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Conservatory or Solarium

Sunrooms come in a variety of designs and styles, and you have probably run into two in your research that appear to be the same: conservatory and solarium. You can be forgiven for confusing these two structures since manufacturers frequently blur the lines between them and use the terms interchangeably. Although the structures are similar in many ways, both are made predominantly of glass and are ideal for growing plants, they are constructed in different ways. Here is a guide to help you understand what conservatories and solariums are and a few tips for buying the best one for you.

Common Names for Solariums and Conservatories

Solariums and conservatories are often referred to by different names including green houses, orangeries, atriums, garden rooms, and patio rooms. When you see these names in a manufacturer’s catalog, they are likely talking about a conservatory, a solarium, or a hybrid of both. It is a good idea to study any accompanying images to make sure the design is the one you want.

History of Solariums and Conservatories
The Latin word for sun is ‘sol’, which is where solarium gets its name. Popular during Roman and medieval eras, solariums were frequently built on castle towers. They were circular rooms made primarily from glass and stone. Conservatories were popular among wealthy homeowners in Europe. During the 18th and 19th centuries, rich homeowners would grow a variety of plants, vegetables, and fruits in conservatories throughout the year. To keep the place warm during cold days, underground air ducts would circulate heated air from burning coal or wood. Although heating and air condition technology is much more advanced these days, the purpose of solariums and conservatories remain the same: as places to relax and enjoy the view.

Type of Glass Used in Solariums and Conservatories

To maximize the amount of light that gets into the room, conservatories and solariums are primarily made of glass. Unfortunately glass is not a very good insulator and, unless you take corrective action, the room will match the outdoor temperature. This means hot summers and cold winters inside and out.

If you want to make sure your conservatory or solarium is comfortable year round, you will need to invest in higher quality windows than the standard single pane that basic conservatories are built with. Good window types to consider installing on your sunroom are dual- and triple-paned glass, Low-E glass, heat reflective glass, and argon-filled glass. These glass types help regulate the temperature, reduce energy bills, and still allow the maximum amount of light in.

Most manufacturers that make sunrooms will have access to these types of windows. However, they typically cost a little more than standard windows. Over time, though, they will pay for themselves in reduced energy bills. Additionally, you can get different styles of windows including ones that tilt and slide as well as ones with frosted, curved, or etched glass.

Conservatory and Solarium Architectural Styles

Over the years the designs for conservatories and solariums have merged somewhat making it a challenge to provide an authoritative definition of what each one is. The best way to go about getting the style you want is to understand the different designs available, pick a basic shape, and then customize it according to your preferences. When working with a contractor, show him or her pictures that illustrate what you want.

To help you with your project, here are the most popular styles of conservatory and solarium sunrooms.
• Victorian Style: The ornamentation and decoration are very intricate and the detailing found on the spires and finials that sit on the roof fit in with the Victorian-era theme.
• Georgian Style: This 18th century style became popular during King George’s reign. It is simpler and less elaborate than the Victorian style, typically doesn’t have rain gutters, and looks best when built onto a home with a similar design.
• Edwardian Style: The architecture is simple and features a high-pitched roof and a square design.
Roof Design Choices
Conservatories and solariums are constructed mainly of glass which includes the roof. The roof may be crafted in the shape of a dome, pitched, or flat. To increase durability and stability, most manufacturers will use safety glass to construct the roof. In recent years many have developed self-cleaning windows that take the pain out of keeping the roof dirt free. Sometimes manufacturers will use a polycarbonate material to build the roof which deflects sunlight. While it is clear, it is not as sound proof as glass.

Sunroom Building Materials

Vinyl, aluminum, and wood are the most common types of materials used in the construction of conservatories and solariums. Vinyl is a great insulator and is virtually maintenance free. Aluminum is strong and, since only a little is required, allows for larger windows to be installed. Wood is visually beautiful, is a great insulator, and provides a unique look to any solarium. When considering which type of material to use for your solarium, take your home into consideration. You want the sunroom to blend in with the rest of the house, not detract from it.

Where to Build Your Sunroom

The location of your sunroom is just as important as the design and materials you select. Since the building is made largely of glass, you should build the sunroom so that it faces south. This will allow you to maximize the natural light available during the day and year, particularly in the winter when the days are shorter. You may also want to plant a garden around your sunroom to increase the feeling of being outdoors and to give yourself something to look at when you stare through the windows.


You can purchase conservatories and solariums from a variety of manufacturers including Craft-Built Manufacturing Company, Admiral Sunrooms, C-Thru Industries, Patio Enclosures, Four Seasons Sunrooms, Solar Innovations, and Temo Sunrooms. All of these companies offer the Edwardian, Victorian, or Georgian designs in vinyl, aluminum, and wood. The pricing offered by these companies vary according to the design, material, and your preferences. To get the best deal, shop around at multiple companies.

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