How Does a Conservatory Differ from a Sunroom?

I’m often asked the question, “How does a conservatory differ from a sunroom? A greenhouse? An atrium?
For a builder in this niche market, it’s like asking how a T-shirt differs from a dress shirt or how a sedan differs from a luxury car. Some things you just know. A car gets you there on 4 wheels, (well most of the time). A shirt covers your body, right?
A sunroom lets the sun in, right? So why is one a conservatory, the other a sunroom? Let’s explore.

Sunroom Quality
In general terms, quality and longevity make the difference. A sunroom is typically manufactured with lower quality materials than the house it is attached to. Stick built structures by quality carpenters do not fit this discussion, and can be of high quality. Is the roof solid or glass? Most mass-manufactured sunrooms are the quality level of a mobile home. Thin walls, screws exposed and right through the face surface of the structure (eventually rusting), low insulation level of the glass and walls. And, how much did it cost? About $35-40,000.00

Sunroom Longevity
How many years will the structure last? Without argument, a sunroom will not last as long as your home, so at some point, you will have to replace it. Ten, fifteen, maybe twenty years, but just like installing vinyl siding on your house; it will have to be replaced.
I will admit, some conservatories are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are made with uPVC and will never last as long as our mahogany or thermal-break aluminum structures.
The first conservatory I ever built was in 1988, 26 years ago. Still in great shape, still used every day by the homeowner. The longevity of a properly built conservatory should be the life of the home to which it is attached.
Sunroom Roofs
The roof, as you can imagine, differs greatly from a sunroom to a conservatory. We like to sit at night and watch the stars and moon. We enjoy watching the snow swirl around in the winter. We feel like we are inside a snow globe! People complain that their sunroom gets too hot. Well, when it’s -15 in MN and the sun is out, we flock to the conservatory and bask in 85 degrees. Ahh! It can’t be beat.
So, just because someone puts cresting on the ridge, does not mean it’s a conservatory.
Keep in mind 3 things:

  • Make sure you have glass with high insulation value.
  • Make sure there is no uPVC in the structure (plastic is plastic no matter what you call it).
  • Make sure it has proper engineering (many localities now require signed and stamped engineering).

Conservatory Craftsmen has never failed an engineering examination. We have met, or exceeded, every seismic (earthquake), hurricane (wind speed) and snow-load building code requirement in every location we have built a structure.
So what would a conservatory, measuring the same size as the sunroom, have cost? About $50,000.00. And that includes all materials, shipping, installation labor, and a 10-year warranty.

So wouldn’t you really rather own a conservatory?

Professional Conservatory Builders

Here at Conservatory Craftsmen we are often asked:
Is this product a kit? Or, can I do the conservatory installation myself?
In short, the answer is no and here are the top reasons why:
1) The conservatory market in the United States in a niche market, actually it is almost a niche within a niche. That is how specialized the product is and how serious we take it. So when the crate that contains your conservatory shows up at your house, we can guarantee that there will be pieces and parts that even the most seasoned carpenter has never seen before, instructions not included. Attempting to install the conservatory on your own could be disastrous. We are frequently requested across the country to for conservatory repairs due to improper installation. This is timely, frustrating and expensive to homeowners.
2) Warranty. The main components of a conservatory are a wood or aluminum frame and glass. What attracted you in the first place is the conservatories glass roof and that’s your downfall if you try to install yourself. If you attempt to install a Conservatory Craftsmen conservatory on your own you will void the warranty. When our professional team of installers begins work at your home we warranty everything from the glass on down!

3) Our name is on the product. We pride ourselves in supplying the most superior product to the market. If installed improperly the room will fail and leak. We spend a massive amount of time on the front end of the project. Meaning we design, engineer and re-design (if necessary) to assure that when on-site our time is spent as efficiently as possible. A typical jobs site-time is about three days. Our customers are floored to see just how fast we can install a conservatory flawlessly. Left to the untrained installation could take weeks or months and could possibly lead to unwanted leaks if rushed.

Trust Conservatory Craftsmen, we are professional conservatory builders and have designed and built conservatories in the USA for over 25 years.
We are here to work with you in every way possible!

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.

Como Park Conservatory and Me

I grew up in St. Paul, MN, one of the lucky urban areas in the United States that adorns a public conservatory. The Conservatory sits like a crown jewel in Como Park, overlooking Como Lake and sits adjacent to the public zoo.

Como Park is a very special place to us Minnesotans and even more magical viewing though an eyes of a child. I vividly recall my dad taking us kids to the conservatory on cold winter days when one longed for the splendors of spring and summer and the outside weather was biting and bitter.
The sound of the birds taking refuge in the glorious glass building, the smell of the earth, the humidity, the plants. It touched my scenes and my soul more than I would ever know as a child. The conservatory offered up a good alternative to a vacation and a brief rest from what seemed an endless winter’s grip.

I retained my love of plants and biology, and went on to the University of Minnesota to gain a science degree, of which I taught for several years before going to work in the landscape industry.
img_0017 In 1988 a customer of mine asked if I would be interested in installing a wood conservatory she had purchased from England. From that point on I was hooked. I went to work for various companies that were building conservatories and was able to gain experience in the design and installation of nearly every product that was offered to the market. Over time my son, Mike, has joined on and asked the question why we didn’t set out on our own and build the best conservatory available today.
So many years ago I didn’t realize the impact Como Park Conservatory has made on me. I am grateful and lucky to share the splendor of the Conservatory with my own children.

The Conservatory Olympics

In honor of the 2012 Olympics, we would like to take the time to notice our very favorite British Conservatories!

Starting with Horniman

Syon Park Great Conservatory in Greater London
The Great Conservatory sits on over 40 acres of parkland and gardens. The conservatory sits adjacent to Syon House wherein 1547; King Henry VIII’s coffin was brought to on its way to Windsor for burial. It burst open during the night and in the morning dogs were found licking up the remains! This was regarded as a divine judgment for the King’s desecration of Syon Abbey. Wow, drama!

Next, Kensington!

Although technically an Orangery we love all things Kensington so this is at the top of our list because the palace and the grounds on which it sits is one of the most beautiful places in the world. This Queen Anne orangery was built in the 1500’s. As British explorers combed the new world, one of the popular things to do was to bring back plant specimens to England for research. Citrus crops, like oranges, became a popular delicacy in Britain (and a prevention of scurvy for British sailors). British winters were hard on orange trees, and so ‘orangeries’ were built that would allow the trees to be wheeled out onto the terrace in the summer, and maintained indoors in the winter. Conservatory Craftsmen will build your orangery today with folding walls so the entire space can open up in the summer to the terrace, pool and points beyond.

Belton House Orangery

Another Orangery but oh so pretty and it reminds me of Downtown Abbey! The orangery has a solid roof, unlike a conservatory. Today we build a skylight on the roof. This also helps minimize solar gain, for an open south exposure. And the Gold goes to…. KEW!

For anyone traveling to London, for the games, or any other time, the tour of a lifetime is Kew Gardens. Several conservatories of various designs and age will captivate the enthusiast for an entire day. Sprawling turn of the century conservatories that allow the visitor to climb up into the domes and achieve an intimacy with the flora, unlike anywhere in the world. The British have long been Olympians in their research and study of plants, but we can thank them even more for developing the Conservatory, for which we have dedicated our lives to building. Looking to gain more information on Conservatories? Sign up here for emails introducing Conservatory Craftsmen and other related topics!

Folding Walls

At Conservatory Craftsmen, we offer custom folding walls for conservatories at prices far below our competition.

Once considered a luxury for commercial projects, now homeowners are taking advantage of this design option to open walls to the outdoors.

Our folding wall systems are mahogany or thermally broken aluminum. All walls are insulated, weather-tight and four seasons ready.

Incorporate folding walls into your conservatory. We can build these wall systems 13′ tall and up to 50′ long.


img_0004History tells us that the first conservatories date back to the Roman Empire, but the modern conservatory was first crafted in the 16th century by English aristocracy. Seeking to grow the exotic fruits and spices that tradesmen brought with them from India, Asia and Africa, glass conservatories were a status symbol among the wealthy and a place to entertain at home. Orangeries, as they were called, were filled with tropical plants and citrus trees that otherwise wouldn’t survive in cold climates.

The conservatories of today are more versatile, family oriented living spaces. They are glass enclosed breakfast nooks, playrooms, and lounging areas that allow the stunning views of nature to be enjoyed from the comfort of the indoors. Finely crafted of mahogany or aluminum, a well-built conservatory can be enjoyed in all four seasons, remaining cool on the hottest days and warm in the coldest of winters. Moisture, temperature and sunlight are carefully regulated by automated vents, heating and cooling systems, and solar glass.


Coordinating the style of the existing structure with the design of a conservatory is essential. A seamless addition takes into account the architectural design of the entire house, and balance is achieved when the conservatory is effortlessly defined as its own space without detracting from the rest of the home. Creating a conservatory is not limited to an entire home renovation; an interior room can be transformed into a sun-soaked space with glass walls, windows and skylights. Our Gallery offers some wonderful examples of these options.

ridgewood-9Custom homebuilders have more flexibility when deciding the optimal location for their conservatory. Conservatory designs can be adapted to accommodate the slope of the property, orientation to the sun, and the outdoor views surrounding the space. The timeless elegance of a conservatory is emphasized by interior design options that not only compliment the room, but provide protection against weather and time. Shades and blinds are not only decorative, but also help keep the conservatory cool by limiting sun exposure. Customization with conservatory accessories such as leaded glass, specialty muntins and mirage screens offer character and distinction.

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.

The True Star of Saving Grace

sgrace4Here at Conservatory Craftsmen, we are passionate about all things Conservatory; we also have a passion for two other ‘C’s’. Cornwall (England that is!) and Craig Ferguson and an off-color movie that he wrote and starred in called “Saving Grace.”

Saving Grace is a comedy about Grace (Brenda Blethyn), a recently widowed woman who risks losing her wonderful estate and beautiful garden because of the huge debts her husband left when he died. To cure her financial ailments, she uses her horticultural talent and her gardener (Craig Ferguson) to raise–and then sell–marijuana plants in her Cornish Manor conservatory.saving-grace

Not only will this movie make you fall in love with conservatories it will leave you wanting to book the next flight out to Cornell, as I did. Well not the next flight…but close. The cinematography will truly capture your heart.

However we are talking about a comedy and you can guess what the main characters are doing to light a conservatory up like this! This is by far the best scene in the movie.

Here is the Cornish Manor where most of the movie was shot. This home was listed in 2009 for $4.5 US!


The quaint Cornish town did experience an uptick in tourism (including myself) after the movie was released.


You can see why. Cornwall has some of the most breath-taking coastlines in the entire world.

Now here is the movie trailer that will have you clicking for your Netflix account next!


Saving Grace Trailor

Have a lovely day!