Garden Design | Conservatories and Sunrooms

Published on May 10th 2021
A cup of coffee on a table
The sunroom or conservatory is by far the most delightful winter space. It is the envy of every apartment dweller and gardener alike. Well, today we look at the various reasons why you should consider letting some light into your home and how to go about it economically. I also touch on some budget options for the cash-strapped gardener (so not to worry).
A close up of a window

Sunroom vs Conservatory

They sound similar, yet the construction is fundamentally different. Sunrooms have a solid roof, while conservatories sport glass or polycarbonate roofing. It may seem a trivial distinction, but it affects the ambient light, temperature and construction costs, so be sure to keep that in mind.
  • Ideal for temperature-sensitive plants.
  • More convenient than a standalone cold frame or greenhouse.
  • Can be used day and night i.e. stargazing, recreation or horticulture.
  • Elevates the property value.
  • Great return on investment.
  • The size will be subject to building regulation (like all room additions).
  • Only a few specialized proprietors build conservatories.
  • No sliding doors, will therefore remain largely enclosed.
  • Not suitable for recreational activities affected by glare.
A living room filled with furniture and a large window
  • Ambient light reduces electricity bills.
  • You can easily add modified blinds.
  • Less glare when using it for other recreational activities (e.g. television room).
  • Can make use of sliding doors.
  • Can be constructed out of an existing patio (given correct foundations).
  • Can be constructed by general contractors.
  • Less light enters the space, compared to conservatories.
  • Roofing will add additional costs (compared to glass or polycarbonate).
  • Less heat exchange.
  • Not ideal for horticultural purposes.
Some of the cons can be pros depending on what you envision your space to look like. It might benefit you to sit and jot down what you would like to use the space for. Having a few rudimentary things on hand will help you consider other design aspects like water drainage (if it will substitute as a growing space), heating (will you be in it consistently or can it cool down), and humidity (which would affect natural materials like wood).

Designing: The fun part or not?

Scrolling through the online galleries will make you giddy with excitement, but take a moment to consider some basics. You will be so thankful down the line. If you pick a stock standard prototype, the builder will not necessarily ask you if you have considered the materials (giving you different options). Make sure to discuss the following with them before jumping in headlong.
Design consideration:
  • Facing (South, West North, East)
  • Foundation: This is often overlooked even with greenhouse or cold frame construction.
  • Building regulations: Each area will differ in terms of building regulations. Some will require plans to be submitted and approved before construction. Buildings built without these may be torn down by local authorities and subject to fines.
  • Heating or solar cladding
  • Drainage
  • Maintenance and cleaning
  • Air ventilation
As mentioned before, some aspects such as air ventilation and drainage will be affected by what you intend to use the space for. But in all honesty, we are all gardeners, which means there will be a plant in there. The question is, how many? The more you know before you contact your provider, the better the guidance they can provide. It will save you a lot of money down the line.
Conservatory specialists:
Nadine Engelbrecht (Featured Architect)
A group of people in a garden

Balcony or Budget version

The dream is lovely, but your budget brings your dreams to a screeching halt. Don’t be discouraged. There might just be something we can do about it. Both balconies and patios can be semi-enclosed with see-through blinds that let in the light but keep out the elements. Cue a tiny heater and you have a cosy little nook for yourself.
It is a trick many a restaurant has employed over the years to keep customers nice and toasty in the winter months. They are also ideal for plants that like a little protection. The designs are endless, so why not hop on over and have a gander?
Remember that getting some sun during winter can do wonders for your disposition. If you feel a sunroom is still far in the future, think of visiting some inspirational greenhouses this winter.

If you have visited an inspirational conservatory or come across your dream, tell me in the comments below.

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