Glass Options for a Comfortable Conservatory

Glass is a major component of every conservatory design. When we begin the design phase with our clients most are shocked to have so many options! Some companies advertise they have ‘magic’ glass! Today’s glass options ARE magic compared to options of even 10 years ago. One person who is raising plants in the conservatory may have different needs than another who has fabrics to protect. Each project has different demands on the glass, and managing the temperature inside of the conservatory is of primary concern.

Glass Options For Conservatories

All sidewall glass is tempered, sometimes called safety glass. This glass is almost impossible to break, and adds protection to your family from accidental breakage as well as security.

This double layered glass is what we call ‘insulated glass’ and the air space between the glass offers thermal efficiency. Clients often have the conception that this is ‘vacuum sealed’ but it is not. It is tightly sealed with special sealants to protect the aid inside from being contaminated by air outside, which has humidity and causes ‘seal failure’.

Sometimes, in the interest of thermal efficiency (called ‘u’ value) we will also have the air pumped out of this air space to be replaced by a more dense gas, argon.

LowE or low emissivity is a film coating we put on the glass to help break down the long wave ultra violet sun rays into short wave infared. This also improves the thermal efficiency of the room.

Softcoat LowE is more effective than hardcoat LowE.


Laminated glass is a type of safety glass that holds together when shattered. In the event of breaking, it is held in place by aninterlayer, typically of polyvinyl butyral (PVB), between its two or more layers of glass. The interlayer keeps the layers of glass bonded even when broken, and its high strength prevents the glass from breaking up into large sharp pieces. This produces a characteristic “spider web” cracking pattern when the impact is not enough to completely pierce the glass.

Laminated glass is normally used when there is a possibility of human impact or where the glass could fall if shattered. Skylight glazing and automobile windshields typically use laminated glass. In geographical areas requiring hurricane-resistant construction, laminated glass is often used in exterior storefronts, curtain walls and windows. The PVB interlayer also gives the glass a much higher sound isolation rating, due to the damping effect, and also blocks 99% of incoming UV radiation. We will often use laminated glass on the roof, when the building codes require.

Does Your Greenhouse Conservatory Need A Repair?

Any structure that leaks, accumulates moisture or has been rendered useless due to damage can be a big problem for homeowners. But how do you know if your greenhouse conservatory needs a repair, refurbishment or replacement?

Yesterday, I received a phone call from a local tradesman that we have worked with over the years and whom I very much respect. Bruce is an excellent mason with nearly thirty years of experience.

He was calling on a lovely couple who had inquired about having some masonry work done in their home. During the conversation, the couple had mentioned they are having problems with the greenhouse conservatory attached to their home and would he like to take a look?

It seems this couple had purchased their conservatory kit from a well-known American conservatory company and then hired a local contractor to install it for them.

That’s when the nightmare began. The conservatory leaks like a sieve. Water, the number one enemy to a home!

Unfortunately, their story gets worse.

They called the company that installed the conservatory. The contractor was inexperienced and did not have the credentials for conservatory installation, and said that the problem was with the manufacturer. The manufacturer said the problem was that the contractor did not install the conservatory according to specifications, so they are not responsible.

Who is right? Who is wrong?

Now the poor homeowner is caught in the middle. Fingers pointing in every direction except back at oneself.

This is where my friend Bruce came in. He looked at the conservatory and said: “I can’t tell you what the problem is, but I can tell you I know the most knowledgeable conservatory builders in America and I will give Jim a call.”

I am presently making arrangements to visit the couple and see if we can’t come up with a simple answer for the problems they are having. I hate to see our industry besmirched in this manner.

So, I come to my final point of this blog entry: Conservatories need to be built by people who know how to build them. People ask us about the ‘sub-contractors’ that come to build their conservatory – there is no such thing. Our Minnesota crew comes to each and every conservatory installation to make sure everything we promised is delivered.

A reputable builder of conservatories will design, deliver, build, warrant and even service the structure over the years, if desired. But if a problem occurs, they are not pointing fingers; they’re getting the job done.

Winter in the Conservatory

img_2955I am often asked, ‘How do you heat your conservatory?’ Living in Minnesota, and having also built conservatories for over 20 years, we have learned a few things.

First of all, conservatories are easier to heat than they are too cool. What are your expectations for heat in winter in the conservatory? We use our conservatory in the evenings while we read a book, tussle with grandkids or I practice my Hammond B3.

If the sun is out, and winter in Minnesota affords a lot of sunny days, the room has heated itself to the low 90’s during the day. We gather the warm air near the ceiling of the conservatory and power vent this into the house to supplement the heating needs of the house.

I run a humidifier constantly, mostly for the sake of the plants, as humidity drops to 15% when the thermostat hits 90! As the temperature creeps down and the sun dips to the west, the humidity begins to rise again. By sunset, the humidity is back up to near 40%.

We installed hydraulic pipes on the floor when we built the conservatory and those pipes are hooked up to a manifold run by our small boiler. The Navien boiler also heats the water in the house and the floor in the company office. Warm feet in the winter are a real treat!

Now the real fact is, the temperature will often plummet on a Minnesota winter to well below zero. Does the conservatory stay near 70 degrees with just in-floor heating when it’s below zero outside? No, it does not. We either wrap in a blanket and enjoy watching the winter moon travel across the bright winter sky, or we turn on a small supplemental heater to keep the temperature up.

So, if your expectation is 70 degrees any time, any day, then plan on a secondary source of heat. Or keep the plants healthy with a lower temperature, high humidity and you will be much healthier.

Paula, whom we have spoken about before in the blog, grows her food crops in her winter conservatory. Her husband Marc, an engineer, keeps very close track of the energy used by the conservatory and his claim is that over the last 3 years, he has never spent more than $40 in any month heating his conservatory.