Dear Jim: We decided to add on to our house instead of building a new one. I want the additional space to be open and bright. How is a conservatory different than a sunroom? What features should I look for in one? -- Deb B.Dear Deb: A conservatory is just one design type of the general class of sunrooms. Conservatories are the most attractive and typically most ornate. With many sides, they sometimes have a circular appearance. The roofs are usually pitched and made of glass or clear plastic with fancy detailing.
Once used primarily on upscale houses, conservatories are becoming more commonplace. Although still somewhat pricey, they typically return almost their entire cost in increased resale value of your house.
Although it is difficult to describe in words, the styling of a true English-type conservatory is unmistakable. Many of the conservatories that are installed on houses are actually produced in England and then they are assembled at your house. Many are custom designed to fit your house.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, you need not be the wealthy gentry to build a conservatory. There are U.S. companies that sell complete building plans for about $100. These plans produce a high-quality, ornate English-type conservatory. Finished costs depend upon the materials and size you select.
Since conservatories typically have all clear roofs, they are excellent for collecting free solar heat for your house in the winter. Facing true solar south (not compass south) is the best location for winter heat gain. In many climates, this orientation requires little supplemental heating.
The western side of your house provides the next best location for heat gain. In hot climates, this orientation can cause overheating in the afternoon through the sidewalls. It is easier to control the sun, through the roof (southern exposure) by tinting or shading, than through the sidewalls.
As with any sunroom, the type of frame material has the greatest impact on the appearance. The glass or clear plastic type has the greatest effect on the cost to heat it and whether or not air-conditioning is needed.
Wood frames are good natural insulators and allow the greatest flexibility in contours and shapes. Many woods are used with redwood and mahogany being particularly attractive. PVC frames are nearly maintenance-free. Aluminum exterior frames with wood interiors are a good compromise.
As a minimum, select double pane low-e glass walls. Triple-pane glass is available for cold climates. Clear or tinted polycarbonate (bulletproof glass) is an excellent roofing material. Select a design with roof vents and provisions for movable shading.
Write for (or instantly download -- www.dulley.com Update Bulletin No. 545 -- a list of 12 manufacturers of conservatories and plans, styles, frame/glazing materials and features. Please include $3 and a business-size SASE.
James Dulley, Deseret News, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244
Dear Jim: My budget is tight, so I want to get the best return on my home improvement investment. When I consider conservation improvements, which ones provide the best return? -- Karen P.
Dear Karen: The improvements with the best return depend on your home and your family's life-style and habits. In general, a computerized thermostat and compact fluorescent light bulbs offer the greatest percentage paybacks.
This is a typical breakdown of home energy usage: heating/cooling -- 60 percent, water heating -- 20 percent, cooking/refrigeration -- 10 percent, lighting/appliances -- 10 percent. Target areas of greatest energy usage first.
You can take an online Open House tour of James Dulley's own house and see all the money-savings improvements and products that he tests in his own home. There are nearly 100 pictures with links to the various columns that describe the improvements and products. Go to www.dulley.com/house/ on the Internet to visit his home.