Project Profile: Southern Minnesota Lean-To


At a Glance: An underused and underwhelming patio space is converted into year-round living room on a historic home



What Happens Here?: Entertaining, relaxing, and growing

Location: Frontenac, MN

Size: Conservatory is 300 sq.ft.

Project Manager: Pioneer Renovations

Conservatory: Conservatory Craftsmen

This rambling Victorian river home was built on Lake Pepin, which is the widest naturally occurring part of the Mississippi River. Lake Pepin is located approximately 60 miles downstream from Saint Paul, Minnesota and is the perfect retreat for our clients. A pergola stretched out from behind the house with a beautiful, rustic view of a Minnesota State Park. Sadly, the pergola was very much underused due to exposure from bugs and weather. The extraordinary potential of this lush arboreal space, however, was easily recognizable by its owners, so they reached out to Jim Hewitt for a consultation. With the assistance of our expert team at Conservatory Craftsmen, a new vision for this space was conceived.

The existing space created a bit of a challenge for the design team. Tucked away inside a ‘U’ shaped area of the house, and under the second-floor windows, an opportunity existed.

Getting the structure to look ‘original’ to the home, and create a functional space was the goal of the new design. The team worked on plans, knowing that a single pitch, (lean-to) roof was the only option. The length of the roof rafters, however, required a ‘work around’.

It’s a matter of geometry. The longer the rafter, the more elevation drops over the run. If we had made the rafter attach to the house below the window and pitch 18′ to the front wall, the front wall would have been 5′ high. To solve this, Mike came up with the idea of a flat roof soffit along the house to bring the room out 4′ before the drop began.

Work began and once removal of the existing pergola was completed, footings were dug and a frost foundation was installed.

Architects – click for plans! MN Lean-to

Foam insulation was placed on the bare ground and hydronic piping was attached before the 3″ concrete slab was poured. The hydronic piping supplies the heat from a boiler for the in-floor heating system. The insulation keeps the heat from going down into the earth and forces it up into the concrete floor. Once the slab is warm, it holds this heat for a long time. Even a sunny day can work to warm the slab and keep the room comfortable well into the evening.

The crew framed the knee walls and the new soffit wall so the conservatory could then be installed.

The conservatory, a wooden, mahogany frame was painted a soft white in the paint booth of the shop to ensure an even coating, under controlled moisture conditions. This micro-porous paint application will ‘breathe’ and last for many, many years.

Installation of the conservatory itself was the easy part of this project! Now it was on to the finishing touches.

A natural field stone had been used as a foundation stone in other areas of the house, so we elected to face the exterior knee wall of the conservatory with stone to keep a unified look. As we framed and installed the gas fireplace on the interior of the room, we also used this field stone on the wall and surround of the fireplace. Ceramic tile was selected and installed. Ceramic is the natural choice on a concrete slab over in floor hydronic heat.

A mini-split air conditioner was installed on the house wall. Two ceiling fans were integrated into the soffit ceiling along with 3 new recessed lights. Removing the exterior door trim and replacing the trim in the room with interior trim gave the room a feeling of an inside space, not a space that was added to the exterior of the house. Millwork and sheet rocked walls were painted and we were good to go!

Pinoleum ceiling blinds were installed and automated. They gave a decorative touch to the room as well as shading the space from harsh sun.

Finally, all elements of the room were tied together with the automation system we now offer on every room.

The roof vents open and close with the side wall windows based on temperature of the room and weather conditions. As a safeguard, they are automatically closed by a rain sensor during inclement weather. The ceiling blinds will go up and down based on the time of day, time of year and weather conditions. The room will not heat up from solar gain with these blinds in place.

Did we mention the ceiling fans also are temperature controlled? When it gets warm and the vents open, the ceiling fans go on. During the cold months, they will spin at low speed in order to “stir” the air, ensuring even room heating.

Too hot for ventilation? Then the windows close and the mini-split air conditioner takes over.

Cold day today? No problem. On cold days the blinds go up to conserve heat and the in-floor heating takes over. As a back-up for heat in the room, the fireplace will kick on to keep the room from freezing.

Now, what if I want the blinds down for some star gazing? All functions in this room are controlled by either your smart phone, or a series of smart switches on the wall.

Lastly, our staff is available to monitor day to day functions remotely from our office. If any function needs adjustment due to seasonality, it is easily adjusted remotely.

More information is available on our web site or by calling us at 888 345 7915