Project Profile: Southern Minnesota Lean-To



At a Glance: An underused and underwhelming patio space is converted into year-round living room on a historic home



What Happens Here?: Entertaining, relaxing, and growing

Location: Frontenac, MN

Size: Conservatory is 300 sq.ft.

Project Manager: Pioneer Renovations

Conservatory: Conservatory Craftsmen

This rambling Victorian river home was built on Lake Pepin, which is the widest naturally occurring part of the Mississippi River. Lake Pepin is located approximately 60 miles downstream from Saint Paul, Minnesota and is the perfect retreat for our clients. A pergola stretched out from behind the house with a beautiful, rustic view of a Minnesota State Park. Sadly, the pergola was very much underused due to exposure from bugs and weather. The extraordinary potential of this lush arboreal space, however, was easily recognizable by its owners, so they reached out to Jim Hewitt for a consultation. With the assistance of our expert team at Conservatory Craftsmen, a new vision for this space was conceived.

The existing space created a bit of a challenge for the design team. Tucked away inside a ‘U’ shaped area of the house, and under the second-floor windows, an opportunity existed.

Getting the structure to look ‘original’ to the home, and create a functional space was the goal of the new design. The team worked on plans, knowing that a single pitch, (lean-to) roof was the only option. The length of the roof rafters, however, required a ‘work around’.

It’s a matter of geometry. The longer the rafter, the more elevation drops over the run. If we had made the rafter attach to the house below the window and pitch 18′ to the front wall, the front wall would have been 5′ high. To solve this, Mike came up with the idea of a flat roof soffit along the house to bring the room out 4′ before the drop began.

Work began and once removal of the existing pergola was completed, footings were dug and a frost foundation was installed.

Architects – click for plans! MN Lean-to

Foam insulation was placed on the bare ground and hydronic piping was attached before the 3″ concrete slab was poured. The hydronic piping supplies the heat from a boiler for the in-floor heating system. The insulation keeps the heat from going down into the earth and forces it up into the concrete floor. Once the slab is warm, it holds this heat for a long time. Even a sunny day can work to warm the slab and keep the room comfortable well into the evening.

The crew framed the knee walls and the new soffit wall so the conservatory could then be installed.

The conservatory, a wooden, mahogany frame was painted a soft white in the paint booth of the shop to ensure an even coating, under controlled moisture conditions. This micro-porous paint application will ‘breathe’ and last for many, many years.

Installation of the conservatory itself was the easy part of this project! Now it was on to the finishing touches.

A natural field stone had been used as a foundation stone in other areas of the house, so we elected to face the exterior knee wall of the conservatory with stone to keep a unified look. As we framed and installed the gas fireplace on the interior of the room, we also used this field stone on the wall and surround of the fireplace. Ceramic tile was selected and installed. Ceramic is the natural choice on a concrete slab over in floor hydronic heat.

A mini-split air conditioner was installed on the house wall. Two ceiling fans were integrated into the soffit ceiling along with 3 new recessed lights. Removing the exterior door trim and replacing the trim in the room with interior trim gave the room a feeling of an inside space, not a space that was added to the exterior of the house. Millwork and sheet rocked walls were painted and we were good to go!

Pinoleum ceiling blinds were installed and automated. They gave a decorative touch to the room as well as shading the space from harsh sun.

Finally, all elements of the room were tied together with the automation system we now offer on every room.

The roof vents open and close with the side wall windows based on temperature of the room and weather conditions. As a safeguard, they are automatically closed by a rain sensor during inclement weather. The ceiling blinds will go up and down based on the time of day, time of year and weather conditions. The room will not heat up from solar gain with these blinds in place.

Did we mention the ceiling fans also are temperature controlled? When it gets warm and the vents open, the ceiling fans go on. During the cold months, they will spin at low speed in order to “stir” the air, ensuring even room heating.

Too hot for ventilation? Then the windows close and the mini-split air conditioner takes over.

Cold day today? No problem. On cold days the blinds go up to conserve heat and the in-floor heating takes over. As a back-up for heat in the room, the fireplace will kick on to keep the room from freezing.

Now, what if I want the blinds down for some star gazing? All functions in this room are controlled by either your smart phone, or a series of smart switches on the wall.

Lastly, our staff is available to monitor day to day functions remotely from our office. If any function needs adjustment due to seasonality, it is easily adjusted remotely.

More information is available on our web site or by calling us at 888 345 7915


Conservatory Building: 5 Decisions to Make Before You Begin

, , , , , ,
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.

The Case of the Homeless Lemon

, , , ,


This lemon needed a conservatory home built for it in Atlanta, GA.

The “Homeless” Meyer Lemon

I received a call from a lady with a slight southern charm to her voice, right after Christmas.

She said, she needed a conservatory and was coming to see me, ON NEW YEAR’S DAY!

Well she showed up, Meyer lemon in hand and declared that this lemon “needed a home.”

As it turned out, a recent storm had removed a huge beech tree from her back yard, and it was time for a ‘do over’ of the back yard.

Coupled with the fact that she had just bought a Tesla and had no place to charge the vehicle, a garage was also on the list.

She had studied and planned for quite a while and was clear what she wanted to have.

A conservatory to her was a place to grow many varieties of plants for great joy and healthy eating.

She grows herbs and other edibles and wanted access to them all year round. In addition to growing plants, she also wanted to be able to spend serious time in the conservatory, enjoying the Atlanta seasons and even sleeping in her room as well.

Carol commissioned CC to build a conservatory to house her Meyer Lemon tree.

Jim and Our New Friend, Carol

I first visited her when the construction of the garage was first breaking ground. She had a great contractor named Wes who looked after her every detail.

We had come up with a plan for the conservatory that was a bit of a cruciform with a linkway to the garage, as there was a second floor to the garage plan (a bit of an apartment) and it had a window we could not remove. Solution? A linkway from the garage to the conservatory.

We also designed a lantern roof for the second elevation of the roof to gain a lot of height, for tall plants and trees.

She invited me to stay as a guest at her house and we got started early every day, laying out and planning the room.

Her Tesla was being charged from a cord that extended from the driveway into the laundry area, where she unplugged her dryer to charge up the car! She was so very eager to get the project to a point where she could park in the garage and charge her cool car.

The landscape garden was laid out and the room was designed to fit as a feature in the garden.

We did the pre-manufacture of the room and shipped it and our crew to site. On site we assembled the steel portal frame (for the lantern roof) and began to build the conservatory.

Local stone masons were on hand building the stone knee walls and work progressed along in a wonderful fashion.

Jim and Mary, the great neighbors next door, put up the crew for the 10 days we were there and everyone got to work and relax with one another. Truly a unique experience.

We completed the Conservatory and left Carol to fill in the blanks with her many orphan plants from the patio and the house.

An arial shot of the completed conservatory complete with the hanging bed she had envisioned.

Completed Conservatory with “Tingling” Bed

Her conservatory was designed and built to serve many functions.

The Conservatory’s Hanging “Tingling” Bed

She then began a plan. She wanted a work table to hang in the middle of the room, but she also wanted this work table to transform into a bed, so she had a place to stay on the beautiful Atlanta star lit nights.
She called it a Tingling Bed but it is a wonderful creation that doubles as a work table and a comfy sleeping quarters for a truly remarkable lady from the south who is as smart and gracious as any Southern Lady could be.

How to Dine Al Fresco Inside

, , ,


Minnetonka Orangery Angled Front View

The Perfect Orangery for this Dollhouse

Sometimes we just need more natural light in the house. There is nothing more satisfying than enjoying the morning sunrise with your breakfast, coffee and the newspaper.

Recently, we were asked to develop a plan for integrating a conservatory into a kitchen and eating area, located in the western part of Minneapolis.

A kitchen is a challenging spot to add a glass roof because of cooking moisture and condensation on glass, but with proper air ventilation design, this has never been an issue in this great kitchen.

A traditional home requires a traditional design to the windows and detailed trims. This addition fits this home perfectly.

Don’t make the mistake of adding to your home and making your living spaces dark and dreary.

Think about glass, and all that Conservatory Craftsmen can offer to enhance your life.

Minnetonka Orangery Kitchen View

The Orangery is a Natural Extension of the Kitchen

Orangery ceiling and glass

There’s Nothing Like Dining Outside… Inside


Orangery or Conservatory? What is the Difference?

, , ,

queen-anneOrangeries have become the most popular conservatory project in England today. An orangery is much like a conservatory. One deciding feature is more ‘mass’ on the wall design and less window. This differs from a typical conservatory, which strives to have little in the way of structure on the walls, and the maximum amount of glass.

The orangery fits well with ‘Georgian’ architecture or homes/buildings that need more structure to give a good visual fit.

The Queen Anne Orangery at Kensington Palace in London was built in 1506 (shown to the left).

Its design allowed citrus trees to be rolled out onto the terrace during good weather and rolled back into the orangery when not.

The large windows were all opening doors at that time. It is currently open to the public for traditional tea time, situated among the formal gardens of the palace.

Move ahead in history a bit and the Orangery’s primary use is still the same but to also add space and a tie into one’s existing home.

img_5606-e1411679526222img_5632Here are photos from a recent Conservatory Craftsmen orangery project. You will notice that part of the roof is actually solid and flat. This is like a ‘soffit’ on the roof and allows us to conceal the gutters. Today’s modern truss joists allow us to build this sort of roof and engineer it for maximum loads.


img_5745Now, also exciting news! Open the front wall with a folding door exclusively from Conservatory Craftsmen, and you have an indoor/outdoor space.


img_5747img_5748The interior has some nice sun blocking features and attractive soffit in which accent lighting is placed. Also, sound and mechanicals can hide in this soffit.


img_5749A wide open space, lots of light, a true transition to the outdoor garden from your orangery. This could be you!


All Kinds of Conservatory Blinds and Shades

, ,

When it comes to regulating the temperature of your conservatory the space needs to be addressed completely separate from the rest of your home. Not only will properly positioned, energy efficient window treatments save money, they will also help with privacy.

Conservatory Craftsmen is proud to offer blinds for slope glazing to the United States. We are only one in a handful of domestic companies capable of these installations.

There are many Conservatory Blinds and Shades options to consider:


pleated-shades-e1407183073686PLEATED SHADES:

Pleated shades are the most versatile way to treat the windows of the Conservatory roof and walls. There are numerous fabric choices giving the customer customization options with color and texture. The pleated shades also have a ‘top-down/bottom-up’ option for side walls and when fully pulled the stack is considerably tight making this option the least obvious.
It is also quite simple and cost effective to incorporate motorization to pleated shades making operation easy as a click of a button!


pinoleum2WOVEN WOODS (Pinoleum):

Europe’s very popular option for window and roof blinds. Pinoleum, as the names implies, is made of natural materials which are sewn together in a weave, to create a fabric. This offers partial sun blocking as the light filters through between the tiny slats of the Pinoleum.
For those who prefer organic window treatments and a more casual design might show a weaved fabric and material. The closed stack of the Pinoleum fabric is bulky and covers much of the eave. This may or may not be the goal of the designer and homeowner in each application.
One advantage of the Pinoleum blind is that is can be mounted under the rafter, so it can cover multiple rafters (and glass openings) with one blind. Fewer blinds, less cost of automation.


roller_blind-e1407182951647ROLLER SHADES:

The roller blind is the simplest option. Improved mechanical design means a cleaner, easier to operate roller, that is always dependable. Mounted on the eave, the cord goes to the ridge and you wrap the blind tight on a hasp. Roller blinds are also available with motors.
Many colors are available. Give our designers an idea of the color you are looking for and they will help you with selection. All have UV reflective materials on the back side. We recommend using roller blinds for shorter runs of glass (under 6’). This will avoid the blind from ‘bellying’ as it gets older. To some, the general appearance of the low hanging blind is appealing. This form of blind stacks very tightly and is easier to conceal on the eave. Different fabrics which are now available give a more modern or organic look to the blind.


Conservatory window treatments are essential to consider while planning your project. Not only with your selection be more customized to your room but you will have everything done at the time of installation!

Flat Roof With A View


The story begins in late 2014. Our couple purchased this stunning remote New York estate, 1 1/2 hours from the City. Her law practice was growing and she needed a home office for days that she didn’t need to tackle the long commute into the city. Her husband, a well-respected Horticulturalist for the NY Parks needed a garden to tend.
2014-10-05-13-43-31The 100-year-old home with acres and a view begged for a retreat on the second level. A flat roof area, over the sitting room below, the roof was dated and slated to replace.

2014-10-05-13-43-26While researching opportunities on the internet the couple came across the Conservatory Craftsmen and inquired. “What I was so surprised by was that just like that, that very day, I got a nice note back from Jim, the owner of the company!’ she stated.
As our chats turned into design concepts I arranged a visit to the home. Standing on the second-floor area it was difficult to contain my excitement for this project. This was a perfect location for a conservatory!
The homeowners shared that excitement and became very eager to proceed with planning. They have imagined themselves sitting in the room among plants and law files! I do paint a good picture…
We entered into an agreement January 1, 2015. Final drawings were created and a local contractor was selected to ready the site for the conservatory. By May, the permit was issued and we were ready to go!


Our experienced team of conservatory craftsmen had the structure weather tight in about a week.


Finishing details took another week to complete. The local contractor took over installing mini split cooling, in floor heating, floor tile, and interior finishing.
For the roof, she selected pineolum blinds that Conservatory Craftsmen offers exclusively.
2015-10-18-11-42-09-768x574The outcome of the project is one happy family and kitty!

Endless Summer – Pool Enclosures that Provide Style and Savings

, , ,

The endless summer is a dream for many people who enjoy warmer weather. Days of heat and plenty of sunshine are attractive to those who prefer to be outdoors, on the beach, or sitting near their pool.

While you can’t make summer last forever where you live, you can get one step closer to an endless summer using a pool enclosure. Pool enclosures that provide style and savings also give users the benefit of allowing them to keep their pool open all year.

The Benefits of a Pool Enclosure

Although perhaps the biggest benefit of pool enclosures that provide style and savings is that they allow you to use a pool all year, there are some other great reasons why people like using them for their pool.

One of the big benefits of a pool enclosure is that less debris will get into the pool once the enclosure is up. There is no need to worry about leaves drifting down from nearby trees and into the pool. Since there is less debris in the pool, less chemicals are necessary to keep it clean, which helps improve the water quality.

Also, when you use pool enclosures with the right type of glass, it is much easier to maintain control of the temperature of the pool. Sophisticated solar glass can help you make sure that your pool maintains a sufficient temperature.

Although these are some highly desirable benefits, pool enclosures do not come without their own guidelines and best practices that you should pay attention to before attempting to get one constructed.

Considerations to Make When Building Pool Enclosures

One of the most important things to think about before building a pool enclosure is your climate. If you are constructing a pool enclosure in a cold-weather climate, make sure that you account for the weight of snow and ice that could build up on the enclosure in the winter.

You also have to be sure that you choose the right materials. Since pool enclosures are usually fairly wide and long, you will want to use sufficiently strong building materials to make sure that the pool can be supported properly.

Pool enclosures that provide style and savings will give your home a great aesthetic without breaking the bank. Best of all, you can come closer to the dream of the endless summer, since you will be able to use your swimming pool even when it is chilly outside.

Wood vs. PVC: Materials Make All the Difference

, , , ,

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

, , , , , , ,

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.