Adding a modern conservatory to your home increases the living space in a uniquely enjoyable way. A well-designed sunroom is a bright and pleasant area that gives the feel of being outdoors, combined with a controlled temperature to make it usable all-year-round.
Depending on the space you have available, it can range from a small dining or relaxing area to a full-blown extra room suitable for entertaining and daily enjoyment.
However, a sunroom can be far more than simply an extra expanse of living area. Many people use a modern conservatory or attached glasshouse to explore cultivating plants that might not be happy growing in their yard. From a few herbs or vegetables in containers to exotic flowers that are very fussy about conditions, a sunroom is a great way to enjoy gardening while staying comfortably indoors in all weathers.
And as a bonus, installing a sunroom will increase the value of your home. At resale, you’ll only make back around half of what you spent, but that could be an important factor in deciding how affordable the modern conservatory could be.
Building Your Own Modern Conservatory: A Typical Budget
Depending on the conservatory style you choose, a typical installation cost will run between $150 to $300 per square foot of floor space. A simple atrium with a roof will need a budget of between $4,000 and $20,000 for materials, with an extra $6,000 to $15,000 for labor.
A mid-range glass solarium costs $20,000-$50,000 for materials, with labor taking the total budget up to $30,000-$75,000.
Installing a Four-Season Sunroom
At the top end of the budget, the scale is a four-season sunroom, which, as the name suggests, is usable all year round. The structure is well insulated to retain heat in the colder months and stay cool in the summer. It will also be heated, ventilated, and even air-conditioned for complete control over the atmosphere, whatever the weather outside.
The materials’ expense makes a four-season sunroom a major project, costing anywhere from $25,000 to $80,000, depending on the size. However, the final result is a room that you can genuinely enjoy at any time of year.
A Note About Permits
As with all major home modifications, you’ll need to apply for a building permit to install a conservatory. Typical costs range from $400 to $1,800 depending on your area, but it’s not an expense you should skip. Failure to get a permit could land you with a hefty fine, invalidate your home insurance, and lead to problems selling your home in the future.
The Different Types of Glasshouse
You can build three different types of a glasshouse, ranging from the very simple to a fully self-contained structure.
- Cold frames: A cold frame is a simple glass box that may be only a few feet high and is usually unheated. Cold frames are mainly used for giving a few plants some protection against frosty conditions, although larger ones can be used as a regular glasshouse.
- Attached: Also known as a lean-to, an attached glasshouse is a room-sized construction that uses one house wall as strong support, plus three glass-based sides and a roof. The advantages of an attached sunroom include a relatively affordable cost with only three walls needing to be built, ease of access from your home, and efficient use of yard space to build into. The main disadvantage is that depending on the orientation. Sunlight may be limited to certain parts of the day.
- Freestanding: A freestanding glasshouse is a separate structure independent of your home’s building. These glasshouses are more often dedicated to growing plants. However, an independent sunroom can make a comfortable and relaxing space to escape to, away from the distractions of your daily home life. The downside of freestanding sunrooms is that they can be expensive to install, particularly once heating, electrics, and water are taken into account.
What is an Indoor Glasshouse?
An indoor glasshouse is a smaller, self-contained glass or plastic structure usually placed within a larger room and used to provide controlled conditions for growing a small number of plants. Essentially, they’re portable greenhouses for use indoors.
They’re handy in sunrooms as they can make the most of the natural light and warmth, and if necessary, can also be heated separately from the main room to save on energy costs.
Common Mistakes with Installing a Greenhouse
The main aim of a glasshouse is to trap the energy of the sun and provide warmth. However, this can quickly overshoot if a little care isn’t taken. If adequate ventilation isn’t installed, both heat and humidity can build up to unacceptable levels. For locations with large amounts of direct sunlight, installing shades or blinds on the windows can keep temperatures in check.
Also, think carefully about how much space you’ll need. Many people find their greenhouse use quickly expands to fill all the available space, so it’s a good idea to be generous with dimensions from the beginning.
Where Should You Build a Garden Room?
There are three main points to consider when deciding where to build a modern conservatory.
Will it be in sunlight for much of the day? Building it on a south-facing wall is usually the best option, but a side-on orientation can prove more comfortable in hotter summer climates. However, consider what times of day you’ll be mostly using your conservatory, and plan its orientation to catch the light at those times.
The site should be well-drained, especially if you’re using the sunroom for gardening.
The room should be easily accessible from your home, whether that’s through a convenient connecting door for an attached glasshouse or by a simple route in all weathers for a freestanding one.
Which Type of Glass to Use for the Walls?
The glazing is a key element of any glasshouse or modern conservatory and can make up 90% of the construction materials. There are several grades of glass you can use, including:
- Tempered glass is a safety glass that’s resistant to shattering under impacts, pressure, or heavy weather. It also has the advantage of contributing to the overall strength of the sunroom.
- Single Solex glass provides a level of UV protection and is also highly resistant to heat, making it a great choice for hot climates.
- Triple pane glass is ideal for people in colder climates who want to provide year-round comfort.
- Double pane glass provides good insulation from both cold and heat, although less efficiently than triple pane, and is a less costly choice for people in milder climates.
- Single-pane glass is the least costly but also least desirable type of glazing, as it provides little insulation along with reduced strength and safety.
The Importance of Lighting
One of the great benefits of a sunroom is the way it harnesses natural light. However, for a true year-round space, additional lighting should be added for when natural levels aren’t enough. Aim for lighting which mimics sunlight, using warm color temperatures rather than colder fluorescent sources.
Whether you’re building a simple sunroom or a more advanced four-season design, it’s important to consider some form of heating to extend the conditions you can use the space in. This could be as simple as a safely installed fire pit to use as and when required. For more controllable and reliable warmth, opt for a few electrical heaters, a hydronic heating system, or a full sub-floor heating installation.
Keeping the Conservatory Cool
An all-glass room will need efficient ventilation on sunny days, or the atmosphere can quickly become uncomfortably hot and humid. Openable windows or vents offer a simple solution, while an air conditioning unit is more effective, although costlier. Adding a ceiling fan helps keep the air circulating evenly, and choosing the right fan also adds to the room’s look and feel.
Design, Style, and Plant Choices
After the investment of building your sunroom, it makes sense to make your new living space as inviting as possible through careful choice of contents and design.
If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in your modern conservatory, then comfortable seating is a must. Take advantage of the sheltered conditions by adding upholstered and padded seats rather than typical outdoor furniture. Or, if you’re looking for a more laid back vibe, a combination of hammocks and beanbags makes an inexpensive alternative.
In terms of decor design, a sunroom can range from warm and rustic to minimalist and contemporary. There really aren’t any rules, but always bear in mind that a sunroom should be a comfortable and relaxing place focusing on nature and the outdoors.
And of course, the best way to achieve this is through growing plenty of plants. Even a smaller conservatory can have ample growing space if you use vertical wall gardening techniques, married to containers and planters’ decorative use throughout the room.
As the number of plants you grow increases, consider installing a hydroponic system to keep watering duties to a minimum.
The choice of plant varieties you grow is entirely your own. Still, many people like to take a multi-sensory approach with a conservatory, growing various plants and flowers with different colors, shapes, textures, and perfumes. The experience can be made even more immersive and relaxing by adding non-plant features such as a trickling water fountain, incense, and aromatherapy burners, and even wind chimes for the times when the windows are open.
Taking all these ideas into account, with a little thought, a sunroom can be turned into a relaxing haven, providing a unique quality of living space to enjoy all year round.