There are many factors that go into maintaining a comfortable temperature in a conservatory all year round. Primarily, it’s down to the materials used and its construction because these have a major impact on its thermal efficiency. The better a conservatory’s thermal efficiency, the less heat is transferred across its base, roof and windows. This keeps the warmth in during the winter and helps to prevent the conservatory getting too hot in the summer. In this article we look at the elements that play a key role in optimising a conservatory’s thermal insulation and the heating options available.
Conservatory Materials and Construction
The first thing to bear in mind is that not all glass is created equally. Some forms of glazing will be better-equipped to retain heat than others. Double glazing – a technology which helps glass to better insulate heat by placing two panes parallel to one another, sandwiching in the middle a vacuum, or an inert gas like argon – is the minimum that should be aimed for. This hugely reduces the transfer of heat (and sound) from one side of the window to the other.
There’s a great selection of glazing options available on the market today that balance thermal efficiency with heat reflectance and light transmittance. In effect, this enables a conservatory to retain heat, not get too hot during the summer and reduce the amount of glare within the room.
A conservatory’s roof will also affect its ability to retain heat. Conservatory roofing comes in many different forms – as many, in fact, as roofing on traditional properties. One of the most obvious solutions is to use glass because it ensures the property benefits from natural light throughout the day creating a bright and airy space.
Alternatively, there are other options to consider.
The entry level conservatory roofing system is polycarbonate. The technology for this material has greatly improved over the years thus improving its performance. For example, Marlon St Heatguard is lightweight, extremely durable and is manufactured using a specially developed pigment that allows light to enter through the roof at the same time as deflecting solar radiation. Tests have shown that it can reduce heat transfer through the roof by over 50%.
A tiled roof, such as that found on a brick-and-mortar building, offers superb thermal and acoustic properties, and is extremely secure. The tiles can be made to match the existing property and they can be retrofitted to conservatories replacing old inefficient roofs.
However, some companies offer to fit insulation and tiles to an existing roof but consumers should be very careful choosing this solution. The existing roof is very unlikely to be designed to support the additional weight, which includes wind and snow loadings. This method is also very prone to condensation because of the placement of the insulation. Ideally, it should be placed on either side of its aluminium frame forming a warm roof structure that helps prevent condensation from developing.
It’s not only the windows and roof that need to be sufficiently insulated on a conservatory to guarantee optimal conditions, the construction of the base is important too. It should have:
- Engineering bricks below the damp course – this type of brick has been specially heat treated to make them much more durable than standard facing bricks.
- The correct damp proof membrane under the concrete floor to stop water ingress and internal damp problems. This must be continuous with the existing dwelling.
Dwarf walls are a common feature in conservatory design and support the structure’s frame. They should have a cavity between the inner and outer leaf that should be filled with an insulating material to reduce heat loss through the walls. It is possible to retrofit insulation to a wall by drilling holes and injecting the material.
Conservatory Heating Solutions
So far the different means of preventing heat from escaping a conservatory have been explored. However, there’s another consideration to bear in mind – heating a conservatory in the first place.
Conservatory heaters come in many forms. One of the most popular are electric radiators. These look similar to traditional radiators but can be installed with minimum cost and disruption. It is usually costlier to run electric radiators but they are also cheaper to install. They are often more controllable because they can be turned on or off when the room is in use.
Another option is connecting an existing central heating system to the conservatory. This approach requires Building Regulations approval because if the conservatory is not sufficiently insulated and heated, the pipes and radiators may be at risk of freezing during prolonged cold weather.
Portable Electric Heaters
A portable electric heater is a convenient way to heat a cold room. They’re ideal in conservatories on cold mornings before the primary heating system hasn’t yet taken full effect.
They’re also (generally) cheap to buy, and easy to use. There are a number of options:
Radiant heaters provide instantaneous heat by passing electricity through a series of heating elements.
Fan heaters provide instant warmth, however they are one of the most expensive heaters to run and they tend to distribute heat to a single area of the room.
Oil filled radiators take time to heat up but then continue to emit heat long after being turned off.
Whilst air conditioning systems might be primarily thought of as a means of cooling an indoor environment, they can also work effectively as heaters. They therefore represent an attractive alternative to the radiator.
Air conditioners work by piping a special fluid from one area to another, with specially-designed grills placed along the way, serving to collect and disperse heat, thereby transmitting it from one area to another. Air conditioners come in a number of different forms, ranging from small units designed to sit within a window to a networks of pipes and ventilation shafts which spread across a large building such as a hospital. A conservatory’s needs will tend toward the former.
Of course, another key advantage of an air conditioning system is that, as well as heating a conservatory in winter, it can be used to keep one cool during the summer.
Another means of making a conservatory warm during winter comes in the form of underfloor heating. It works in much the same principle as the upright radiator and comes in two different forms – there are ‘wet’ systems, which work by piping hot water beneath the floor, and there are ‘dry’ ones, which use electric filaments instead. That said, underfloor heating is typically more efficient than its more traditional competitors – since the heat will rise up directly from the floor.
One of the most overlooked, and yet effective means of keeping a home warm is through the use of heavy curtains in front of the windows. These hugely negate heat transfer, especially when one considers their cost. In conservatories, it’s usually blinds that are favoured over curtains, but the principle applies just the same.
In order to get the best out of a set of blinds, open and close them throughout the day. During the daytime, the blinds should be opened in order to allow sunlight in. Once the sun begins going down, blinds should be closed in order to prevent heat from escaping.
There are many factors that impact on keeping a conservatory warm. From the type of materials that it’s built from to the type of heating system that is used from day to day. Typically, the cheaper the capital outlay for the heating solution, the more inefficient it will be. Therefore, the long term savings and gains should be considered before making a decision.
Another option is to completely replace your old conservatory. Modern conservatories benefit from using the very best technology and construction methods. This includes state of the art glazed units, insulated uprights and a thermally efficient roof. It makes it far easier to maintain a constant temperature ensuring a pleasant and comfortable space all year round.