Planning Ahead for Heating and Cooling Your Conservatory

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.

5 Benefits of Growing Your Own Food in the Conservatory

Organic vegetables and fruits being grown in 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 right from your own greenhouse.

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 not only improve your health but can even prevent disease. Have a supply of fresh food right on hand increases the likelyhood that you’ll grab for them when you’re considering what to eat.

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 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.Home 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!

Having a conservatory, greenhouse, or garden room provides a place for you to grow your food year-round while having complete control over the growing environment. You’re no longer dependant on the weather, or having to worry about wildlife and pests destroying your hardwork. So whatever your reason for creating your indoor garden, rest assured that your body, your wallet and the planet will thank you!

Interested in how we can build you a conservatory or greenhouse that uniquely fits your home and your style? Contact us today, and we’ll help turn your dream into reality!

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.

Solar Savings: 5 Ways to Conserve Energy in Your Home

As energy costs continue to rise and environmental concerns grow, it helps to start thinking about ways on how you can minimize your home’s daily energy consumption.
There are now ways for you to conserve and offset the amount of non-renewable energy your household uses on a daily basis.
There are also ways for you to generate your own electricity so you won’t have to be entirely dependent on the power grid. Here are five ways to conserve energy in your home.

1. Harness the power of the sun.
One way to reduce your daily power consumption is to use solar power as an alternative source of energy. Among alternative and renewable sources of energy, solar is one of the most popular and easily accessible. To harness the power of the sun, photovoltaic solar panels store a bit of excess energy on a rainy day. While function is paramount, homeowners are incorporating them to work with the overall design of the home.Using solar power has numerous benefits. Not only does it help you minimize your daily power consumption, it also allows you to save money on utility bills. It also lets you qualify for tax incentives because solar power enables you to reduce your carbon footprint.

2. Use screens or blinds
Instead of turning up the air conditioning, consider installing shades or blinds in your windows. Shades and blinds, which can be automated for ease of operation, reflect solar heat away from your house on a hot day. In the winter months, that same technology retains heat. Instant climate controls without the high costs.

3. Take advantage of geothermal heating and cooling
Using geothermal heating and cooling is another way to conserve energy in your home and reduce your electricity costs. This system relies on a pump to circulate water through underground pipes. Through the Earth’s natural temperature, your water supply will be naturally cooled in summer and heated in winter.

4. Utilize passive solar heating
Passive solar heating is the benefit of southern facing windows, which capture the heat and sunlight all year round. This heat is distributed in the rooms nearby, therefore reducing your daily energy consumption. If your conservatory or greenhouse is built on the south side of the home, planting trees outside will offer shade in the summer. In the winter when the leaves fall, the sun will be able to reach the windows and the heat will be trapped inside.

5. Switch off and unplug electronic appliances that are not in use
Perhaps the simplest and the easiest way to conserve energy in your home are to switch off and unplug all household appliances when they are not in use. As long as they are plugged in, electronic devices will continue to consume electricity even if they are in standby mode. Unplugging home appliances and electronic devices as a habit will reduce your daily power consumption.

Farmhouse Sunroom, Minnesota

Around 5 years ago we were called upon to add an addition to this spectacular 1880’s old farmhouse in a rural area of Kasson, MN. The homeowners are both busy doctors at the prestigious Mayo Clinic nearby and were looking for a peaceful space to unwind after a demanding day.

The homeowners opted for a total new addition with the custom aluminum powder coated, gable conservatory on the second floor, and a home office underneath. Determined to create a seamless finish on the property, we replaced the whole roof and built a cricket or saddle roof to meet the glass roof of the conservatory.

The width of the room was a massive 18 feet wide and so we installed tie bars to stop any lateral movement, ensuring the conservatory roof stability and the structural integrity of the room.Ceiling fans and automatic roof vents were added for maximum ventilation, and a porcelain heated tile floor for cozy toes during cold winter months. During the renovation, we also converted the existing original stone fireplace to be duel sided so it could be enjoyed in the new sunroom as well as the adjacent bedroom, and rebuilt the outworn 1910 deck and railing.

Together with the new skylight we installed over the original farmhouse living room, this bright, sun-filled conservatory adds much needed light and airy feel to an otherwise dark house.

Readying Your Greenhouse For Winter

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.

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.

From Phone Call to Finish: Building a Conservatory

We get a lot of phone calls from homeowners wondering how the process of building a conservatory or greenhouse works. My first reaction is to tell them it’s just like building any other home addition- only much more spectacular and in less time!

The truth is, building a conservatory is special. The crystal palaces that we custom design and build are one of a kind, and many clients tell us that their family time has been reinvigorated. Conservatories add value to a home that far exceeds a regular home addition. Another very reasonable question asked of us is about the cost of building a conservatory. I like to compare it to that of a luxury car: you can spend $50,000 or you can spend $200,000 depending on the bells and whistles.

Here’s what you can expect when calling Conservatory Craftsmen:

YOU CALL: We discuss your ideas and needs

FOLLOW-UP: You send photos and measurement

CONCEPT: We do a concept drawing of your conservatory NO CHARGE!

ON APPROVAL: We put a construction budget together for you

IF ALL GOOD: We come visit you at your home. Still NO CHARGE! Some companies charge up to $7,500 for this step.

CONCEPT DRAWINGS: Complete drawings prepared at a minimal fee, all applied to purchase

PERMITS: In Minnesota, our construction company gets the permit. Outside MN, you can get your permit, or your contractor will obtain it for you

ARCHITECTURE: Some municipalities require an architect to ‘sign off’. You can use your architect, or we find one for you. Same if stamped engineering is required.

ORDER PLACED: 40% of the agreed price is paid with the order. Shop construction may take 8 weeks.

INSTALLATION: Only by trained Conservatory Craftsmen team. Usually not more than 2 weeks at your home. I told you we were efficient! Instantaneous Construction!

WARRANTY: All warranty items serviced by Conservatory Craftsmen.

There you have it, the process of building a conservatory from phone call to finish.