known fact that eating fruits and vegetables is one of the most important things you and your family can do to stay healthy. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals that cannot only improve your health but can even prevent disease.

3.No more worry about food safety.
Imagine the world where you can trust that your food you are feeding your family is safe and healthy to eat. When you grow your own food, you are in complete control, you don’t have to worry about any recalls, exposure or contamination that could have happened on that tomato’s journey from the farm, to the factory, to the grocery store; to your table… You simply grow it, pick it and enjoy!

The perfect environment in a greenhouse or conservatory easily produces perfect tomatoes.

Perfect Greenhouse Conditions Grow Perfect Tomatoes

4.Reduce your carbon footprint.
Growing a garden is not only good for you; it is also good for the planet.

Think about how many miles your food has come to get from the farm to your kitchen table. By growing at home, you are drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels and the resulting pollution that comes from the journey of fresh produce that could come from across the world by planes and refrigerated trucks.

Backyard gardening helps the planet in many ways. If you choose to grow organically, you will also save the earth of any air and water pollution that comes from pesticides.

5.WOW your taste buds
Nothing tastes better than fresh fruits or vegetables straight off of the plant. Although they will probably not be the perfect shape or the perfect color, get ready for a taste explosion that will have you vowing never to eat those rosy red commercially raised tomatoes from the grocery store again!

Whatever your reason for creating your backyard garden, rest assured that your body, your wallet and the planet will thank you!

Conservatory Building: 5 Decisions to Make Before You Begin

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The materials, the style and many other factors of building a conservatory can help or hurt the environment.

Conservatory Construction Techniques Can Fight Global Climate Change

The natural resources of the world, though abundant, are being threatened by climate change and global warming. As a result, people are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint; how much energy we consume, the environmental factors in which their food is grown, and how to incorporate it all into our everyday life. A conservatory or greenhouse is where lifestyle meets practicality and sustainability.

When planning a home renovation, consider a conservatory or greenhouse. Traditional orangeries that originally functioned only as a place to grow plants and flowers have evolved into truly unique spaces in which to live. Conservatories and greenhouses are as custom as any other room addition; specialty muntins, hand woodworked details and stained glass makes each crystal palace one of a kind. Temperature control features keep the room comfortably tempered, without adding to electricity bills.

Read the guide below for the five decisions to make before you begin building a conservatory, or any home extension:

1. Know your goals.
Before anything else, you need to determine what you’re using the space for. Understand the size your property can accommodate, and how the design will work with the existing structure of the home.

2. Create a plan.
Now that you know what you want and what purpose the addition is for, you need to map out your plan. Communicate openly and regularly with your builder; make sure that all payment installments are in writing, and that expectation is set in terms of time to completion.

3. Set up a budget.
In setting up a budget, make sure it is realistic and within your means. This is a complicated process as the budget can restrict the whole process. Get quotes from several trusted contractors and understand the cost of labor in relation to the cost of materials.

4. Hire the right people.
Ask for as many references and feedback as you can before handing over any deposits. Check for negative feedback and complaints as well as certifications. Your choice will depend on your goals and budget, but there should be a long line of clients willing to offer a recommendation.

5. Prepare for inconveniences.
Because you hired the right people, this step, in theory, should be unnecessary. But the reality is that big projects with many details can run into unforeseen issues. Make sure to set aside a few extra dollars for unexpected problems.

Spring Planning for Your Outdoor Space

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It’s early Spring. We have the itch we can feel it in the air, it’s time to get to work. Let’s start tagging, pinning and planning our outdoor spaces. This popular conservatory space will assist in providing inspiration!

Yes, it’s true while working on this project Illinois the homeowners provided us with enough Chicago style pizza that we brought home a few extra inches on our waists. This outdoor space made a lasing impression on us. The exterior walk up bar is the perfect spot to set drinks our your gooey slice of brick oven pizza.img_5012
How can you duplicate this space with your own backyard kitchen?

1) Plan your space. Get your ideas on paper. Talk to Landscape professional. Planning on the front end will save many headaches when under construction

2) How do you want your pizza oven to function?

Wood burning like this?

Wood burning ovens achieve a couple of dramatic effects:

  • Very high temperatures
  • Reduced cooking time
  • Thermal drafts in the oven from live wood create a natural current of warm air much like a convection oven so the pizza is cooked very evenly (this assumes that you use an actual, well designed wood oven).
  • Smoke from the wood infuses the crust with just a hint of live fire.

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Or gas?

Gas ovens are an inexpensive option.
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3) How do you want the space to feel?

Are you looking for and extensive hardscape project?
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Our conservatory project had 3-4 intimate spaces where people could sit, chat and munch on pizza. The hardscapes were designed with plants and people in mind.
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4) Now let’s accessories!

Lighting is an important factor to consider for any space but especially an outdoor one, where proper lighting can be easily overlooked. Accent lighting adds a decorative touch but one should first consider proper landscape lighting.

 

Furniture: The market is saturated with outdoor furniture. Be sure to select something that fits your space and can be easily stored in the off seasons. Comfort and fade-resistant fabrics are important too!

Seating: Smaller, more intimate seating area are great for conversation
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Prep Area: A great tip is to incorporate an outdoor pantry so you can save multiple trips to your kitchen. Granite is a great surface that can withstand exterior elements. A small prep area will save you from juggling at the table.
The Spring fever is really here and we are ready to go! And make a pizza…

Seed Starting in the Conservatory

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The Holiday season is over, the decorations are down, the winter has a firm grip on life, and the mind begins to dream about the next season. Spring!

Last year was not a kind spring. Everything was late. I had to feed my poor bees until the third week of June before pollen finally was available in the typical spring blooms.

This year will be different. We are all hoping for that. So, let’s make a list and go seed shopping! Here are some helpful gardening tips that will guide you through seed starting in your conservatory.

Seedlings Emerge in the Greenhouse

1) Avoid the impulse to buy seeds at the ‘box store’. Nothing against box stores, but a lot against impulse seed buying. I did this for years and then after it was too late, regretted the plants and the harvest. You put a lot of time (all summer) into growing the plants, why not take a couple of minutes and study the varieties available and make good choices. The University of Minnesota is a great place to start. Check with your local Land Grant University for suggestions.

2) Be sure to stay ahead of the season. Or pay the price of expensive potting plants, with little variety to select from. Many garden centers spray growth inhibitor on the seedlings to they stay full, and don’t get long and leggy in the garden center. Problem is, they stay stunted and are poor producers. So there are several reasons to start you own seeds: cost, quality control and fun! Not all plants transplant well into the garden (beets, carrots). Make a calendar and plant your seeds by the clock!

3) Do not use seed ‘Catalogs’. The internet is a better source for a seed shopper. Avoid companies, just because they offer a sale. Not saying it won’t be a good deal, but seed quality is the most important. Note, I am not saying don’t buy seeds from companies who send catalogs, what I am saying is study the plants on the internet for full information. I recently looked at a seed catalog. It offered 9 seeds in the pack, for $3.49! After careful shopping, I was able to buy the same variety with 150 seeds in the pack for $1.49.

4) Design your garden. Impulsive gardens that result from buying plants at the nursery never work out. When in doubt, try ‘Square Foot Gardening’, but be sure if its vegetables or flowers, you have a plan on paper first. Go on Youtube and look at time saving techniques like ‘how to make your own seed tape’. It saves seeds and gets a fun project for the kids to do with you while you wait last frost of the year.

5) Organize. I make up a 3 ring binder and keep my notes in it from year to year. Plan the garden and follow the plan! I have a mixed light exposure around the conservatory. Lots of sun, some morning sun and some shady. I love it. I have a full pallet to paint with.
Water plants in the morning. Keep the young tender plants out of direct sun.

There is Order and Relaxation in the Planting of Seeds

6) Coordinate. Look at plant options. I Google things like “purple flowers that grow in sun“. You get to see lots of photos of plants that inspire. Pick a plant. Let’s say you are attracted to Salvia, a great plant that has great cut flowers, grows in sun, and of course I selected a purple variety.
Now, Google ‘Salvia’ and many suppliers will pop up. Look at their options. Now you can compare various promotions the companies offer, and order your seeds.

7) Track. Start a chart either on a piece of paper or a spreadsheet. List the plant, where you are ordering from (I bought mine from Swallowtail), the length of time to germination, and instructions on germination. This is important and often overlooked. Some plants do best planted in the soil where they go through the process and send up shoots. However, due to hormones in the seeds, some plants germinate in light and require to be at the surface of the planting to be successful. Make this note on your spreadsheet.

I can’t wait to get my seeds in the mail next week. Gardening is an enjoyable hobby , but like the professionals say it is 50% planning and 50% luck and I wish you all the luck my friends!

 

Six Automated Window Systems and Five New Air Conditioners

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Natural Ventilation for Modern Office Buildings

While traditional mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are still widely used, contemporary concerns for improving the environmental performance and “livability” of buildings has led to an increased interest in alternatives like natural ventilation and mixed-mode systems.

A major benefit of HVAC, particularly in deep plan and larger office buildings, is that they alleviate many of the problems associated with a naturally ventilated building such as noise, dust, insects, heavy winds, odors and uncomfortable temperatures.

However, there are some studies suggesting that a mixed-mode ventilation system of HVAC and natural ventilation, in combination with good passive design, can provide sufficient indoor air quality to keep occupants happy while reducing their reliance on mechanical air treatment.

Typically, a mixed-mode system operates in either of two modes and is best used for buildings’ perimeter spaces or for narrow planned buildings with good cross ventilation. The first is the natural ventilation mode that uses fresh external air from operable windows or dampers to cool the internal spaces and relies predominantly on the stack effect for hot air to be expelled through high-level exhausts. The second is the mechanical mode and sees the windows closed and the HVAC switched on and is used only when the external temperatures are too hot or too cold for natural ventilation, or when there is a heavy wind or rain.

Control of the operable windows can be manual or automatic and, in keeping with current trends towards automated buildings, we’re seeing more automated window systems come to the market that are compatible with Building Management Systems (BMS).

Some window manufacturers offer built-in automated systems that can be controlled by a BMS and that come with inputs for automated weather stations and sensors that detect smoke, rain, hail, temperature, wind, time, and smog. Others advertise that their products can be easily automated with add-on products like actuators and reed switches, and can also incorporate into a BMS.

These products render manual operation from building occupants—one of the most difficult-to-control influences on a building’s environmental impact—unnecessary, as the BMS detects when it is optimal to open and close windows and to operate the HVAC.

Some of the problems associated with the manual operation of a building’s HVAC and natural ventilation, like occupants leaving windows open with the HVAC on for example can, therefore, be avoided with automated mixed-mode air-conditioning.

Free Flight and Hotel Anyone?

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The Hewitt Family Conservatory

We know that building a conservatory is a substantial investment and one that should not be taken casually. The cost of a conservatory compares to the cost of a luxury car (albeit a luxury car that will still be shiny and new thirty years from now), so we know the time and research that is required for you to make the right decision about whom to trust to build your dream conservatory.

So, what should you do when trying to find a reputable conservatory builder?

  • Make a list of possible conservatory builders – ask friends and relatives for recommendations on good experiences they have had.
  • Do online research – not only visit their websites, look at their Houzz profile, Pinterest page, Facebook page and Twitter feeds.
  • Do your homework – once you have your list of potential builders, how can you find out about their reputation? The only way to be sure is to talk with previous clients and conservatory owners with whom they have worked. We invite you to visit www.conservatorybuilderreviews.com to learn what previous clients have to say about their experiences with Conservatory Craftsmen.
  • Visit models and sale presentations – so you can see the quality for yourself. Meet the builders face to face and ask lots of questions, even if you already know the answers, to judge the builder’s honesty and knowledge. Look for builders who want to share information and educate consumers.

We are so enthusiastic about our product and are proud to show off the craftsmanship of our work in person. Therefore, we invite you to come visit us and our showroom here in Minneapolis. We will reimburse you for your flight and night in a hotel when you sign the design deposit for your new conservatory.

So, come join me, and my family, at my home. We can have a hot cup of tea in our lovely conservatory and we can answer all the questions you have about designing and building your dream conservatory.
Let me know when we should expect you.

Readying Your Greenhouse For Winter

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This week is Daylight Savings Time, which means winter is right around the corner. Here are some tips from Mandy Watson of The Shields Gazette on getting your greenhouse ready for winter.

If you have a greenhouse, or any structure that you’re overwintering plants in, your number one priority is making sure it’s clean. Not only must it be frost-free, but pest-free.

Cleaning the greenhouse and conservatory is my least favourite job, but a necessary evil.

Here’s what you need to down to reduce the risk of pests:

1) On a mild day, take everything possible outside.
2) Scrub off any old shade paint from the summer.
3) Brush or vacuum surfaces to remove all debris.
4) Hose down the exterior and interior on a soaker setting, to loosen any pests/eggs and lichen.
5) Wash down glass with warm soapy water and a sponge. A breezy day will mean it dries out more quickly.
6) Spray all surfaces with Citrox, a powerful organic citrus extract disinfectant for cleaning greenhouses, pots, staging, tools, seed trays, bird feeders and bird baths. It doesn’t harm plants and it’s effective against bacterial and fungal diseases.
7) Glass is best done with an anti-bacterial washing-up liquid – it doesn’t streak.
8) Check that all ventilation panels/windows are working.
9) Finally, check over plants that you’re overwintering carefully BEFORE bringing them in – you don’t want them to be harbouring pests. Cut things like geraniums back outside first – and check pot rims and bases for hidden slugs, snails and vine weevils.

Wood vs. PVC: Materials Make All the Difference

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We receive many requests from around the country to fix and repair previously built conservatories on homes. For the most part, these are vinyl (uPVC) conservatories that have been built with in the last fifteen years. Most have polycarbonate roofs, and in most cases, the polycarbonate has failed.

If it were just a matter of replacing the polycarbonate, this would be simple, but indeed the whole issue is quite complicated.

How to glaze a vinyl roof
The roof frame is assembled on top of the erected windows. This is a rafter bar that is attached on the bottom to the eave and on the top to the ridge. The polycarbonate panel is then set on the rafter, ridge and eave. Capping is friction fit over the polycarbonate. This capping is plastic, and co-extruded with rubber to create a seal against the polycarbonate. The capping has a center prong that friction fits down between a kerf in the rafter, and will not pull out again unless with extreme force. The ridge is the final cap and done in the same manner.

This is where the problem arises. The cap generally shatters when removed, and the older the cap is, the more UV deterioration has occurred making it even more brittle. Unless fresh new glazing caps are available to replace them, the roof will be unable to seal with the new polycarbonate.

Almost all companies that have built or manufactured these vinyl conservatories are out of business. They made a huge impact on the early market because of price, but were unable to maintain a place in the market when their structures began to deteriorate. In the case where the company may still be functioning, the extrusion has been replaced and updated (primarily because of the Kioto Agreement of 2008). Old extrusions are not available. Thus, replacement parts for these structures are not available. If we were to take the responsibility for the roof, at the point where materials are unavailable to repair the roof, we take on liability.

So, the answer is simply replace the roof.

Not so simple.

The windows below are glazed on sight (meaning the glass is installed after the room is constructed). In order for us to remove the glass on the vertical wall so we can release and replace the roof, we have to remove the glazing beads from the windows themselves.

Same story as above: The beads are plastic, they degrade and become brittle in the UV and they break upon removal or replacement. It is for this reason, the only response we have to repairing a conservatory roof made of vinyl (uPVC) is to replace the entire room. Our replacement is with aluminum, thermally broken and powder-coated. We have aluminum rooms that we have built 25 years ago, and yes, we have replaced polycarbonate. There is no problem doing so.

Aluminum is an upgrade to Vinyl, so we are unable to provide apples to apples estimate for the replacement value of the vinyl room. One may endeavor to find a company to provide and install a vinyl conservatory, but that is a daunting task. Glass roof is an upgrade to polycarbonate, but the reason for the initial insurance claim is the polycarbonate. It has a 10 year+/- life span, whereas glass is lifetime and permanent. However, glass is also an upgrade. As a further upgrade, customers may wish to have us build their rooms from Mahogany, wood, and these rooms are serviceable forever, as wood can easily be accessed and milled to fit. We are ready and available to answer any questions that home homeowners or insurance adjusters may have for us. Please don’t hesitate to call us to discuss them.

Water and Lighting in a Greenhouse

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Water and light are crucial to enjoying a thriving greenhouse. Here are a few helpful tips for installing drip irrigation and some advice on the best lighting for a greenhouse.

Water and light are essential to plants, and in a greenhouse you’ll have to provide both. There are several different watering methods to choose from: hand watering, capillary mats that bring water up from below, overhead watering, and drip irrigation that delivers water directly into each pot.

ts-200391680-001_vines-growing-in-greenhouse_s3x4A drip irrigation system is easy to lay out and is very cost-effective. It delivers small amounts of water over long periods of time, so plants stay uniformly moist. Installation is fairly simple:

Be sure the mainline that carries water into the greenhouse is sunk underground at least four feet, which is below the frost line, to make sure the water in the line doesn’t freeze.

Use a 3/4-inch poly pipe as the water supply line. Position it to run down the length of the bench.
From the main line, connect lateral lines to run between pots.

Set the system on a timer to ensure regular watering.

Once the water system is in place, you’ll need to address any lighting needs. Although fluorescent lights are popular, they help the gardener more than the plants. This type of lighting is good to work by, but plants need more light, especially in northern regions.

A high-pressure sodium bulb does a better job of simulating sunlight to stimulate plant growth. A 125-watt bulb gives off plenty of light when hung at least three feet above plants or seeds. This is a good distance to avoid heat burn.

Grow lights help to lighten shady spots and propagation areas in the greenhouse. What you are germinating or propagating determines how long you need to leave the lights on, usually an average of 12 to 16 hours each day. If you are growing tropical plants, you may need to set up grow lights if the plants don’t get at least eight hours of sun each day.