-30ºF to 100+F: It’s in the Design

This custom gable conservatory in Woodbury, Minnesota was built for a talented homeowner who designed the interior to be a warm, relaxing space for their family and friends to enjoy all year round.

orchardridge-23The conservatory was the last piece of this outdoor renovation, with French doors leading out to the perennial gardens and a beautiful in ground pool. The vertical windows that create the walls of the conservatory feature arches, or as they are formally known, specialty muntins, which added a decorative touch to the space.

orchardridge-28The energy efficient polycarbonate roof was selected to let in all of the natural light and keep the conservatory bright, but still filter out the UV rays and heat from the sun. The new conservatory was attached to the home by using a cricket roof, and a stucco knee wall was added to match the home’s exterior. On the inside walls, the designer chose a natural stone. Wicker furniture and topiaries complete the room.

orchardridge-3A roof with a steep slope 12/12 pitch roof was chosen for the structure. The roof’s pitch is important to consider in cold regions of the country where, during the winter months, there are high volumes of snowfall. The steep slope helps to redirect the heavy weight of the snow from the glass roof. It is also important when adding any addition to a home to consider the existing architectural style of the house.
To ensure the new conservatory could be used as a year round sanctuary, we added a heated slate floor to add warmth on cold winter days and roll away screens on the windows and doors to allow bug free ventilation during pool parties in the summer.

Winter Living in Your Conservatory

Whatever type of glass enclosure you want to build, you may feel like it won’t be as effective a living space in the winter because of the temperature outside. This is actually a misconception; with the right kind of design and execution, winter living in your conservatory is very possible, even if you reside in a very cold part of the world. There are a few important elements to know about winter living in your conservatory so that you can design it in a way that makes it comfortable to be in during the winter months.

Picking the Right Glass

One of the most important elements of winter living in your conservatory is making sure that you pick the right type of glass for the structure. Photovoltaic glass (PV) absorbs and reflects the infrared light from the sun so unwanted heat is reflected in the hot summer and retained in the winter. It is important that you have glass that does not bring in an excessive amount of heat in the summer time, yet still brings in a sufficient amount of heat to the conservatory in the winter when you need a warmer conservatory.

Incorporating Elements of the Outdoors

When the mercury drops and it gets too cold to go outside, a conservatory can be a great place to be since people often feel like they are very connected to nature because of the many windows out of which they can see the world. You can make your conservatory even more connected to the outdoors during the winter by adding plants, trees, and other natural elements that you can enjoy when it is too cold to be outside.
Picking the Right Builder

One of the most critical issues relating to building a conservatory that is suitable for living in the winter is finding a builder that you can depend on. Remember to take your time and speak at length to prospective builders about what you are looking for; this way, you can determine very quickly whether or not they will be able to get the job done. A quality builder should have experience with the kind of conservatory project you want to build, as well as glowing reviews from previous clients.

Winter living in a conservatory is very possible; however, it does require proper design. Plan your conservatory carefully, pick the right materials, and choose a reliable team of builders so that your conservatory is suitable during all months of the year.

10 Ways To Use Your Conservatory

Why do some people build a conservatory and others do not?

It’s about connection. Connecting with nature, with the outdoors. Bring the natural outdoor environment into your house and experience it, rain or shine every day of the year. How many days of your year do you find yourself holed up in the house? How many days of the year is it too cold, too buggy, too rainy, too windy for you to sit outside and enjoy the day?

My answer to that question, if you own a conservatory is ZERO! There is never a day you don’t want to be outside, when outside is inside!

This morning as the red fox walked by my conservatory, sniffing the yard for chipmunks, I realized how blessed I am. When lightening storms come our way, we head to the conservatory to watch! When there is a blizzard outside, we head to the conservatory to pretend we live in a snow globe! We use our conservatory every single day of the year.

Here are 10 ways to use your conservatory

1. Growing

Either readying them for spring or keeping plants alive over the winter. At its core, a conservatory is built for growing! I need to be in touch with green living things. In the depths of winter when it seems though all life has stopped, I sit in the conservatory and marvel at the lemons growing on the Meyer tree, or the mass of yellow flowers on the Thunbergi. I don’t think I appreciate these little joys in the summer as much as I do in the winter, when we co-exist in our conservatory.
Back in March there were 50 flats growing and getting their duty assignments. Now they’re gorgeous flowers in the garden for a summer wedding.

2. Entertaining

At the end of the week, family and friends just naturally stop by to sit in the conservatory and have a snack with a drink. The conservatory unwinds you. It grounds you to your reality and shakes the stress of a difficult work week.

3. Afternoon tea

We have 6 grandchildren. They enjoy a little ritual in their lives. We make English tea (for children) and we all enjoy having a proper cup of tea when they visit. Not to make light of a time honored tradition, but more to take the time to stop and do something that has some level of ritual attached to it.

Customers stop by to see what a conservatory is all about. Tea is also what it is all about, so we always have a kettle on. Come stop by- we’ll have the milk and sugar ready!

4. Reading

A conservatory is like a reading room. A quiet respite. Nestle on the chair, maybe some good music, stars over head, a soft reading lamp. I can’t say more about this. Turn the act of reading a book into an event, for the rest of your life! The novelty will never wear off.

5. Playing music

Does music move you? It does most people. We all have our preferences when it comes to music (in my own house we do!), but there is no finer room in which to turn the music to your favorite and listen loud, listen soft, but be one with the composition. The acoustics of the glass will treat you to the best music hall you have ever been in.

In my conservatory, it is a team effort with me and my Hammond B3, which I resurrected from a sure death, and totally re-built. 1956 was a great year for Hammond, and many a starlit night one will stop by and hear the distinctive sound of the Hammond B3 working on some jazz rift that the organ knows, the player (me) is learning.

6. What is your instrument?

Recently, Mrs Hewitt has re-visited painting. She is a talented artist who has taken time in her life to raise 4 very great kids and now is turning to her old passion as well.

What is your passion? What is it that you used to do, and put away? Pull it out, give it a room. Find yourself again…….

7. Eating

I have always advised people “build the conservatory close to your kitchen”. I just know, from talking to the hundreds of happy conservatory owners that they have breakfast, lunch and dinner in the conservatory.

One customer (who built two conservatories on two homes!) told me that he only uses his kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and conservatory. The rest of the house was useless! He and his wife sat and started every morning together in the conservatory with coffee and the newspaper. Maybe no one ever spoke, but the bonding ritual is real, and they meet like clockwork, every morning in the conservatory. Sometimes a real conversation takes place, other days no words are spoken. It doesn’t matter. The stage is set, the ritual observed, the day is embraced.

8. Naptime

Remember that good book we talked about? Well you can guess what followed! A great nap! Sometimes when the house just doesn’t seem warm enough in January, the sun is out and one takes advice from the cat and curls up under a warm window and takes a nap. If life were to paint a picture of the most pure and joyful things you have done in your life, that nap is high on the list.

Many a star lit night has become a starlit sleep in the conservatory. Sleeping under the stars, no bugs, no rain, just you and nature. Does sleep get any better? Try it, you’ll like it.

9. Game night

Wholesome competition brings families together. We have game night as a family, but also with friends. Trivia, Pantomime, Games! Really, the old fashioned things people used to do TOGETHER before the age of home video games. There is nothing better than the bonding moment of sharing tons of laughs with family and friends playing games. When is the last time you played games? Well, you can play games in any room of the house, but when you begin the ritual in the conservatory, the kids, the friends, the family look forward to game night in the conservatory.

10. Romance

We can’t pass on the best of all. Fire up some candles. Watch them reflect over and over again in each window in a dizzying display of candlelight! A nice bottle of wine, some great music. Re-kindle your love for your soul mate in a special, most intimate room ever built.

The conclusion is that anyone can put a room on their house, but only a special person understands why adding a conservatory on their house creates a new way of living. It’s a room unlike any other, a crystal palace all your own.

Five “No-Fail” Tricks For Cleaning Glass Ceilings

Most people want to ask that question because it crosses your mind at one point or another. I am a bit of a glass fanatic myself. Having been in this industry for 25 years, I like my glass clean and do not feel good about seeing dirty glass.

Here are a few ‘tricks’ to take care of the glass ceiling in a conservatory and keep it looking good.


Viewing autumn through the roof of a 5 bay Conservatory Craftsmen

First trick: not something I thought of. Something the clever Victorians thought of. That lovely cresting that we put on top of the roof? Well it’s not just a decoration. It keeps the birds off the roof, and it does work! The birds do not like to sit on the fleur-de-lis design and if they are not on the roof, you have fewer annoying bird droppings

Second trick: self-cleaning glass! There actually is a readily available glass option surface that is self-cleaning.
Self cleaning glass is a bit like a permanent Rain-ex coating on the glass. You know, Rain-ex? The stuff you clean your windshield so that glass beads up and rolls off. It does this by establishing a surface ‘grain’ to the glass that all sheds one way. In addition to this coating, there is a chemical put into the coating that actually reacts with organic material to dissolve it to dust and it blows or washes away. So, every time it rains, or you squirt the roof with a hose, it cleans the roof.

As you can well imagine, self-cleaning glass is expensive. Not only from the perspective of the manufacturing of the glass, but also the handling of the glass. We can only handle the glass with special gloves on and we cannot touch the glass. When hoisting a 120 pound unit of glass to your roof, that becomes a challenge!
In conclusion, let me just say, it does work.

Third trick: tools. The great tools used by professional glass cleaners are not expensive. Go to www.jracenstein.com. That is where I go to buy poles, squeegees, cleaner, etc. You will find a whole lot of cool stuff to use that you don’t find at the store. I love their products for getting the film off the shower glass.

Fourth trick: see my blog on The Art of Washing Windows The Norwex rag set is the easiest thing you will ever use in the whole house for quickly and thoroughly cleaning glass…everywhere in the house.
I honestly clean the inside ‘ceiling’ of the conservatory once a year. It does not really need more. The exterior, the rain usually takes care of, but when I want it really clean (I love spring) then its time to get out the garden hose and go at it.

Fifth trick: many people hire a service to clean the glass. Our conservatory roofs are stronger than many other companies, and we can put ‘one, two, three men’ on one piece of roof glass. Why not four? Well, if we fit, we could! So if your glass cleaner has a ‘cup’ a sucker cup as the British call them, they can stand on any roof we make.

Make sure not to use abrasive materials to clean glass. Kitchen scrubbers can scratch glass in a jiffy and are not to be used on your glass. Please do your homework before using scrubbers on the glass.

If you have mild lime stains on the glass, try some vinegar and if that does not do it, go to J Racenstein for tools and cleaners that will clean lime stains from any glass you have.

I enjoy cleaning glass, but I understand that most people do not. I hope these few thoughts will give you the courage to take on the roof and keep it as clean as the day we leave the job.

Happy cleaning!

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.

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.