Conservatory Glass for Bird Lovers

We live in Minnesota. Yes, the home of huge piles of snow, mosquitoes, and of course, the Minnesota Vikings. As you may know, we are building a new multibillion dollar Vikings football stadium that is the state-of-the-art in stadium design and is already scheduled to host the Super Bowl in 2018 and the NCAA final 4. However, an environmental issue came up in the construction as to all the glass on the stadium and what happens to the birds?

Well, we did some research and had a bit of an epiphany ourselves when it comes to song birds and glass. Each year in America, hundreds of millions of song birds are killed when they fly into glass. In our research, we also discovered there are crews of people who clean the sidewalks of Minneapolis at 4:00 AM of dead birds, before the public wakes up to see the carnage.

Really? This is needless, as we find out from our discussions with Ornilux, a manufacturer of bird friendly glass. Glass is transparent to birds and they see reflections of trees or sky in the glass, fly into the glass and are killed. Birds perceive no barrier as they fly into the glass windows. Birds do see Ultra-Violet. Researchers discovered that spiders spin their webs with an Ultra-Violet color to them so birds don’t crash into them and ruin their webs.

The challenge was to incorporate UV into glass, as it would remain invisible to humans, but visible to birds. Ornilux was developed in Germany. They built a 30’ tunnel and put two types of glass at the end of the tunnel. One with UV coating, one without. (they also put nets in front of the glass to protect the birds in flight). Crazy as it is, they tested 17 species of birds and with 80 tests each became certain from the results that birds will not fly into Ultra Violet glass. They manufacture a UV film that is sandwiched between two pieces of glass. That glass is now like the windshield on your car, and is termed ‘laminated’. Laminate glass is a safety glass required on many buildings and also used to make bullet-proof glass.

We’re proud to report that the new stadium will be using Ornilux glass in its construction. It should save countless numbers of birds flying into the glass and being killed by the impact.

And you ask, so Jim, what about the conservatories? Well, as you might expect, this glass costs a bit more, but we now offer bird friendly, Ornilux glass to all of our customers for their conservatories and their beloved song birds.

The Art of Window Washing

So, the conservatory got a bit dirty over the winter, did it? Things a bit drab and dusty?

This is the time of year when one looks outside and says ‘I will never get it all done!” Leaves just popping out, the kid’s toys in the yard, the dog, oh my! And look at all the dead spots in the yard.

Then, without the courtesy of even waiting until you can get winter put away, the dandelions poke through and begin their yellow fashion parade.

Windows can be such a challenge, so we’ve decided to address this common problem by giving you a few industry secrets on the art of window washing.

The first trick is proper supplies. My daughter-in-law, Danielle, who cleans houses, came over with these miracle cloths called Norwex cloths which you can find on Amazon or Ebay. I have been window washing for 50 years, and believe me, I will tell you these things really work.

Dampen one cloth, and clean the window. Take the polishing cloth, wipe the window and you are done. It’s in the fibers of this Norwegian cloth, no chemicals.

I have long known that most conventional window cleaning chemicals use cleaners that adhere to the glass and actually can cause more dirt to attract to the window. This cloth is a real winner.

You can order them from us if you are trying to find them. I suggest you watch the YouTube video here.

OK, this is fine for inside, but what about the roof. Can you reach the roof if you are on a step ladder? If so, you are in luck.

I order my window cleaning supplies from J. Racenstein. This is the company that all professional window cleaners buy their supplies from, at wholesale pricing. Very good service and tons of great tools of the trade.

I suggest you order an extension pole. They will stretch out about 12’ and are very light weight.

The ‘kits’ they make are very good. I suggest the Unger pro kit for under $100.00. It has all suitable tools required. Get some cleaner and maybe even their book on how to wash windows like a pro. Remember, it’s not how much water you get on the window that makes it clean.

You will become a pro in no time and like me, enjoy the chore of washing windows. I can get around my whole house and the conservatory in less than 2 hours.

Has the Winter Damaged Your Conservatory?

There is no need to rehash the difficulties this winter has wrought on all of us in this country. Our building systems have been taxed to the maximum with cold, snow and ice.

Many homes have conservatories that have been slightly to severely damaged by the winter weather. Leaks in roofs, displaced materials, and damaged windows have occurred as we have had calls on all of these maladies from all over the country.

In some cases, conservatories with improper support have shifted and some even have had roof glazing collapse.

What to do if you have damage that needs repairs?

  1. Take lots of photos and document the damage
  2. Report the damage to your insurance company
  3. Contact us to discuss the damage. We will help you assess your needs.

In most cases, easy repairs can be done on a short visit by our repair crew. In some cases, replacement materials have to be ordered and received.

Unfortunately, many of the uPVC companies that did business from the UK in the USA are no longer in business, or doing business in this country.

If the company is still in business, our relationship in the industry allows us to call on operating businesses and obtain replacement materials.

Extrusions can be a different entity. Often, these companies will replace an extrusion with an improved extrusion and dump all of the old inventory. We keep a supply of replacement parts in our warehouse, so in many cases, we are able to source many parts that may no longer be available.

We take into account what material your conservatory is made of. If it is wood, we can shape and duplicate any wood member on the spot, so you are a bit more lucky if repairs are required.

One way or the other, we are the one stop company for repairs, as needed so keep us in mind and set up a visit today.

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.

NASA Says, “Grow These Plants in Your Conservatory”

In addition to the dangerous chemicals used to make carpets, couches, paint and drywall, chemicals in household products; things like pressed wood, facial tissue, paper towels, plastic, and rubber, to name a few, frequently contain traces of chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.

NASA once partnered with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) to investigate which household plants best to act as natural air purifiers and found 15 common plants that effectively improve air quality. Based on ease-of-care, attainability, appearance and effectiveness, here are our top six air purifying plants.

These are the Plants NASA says to Grow in your Conservatory:

1. Bamboo Palm: According to NASA, it removes formaldehyde and is also said to act as a natural humidifier. Bamboo palm can tolerate low light conditions, but should have a bright spot in the house. When growing in the conservatory, it is a good plant to shuffle in and out. There is a dwarf version of this plant. Play with it moves it around until you find the right growing conditions for it. Do not over-water. It should be moist every day, but not so much that is standing water in the pot.

2. Snake Plant: Found by NASA to absorb nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde. This plant, originally from West Africa is also called Sansevieria or Mother-in-law’s-tongue, because it is so sharp. However, I have never told my mother-in-law what the plant is called! Do so at your own risk. This plant can go a month without water and needs very little light. If you are not a ‘green thumb’ this plant is for you. My plant has grown for years and one hardly even notices it anymore, it’s just part of the furniture. Buy one the size you want as it is a really slow grower in the house.

3. Areca Palm: One of the best air purifying plants for general air cleanliness. This palm was once on the endangered species list and is now plentiful. According to NASA and Dr. B. C. Wolverton, the areca palm filters xylene and toluene from the air. Wolverton also specifies that, at 1.8 m (5 ft. 11 in) in height, the plant will transpire 1 liter of water per 24 hours, thereby making it an effective humidifier. It is not a low light plant. It is ideally suited for the conservatory, however. Keep it moist, moist only. Do not over-water. Do not fertilize in the winter and only a few times during the growing season. This plant will achieve 7 feet in height.

4. Spider Plant: Great indoor plant for removing carbon monoxide and other toxins or impurities. Spider plants are one of three plants NASA deems best at removing formaldehyde from the air. This plant also puts high amounts of oxygen back into the air. Spider plants, native to South Africa are the easiest plant to grow. In the conservatory, find the partial light corner, because they will burn up in full light. Many windows in the house are great for spider plants. Children love spider plants because they are so easy to propagate the ‘spiders’ and they are hard to over water. Feed them frequently during the growing season. Keeping them in children’s bedrooms is a good idea because they are such workhorses for air cleaning and O2 production.

5. Peace Lily: Peace lilies could be called the “clean-all.” They’re often placed in bathrooms or laundry rooms because they’re known for removing mold spores. Also known to remove formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. The peace lily is so easy to grow. They are a beautiful lily and produce a lovely lily flower that even the most novice homeowner can grow. They do not like direct light. Do not over water, but I like to keep just a bit of water on mine all the time. Maybe 1/2 cup a day is all. It keeps the soil moist. You can grow the peace lily in a north window. This plant is always on sale at the big box stores.
Some people worry that Peace Lilies are poisonous. They are not true lilies and have a high level of oxalates, so they will irritate the mouth of a dog or cat that eats them. This usually happens quickly enough for the animal to stop eating the plant before damage occurs.

6. Gerbera Daisy: Not only do these gorgeous flowers remove benzene from the air, they remove trichloroethylene which comes home with dry cleaning. They’re known to improve sleep by absorbing carbon dioxide and giving off more oxygen overnight. Though not often grown as a houseplant, they can bring a lot of joy to the home. Keep them slightly moist, not wet. Give those lots of suns for about 5 hours a day. Cut the spent flowers right away.

You can expect a Gerbera Daisy to last 1-3 years in the house, so consider it a disposable plant that brings great health and joy in a short time. Clusters of these plants make a tremendous statement in any room.

Let me know if you have other plant questions or problems. If you don’t grow your plants in a conservatory yet. we need to talk!

East Coast Storm Wreaks Havoc on Conservatories

conservatory-md-damage03When the walls come tumbling down.
In the aftermath of the massive rain and the storms that have hit the east coast lately, our phone is ringing more than usual. And, unlike many of the companies who have been building conservatories the last 15 years, we are still answering our phone.

Damage to conservatories of lesser quality construction has been severe. Even quality conservatories suffer if a tree lands on it. Thankfully, none of our projects or conservatories has sustained any damage or problems (see the blog about earthquakes).

The biggest problem people are having is that the company that built their conservatory is no longer around. They are simply not in business to service the problem.

Companies like us are left to deliver the bad news to the homeowner: “Your conservatory roof cannot be repaired because the parts are no longer available.”

The main components of conservatory roofs may be damaged and require replacement. If the parts are not available, then your insurance company needs to know that the roof will have to be completely replaced. This can be a significant cost.

If you have damage and are looking for help, send us photos. Tell us as much as you can about when and from what material it was constructed and we will do our best to help solve your problem.

The attached photos were of a sunroom in Maryland that could not sustain the snow load. This is typical of a lot of sunrooms built with PVC structures from low-end conservatory builders. Sadly, this was built by one of the builders that are no longer answering the phone.

Amdega Conservatories

We are saddened to hear the closing and liquidation of Amdega Conservatories. They have been a cornerstone in the industry since 1874. I remember in my early days, in this business, showing people the Amdega brochures and how lovely they were.

We had built several of their structures, over the years, for their clients. The news reports say that 300 conservatories were in order and that all of these people will lose their deposits.

A note to those who have placed orders: Maybe we can help. Our conservatories are less expensive than Amdega, and if we can provide our high-quality, mahogany structure for cost savings, you may experience a win instead of a loss.

We are a family-owned-and-operated business, custom designing and building conservatories, greenhouses, and pool enclosures from Maine to California.

Contact us, and see if we can help: Call Jim at 1-888-345-7915.

Greetings, Conservatory Lovers

conservatorycraftsmen1-280x187If you have ever dreamed of having a Conservatory space on your home or if you are a current conservatory owner we hope that you find this series of articles most useful. The Conservatory (or Conservatree, as spoken in Britain) is a wonderfully relaxing space that effortlessly marries your home with your garden. Take a deep breath and you can almost feel the warm sun on your skin and smell your jasmine in bloom.

We’re planning on publishing tips on how to decorate your conservatory from a professional Interior Decorator and Conservatory/Greenhouse gardening tips from a seasoned horticulturist.

Plus, we’re always full of advice and counsel. If you’ll join our merry band here, you can comment and ask further questions. We do moderate the comments so they may not appear immediately.

Follow our conservatory projects from start to finish as well as interviews with industry pros and current clients!

If you already own a conservatory, share your stories with us. If you are having difficulties of one kind or another concerning your conservatory, maybe we can help. Join the fraternity of Conservatory owners and share your experiences with one another.