Conservatories: Are you getting a straight answer?

What's your problem?

  • Too Hot?
  • Too Cold?
  • Too bright?
  • No privacy?
  • Damaged furniture?
  • All of the above??

What's the best solution for you?

For over a decade, I have been visiting conservatory owners with new, old, glass and plastic roofs who simply can’t use them.

I’ve seen it all, from emulsion painted on the roof to old parachutes and other types of fabric hanging from the ceiling by whatever means available. I’ve seen patio umbrellas inside the conservatory and seen a baseball cap on every chair arm and an umbrella leaning against every seat for everyone to put up whilst sitting in there.

What works and what doesn't?

My customers are a great source of information and after all they are the ones trying to solve the problems.

The standard polycarbonate roof sheeting does not address glare or reduce the heat effectively. However, the newer solar control polycarbonate roofs that are white on the inside and silver-grey on the outside can be fantastic. Frankly, I can’t improve on those and I don’t need to.

The downside is they still creak and bang in the sun’s heat and a drizzle still sounds like a rainstorm.

Glass roofs unfortunately are the biggest let down. Even where the newest solar control glass is specified, customers still complain about the heat and the tint is never dark enough to address the brightness of the sun. Many still allow some UV light to penetrate.

If you’re using a glass-roofed conservatory regularly, you should either have it coated or use sun block.

Solutions for unuseable conservatories

What are your options?

Firstly, when I visit customers, I ask how they use the space or want to use the space.

Is it always going to be used for that purpose or could that change in the future?

Do you use it throughout the year or just summer months?

Blinds
The most common ‘solution’ to see already fitted is blinds. I sell blinds, but I would never specify them to reduce heat in a conservatory because the infrared heat has already entered the room before it hits a standard blind. Even some solar reflective blinds I’ve seen can’t cope with the amount of heat pouring through these expanses of glass. To top it off, the most modern glazing is designed to reflect heat back into the room and so all blinds have a battle to reflect the heat way effectively.

Blinds also go against the whole purpose of connecting you with the outside. Why have space primarily made of glazing and then cover it?

Another common mistake is people use a light fabric that flares up and becomes a glare issue itself. You can end up creating a tent effect. Blinds also create additional surfaces that collect dust and insects. Sadly, we actually remove a lot of very expensive blinds (especially roof blinds) after customers become fed up with them, never to have them replaced.

However, blinds are very good for night-time privacy, decoration and dealing with the low winter sun’s glare, so it’s not all negative.

Air Conditioning
Air conditioning is another option, but quite often my customers say it’s too expensive to use and the unit can’t cope with the heat. Even if it does control the heat and humidity, it still doesn’t address glare or fading issues.

Roof conversions
Roof conversions are quite a new innovation and I’ll be totally honest: If you have a north-facing conservatory and want to use your room more like another room all year round then it’s an option to consider. However, the practical way it’s done varies greatly and so does the price. It’s often so expensive that it would be nearly the same price to build a new extension.

You should consider whether it is practical to put a new roof costing thousands on top of an aging window system. Are they reinforcing the structure to take extra weight, especially if the window system was originally intended to only carry a lightweight plastic roof system? Have they accounted for snow loading?

It would be worth speaking to an architect or builder because some roof conversions aren’t far off the price of a brand-new extension that would be more thermally efficient and would add greater value to your home. You also need to be mindful it may change the use of the structure so that it is no longer a conservatory. It could make it subject to building regulations and possibly planning permission issues.

I had a conversation with a Lincolnshire Building Inspector and his comments were, “By definition, a conservatory must have a transparent roof so therefore it’s a change of use”

However, another independent building inspection company said they base the decision on the percentage of glazing remaining, including the side windows.

This is a grey area, so do your homework and ask your local planning office personally. Don’t rely on what the salesperson tells you.

I was recently speaking to someone who had converted their roof. Then, when it came to selling his house, he ended up paying hundreds of pounds trying to get it signed off by the local planning officer, as it was picked up on the building survey. He nearly lost the sale of his house over it. If he hadn’t found the original plans of the conservatory, he would have had to dig up his patio so an inspector could check the footings depth, which would have added even further costs.

Although the solid roof will solve a few problems, it will lose you a lot of natural light entering adjoining rooms and you still haven’t addressed the heat, glare or UV entering though the side windows.

Mr and Mrs Snelling from Louth were on the verge of pulling down their polycarbonate-roofed conservatory after receiving quotes for roof conversions which were not cost-effective. And the ageing vertical blinds offered no relief and cluttered the space. CoolGlass coated the roof and windows of the conservatory, as well as a garage window and two front bedrooms. This is their feedback:

“A thoroughly professional service. From the start when Mark gave us his knowledge and guidance as to what film would suit our purposes best, to the installation with his colleague Adam. They were punctual, skilled and tidy. We are delighted with the end results. There has been a noticeable reduction in heat and glare in the conservatory and garage and the privacy we now have in our front bedrooms has enabled us to remove the vertical blinds making the room feel so much larger. We would not hesitate to recommend Mark and CoolGlass to anyone thinking of installing window film. We wished we had known about this product sooner. Thank you, Mark and Adam.”

For the cost of a roof conversion, CoolGlass could probably install high-performance glazing coatings to the roof AND windows AND install brand new blinds to the windows and you’d still have saved enough for a weekend away.

Upgrading the roof glazing
Upgrading your poly roof glazing panels to the latest specification polycarbonate does work, but you might need to also change the roof structure to accommodate the thicker panels. You could also upgrade the glass to improve the U value (representing the amount of heat retained by the glazing) if winter heat retention is your priority or lower the G value (the amount of heat the glazing allows in) to reduce solar heat gain. However, rooves generally need a glass that blocks 80 – 95% of the light to control the glare issue.

Solar-control glass coatings
The last little-known option is architectural solar control glass coatings, better known as window film. It is used regularly in the USA, UAE, Australasia and other hotter parts of the world, keeping skyscrapers, offices and homes cooler. Some versions also have additional coatings to retain winter heat which may be useful on older glass types. The technology is well proven. It has been around in some form or other for over five decades. It is available in various shades and grades and can also filter out 99% of harmful UV.

Some brands are recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation so your fitting can be tailored to your needs.

It is generally the cheapest retrofit option here and has no running costs or extra workload. I’ve personally had a customer report a temperature reduction of between 10 and 15˚C in their solar-reflective glass-roofed conservatory, achieved just by removing the solar reflective roof blinds and installing coatings to the roof alone. Before this, it had an in-wall air conditioning unit but was still unusable when the sun was out.

The coatings work by reflecting and absorbing heat before it enters the space. The best thing is you can see through the film just like a normal window.

Careful consideration regarding the glass and type of product installed is required and a glazing survey is a must. The incorrect specification can lead to damage to the glazing systems, so a professional is needed to test the glass and undertake the appropriate checks. Like all things in life there are varying degrees of quality too, so do your homework.

Window film isn’t always going to solve every problem, much like all the other products discussed here. However, it can be used on the roof and windows and it works very well to complement roof conversions, blinds and air conditioning, giving a very rounded package.

Solar blinds
One alternative is solar blinds. Although not as effective as a film, they are the next best option. The foil blinds, which can offer a clear or semi-clear view without night-time privacy, would only be offered where flexibility is required. However, they do have an industrial look not always suited to a domestic environment.

Consider your options
People still think that fitting one product will solve all their conservatory woes including summer and winter glare, winter heat loss, fading, skin damage, summer heat retention, humidity, privacy, safety and security. However, each product has its merits and limitations.

When I visit conservatory owners, I give them all the options available and advise on the best for them..

Do your homework, look at the options, listen to the people who visit and ask about the products they are selling. Probe them and ask those difficult questions such as ‘What brand of product are you using? How long will it last? Do I get a written warranty? What happens if you go bust? What happens to my warranty? Can I see some written testimonials?’ or ‘Can I see one that you have done locally?’

Modern Conservatories
Many conservatories are now part of the home structure, where they are used to link two rooms together or as fully functioning kitchens, living spaces or offices, so they are more than an occasional room.

There are films for polycarbonate-roofed conservatories as well as glass. A special film must be used due to a reaction between a normal window film and the plastics causing incorrectly specified films to lift over time.

This is where you need to call the experts who will test your glass and advise you on the best film for your needs. The installations carry comprehensive manufacturer-backed warranties of up to sixteen years. However, it’s very rare that you will ever have any issue if the films are professionally installed.

Window films can last for a quarter of a century in certain situations. They have also been proven to have the best return on investment of almost any home-improvement products you can have fitted to a property. Certain films have also been proved carbon negative, actually saving more CO2 than is used to manufacture and install them.

Happy to help - Questions and Answers

If you have an existing conservatory or are thinking of building a new one, a sunroom or orangery or an extensive glass facade, I’d be happy to advise you based on my knowledge and proven results achieved on hundreds of conservatories and buildings in the UK and Australia.

How do I keep my conservatory cool in the summer?
The most cost-effective way to keep new or old conservatories cooler is using architectural glass coatings or window film more powerful than current specified solar glass. This can reduce temperatures by up to 15°C* with no running costs while retaining a clear view. We have customers contact us within weeks of their brand-new conservatory being erected. Even those using the latest solar glass.

*figure taken from customer’s written feedback form

How do I keep my conservatory warm in winter?
Our Low E winter heat retaining glass coatings are able to retain heat actively, although our customers tell us our summer heat reflecting films also retain heat for longer.

How can I stop the glare in my conservatory?
More glass means more light. Having a slight tint as seen on most solar glass simply isn’t enough to reduce the glare from the sun. Our glass coatings can be tailored to your needs and can block up to 95% of the light, which sounds a lot, but you don’t wear sunglasses with a slight tint!

CoolGlass has solutions for your conservatory or orangery against problems such as overheating, winter heat loss, annoying glare, expensive fading, privacy, skin protection, safety and security for a fraction of the cost of made to measure blinds or expensive roof conversions which rob joining rooms of natural light. Our products are the cheapest and best performers pound-for-pound. They are also the only ones which keep the conservatory as it was originally intended and utilise your existing windows and frames, so you won’t be contributing to land fill.

What are the down sides?

There aren’t many. One is that although they offer extra privacy during the day, at night they offer none so a traditional window covering would be needed if you require that. Adjoining rooms’ light levels maybe also reduced but nowhere as near as much as the new solid roof conversations which are being heavily publicised.

Can window film be installed on to already tinted solar glass?
Yes it can, and it will retain the blue colouring, enhancing it and making it more vibrant. It will effectively turbocharge it. Our glass survey and test will highlight any issues. This is free of charge and part of our service.

Can it be used with existing blinds?
It can with windows, but roof blinds need to be removed to install the films. We haven’t had a customer yet who hasn’t wanted them refitting due to the extra dust and insects they collect.

Can we contact CoolGlass to advise us on the best way to go regarding a new conservatory?
Yes, you can because we are problem solvers. We will give you impartial and ethical advice on the best way forward for your individual needs.

Are the solar control films fitted internally?
Almost all the time they are, as this gives much better durability (up to 25 years). Sometimes though, due to the type of glass or availability of access, external films are used. They will still give you 10 years of good service though.

Is there a special way to clean the film?
Not really. We recommend using just water and a streak-free cloth, but a traditional squeegee or soft brush using pure water is suitable. You will be given a comprehensive after-care leaflet with the do’s and dont’s and all the frequently asked questions at the time of ordering.

Will they stop the goldfish bowl effect and give me privacy?
Yes, they can. If that is your priority, we can adjust to whichever film is going to give you more privacy, but this would be discussed during every survey and consultation.

What is the warranty on the films and how long will they last?
Our internally fitted solar control films have 12 – 16 years warranty while the polycarbonate film has five years. External films range from 3 to 7-year warranties depending on products.

Internal films are expected to last a minimum of 15 years but can achieve 25 years and still be serviceable, while external films can last 5 – 10 years depending on how they have been maintained and their situation.

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