Six Ways To Automate Your Conservatory

Every conservatory is different. Some are built in the shade of stately trees. Others are built right out in the southern sun and take a full hit of infrared waves daily. Keeping a conservatory cool requires pre-planning. Keeping it cool with the modern conveniences of automated conservatory features is a luxury that cannot be underrated.

In past articles, I have always compared a conservatory to your car. OK, I know you don’t grow hibiscus in your back seat, but the extremes of hot and cold can be similar to that of any glass enclosure.

In the past, I have also commented that a company who builds a structure with no consideration to mechanical design would be like a home builder forgetting to install a furnace and air conditioner.

So, we agree on the varying extremes in temperature and that attention to that detail is absolutely required. How to protect thousands of dollars of conservatory furniture, or the tropical plants from those elements?

Automation allows a homeowner to control ventilation, watering schedules and lighting all with a click of a button. We can even connect these features to your lap-top, computer, or i-Pad. Many refurbishment projects have added these automation features as an easy upgrade.


Conservatory Blinds and Shades

sheppard2012-30Many of you have conservatory blinds. Many of you do not and are needlessly suffering through the scorching rays of the sun. Sourcing blinds specifically made for slope glazing is tricky in the United States. Your local window treatment company will not have the correct products to hang from a ceiling and if they do, the price is probably quite inflated.

Pleated Shades

How would you like it if the blinds moved up and down based on temperature, time of day or sun intensity? How about if you could put the blinds up from your office and watch the whole thing on your video monitor? We offer all of this to you.


Some days you may leave the house and it’s 20 degrees outside. The day warms up, the sun is intense and soon it’s 90 in the room. Is air conditioning a reasonable idea if its 20 degrees outside? Of course not. We can automate fans so windows open, roof vents open, fans come on and temperatures cool down. Of course, the reverse is true and all of this will shut down before the conservatory gets too cool.

Roof Vent

Naturally, we can also control the heating and cooling system to make sure temps are adequate for your room any time or any day. From your laptop or i-Pad you can see the current temperature of the room and set it to any desired temperature.

If temps in the room go too high or too low, hi-lo temp sensors can be installed to warn you of the condition.

Watering Systems

Automatic watering can be accomplished by setting timers to come on numerous times each day. Small spaghetti- like tubing will feed each plant and provide the plant with a prescribed amount of water. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Go on vacation and never have to worry about who will water your greenhouse garden.

Lighting Design

  • Individual lighting for plants
  • Mood and safety lighting
  • Landscape lighting

4 Tips on Keeping A Conservatory Cool

Keeping a conservatory cool begins with planning. Before the first nail is hammered, heat control must be incorporated into the conservatory’s design. Doing so without one is a surefire plan for an uncomfortable conservatory.

4 Tips on Keeping a Conservatory Cool

  • Natural shading from surrounding trees
  • Solar glass
  • Automatic or roller blinds and shades
  • Ventilation systems

As soon as the warm season begins, we know that if it’s hot outside it’s going to get even hotter in the conservatory. When I sit down with our clients to do a conservatory design, we evaluate four specific conditions:


What natural shading occurs during the day? Does the conservatory face directly south? Does the house shade the conservatory for a portion of the day? Be mindful that the sun changes in altitude. In the winter, the low sun shines in through the side windows. In the summer, the heat gain comes through the roof.
Being a Horticulturalist, the first assistance I look for comes from plants. Deciduous trees (ones that lose leaves in the winter) to be more specific. Deciduous trees are your best friends.

They shade the room in the summer, and allow sun to shine through in the winter. What a great relationship you will have with trees, well placed near your conservatory. A note here, if you are not a tree expert, get some expert advice. You do not want softwood trees that easily lose branches in storms or winds. You do not want trees that make a big mess with seeds. You also want to make sure your tree is not ‘sappy’ or a tree that attracts insects that produce sap. Sound impossible? Not at all. Just get good advice.


Glass is rated by experts in two ways. Solar gain and heat gain. They are different entities. Without going into a deep discussion, what you want is to control heat gain, and that is with shading coefficient. We can get shading co-efficiency to a point where the glass can be 75% shading. This may cause a loss of visibility, so look at different glass options and decide what level of shading you want in the glass.


Well, you may call them shades too. We love the conservatory blinds that we use and we take great care to match them with your interior decor. Blinds have multiple functions. They do the obvious thing of shading out the sun, but in the winter, at night, they hold heat into the room. A great plus when its below zero like it has been for us so many times this winter. Consider automation. We can motorize the blinds so you can control them many ways. Sensors in the room can raise and lower them based on time of day, temperature in the room or sun intensity. We can also allow you to manually operate the blinds from your laptop whilst on a sunny beach in the Caribbean!


How do commercial greenhouses keep them cool? A simple thing: moving air. We like to move a lot of air through the conservatory. When it is 75 degrees outside and the conservatory has just hit 90, you can control the temperature by simply moving air. We call it air exchanges. If you exchange the air in the room 6 times in an hour, you should be what we call ‘ambient’.

Moving air is cheap. You notice I have not talked about air conditioning yet. That is the last option on my list. You can use roof vents with automatic louvers to open side windows and roof vents to create a chimney affect. Have a ceiling fan below pushing the air up to the roof. The natural movement of hot air is up, so let it go up, and get it out!
We also use attic fans that take the air from the conservatory, up high, and expel through the roof of the house or a soffit on the conservatory. This is a bit more complicated, so rely on your designer to get you through this one.

OK, now the air conditioner. I only use mine as a last resort. I think the mini-split is the way to go. Look into Mitusibishi or Fijitsju for a couple of great products that can cool a conservatory in no time. They just cost more to run.

So I read the internet, and I see many frustrated, unhappy people trying to cool their conservatory. You know why that happens? They bought from the wrong company. They bought from a company more interested in closing a sale than educating the buyer as to the many solar options they have and a conservatory design that meets their expectations.

Can A Conservatory Weather a Hurricane?

There is no doubt that storms are becoming stronger and that the destruction weather can cause is getting worse and worse.

Across New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, fifteen conservatories built by Conservatory Craftsmen experienced full force winds and rain from Hurricane Sandy. None of our structures suffered any wind or water damage. One of our conservatories, under construction, had a small leak, and this was quickly repaired. This isn’t because of luck. Before we started building, we ensured that our engineering took into account the location and topography of the project.

“Leak” is a 4-letter word in the construction business.Water is the silent killer of anything structural, particularly conservatories. Anybody who says they have never had one is simply not telling the truth. However, Conservatory Craftsmen has only experienced a small number of leaks over the last 23 years, and there has never been a leak left unattended.

After Hurricane Sandy, our phone and email had a constant flow of pleas for help from conservatory owners looking for a repair service. We are happy to visit and repair many brands of conservatories, even if they were not built by Conservatory Craftsmen.

Frankly, these homeowners couldn’t reach the original company because that company had gone out of business!

Three Lies Told by Unscrupulous Conservatory Repair Companies:

1. If you have a sunroom, greenhouse or conservatory that has clear polycarbonate on the roof and you want to simply replace it, that’s your decision. However, I am telling you right now, even new polycarbonate will never stand up to extreme weather. I was at a conservatory in New Jersey that was knocked over by a snowdrift from a heavy snowstorm. That’s right… a snow drift knocked over a conservatory! Ask yourself, “Would I prefer glass on my roof?” If the repair company tries to talk you out of glass or tries to tell you that your structure’s roof is for polycarbonate only, they are not telling the truth. Why would they teel you that? Because polycarbonate is much cheaper than glass and it will keep their repair bid down while they still make high margins on the material.

2. Ask about “stamped engineering.” Many localities today require stamped engineering. It’s a good thing but it will probably add several thousand dollars to the cost of the conservatory. The engineer, who takes legal responsibility for the project, has a lot of calculations to do to deliver stamped engineering. If the company is unable to provide stamped engineering, walk away. Conservatory Craftsmen provides stamped and sealed engineering for any project if needed. “YES,” it will cost more, however, in the long run you’ll have a much higher-quality product.

3. Some companies like to tell you their glass is the best on the market and it’s made with a “top secret” process that no one else can do. Ridiculous! We can match any glass efficiency made, and likely surpass it. Get a written verification of the U-value of the glass. U-value is the energy efficiency of glass. Unlike R valve, the lower the number, the more efficient the glass is. We can provide glass with the lowest U-value on the market.

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.

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.