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Conservatories, Planning Permission, Building Regulations, Conservatory Design Advice - 10 Frequently Asked Questions

Special Note: - Some of the answers supplied here will be applicable to England and Wales only. You should always seek appropriate professional advice with regards to planning permission, building regulations, warrants and permits.

Q 1. Do I need planning permission? 

In England and Wales you will not usually require planning permission, provided you do not exceed the permitted development limit for your property (which is 50-70 cubic metres, depending on where you live). Notable exceptions to the above are listed buildings and conservation areas. Please note that if your property has been extended in the past - you will have used up some or perhaps all of your "permitted development" area and may need permission. Its also worth noting that occasionally "permitted development" rights may be withdrawn from a property and any extension however small needs planning. If in doubt check.

Q 2. Do I need Building Regulation approval?

Generally speaking conservatories/sunrooms on residential property are exempted under Building Regulations. (England and Wales)

Below are some of the Exemption Criteria - under the Building Regulations 1991 (as amended). These criteria must be met for a conservatory extension to be classified as exempt: 

a) The extension has a completely transparent or translucent roof.
b) The extension walls are substantially glazed. (Should not have more than 25 % of its wall area as brickwork)
c) The extension has a floor area not exceeding 30m squared.
d) The extension is sited at ground level.
e) The extension is permanently separated from the remainder of the property by means of a door.
f) Any radiator within the conservatory is controllable. (If fixed heating installations are proposed, they should have their own separate temperature and on/off controls).
g) The glazing satisfies the requirements of part N, Schedule 1 (toughened/safety glass).
h) The extension does not contain any drainage facilities (i.e. sink, WC, or washing machine).

Q3. What is the best option - toughened glass or laminated glass? What is the difference? I have a child - am I right in saying that toughened glass is more dangerous if smashed? Is one more secure than the other?

Both Toughened and Laminated glasses are forms of "safety" glass. People often assume that toughened glass is some form of EXTRA STRONG glass - perhaps a little like "bullet proof glass". However in our opinion "break safely glass" would be a better description of toughened glass. Sure it is quite difficult to break - but not impossible. When it does break it will break into very small sections. These small sections may, if you are unlucky, give you some scratches or minor cuts but will not pose the danger created by large glass shards when "normal" float glass breaks. Toughened glass is the most widely specified safety glass in conservatory construction. Laminated glass will, when hit with force "crack". However it is unlikely to smash. Being very difficult to break means that it can be dangerous in any situation where it is likely you may need to break the glass in order to escape (such as a fire). This is of course an advantage if security is a major consideration. Laminated glass is also "thicker" - usually 6.4 mm - and as such will offer better insulation. However this thicker glass is also "heavier" which will in turn mean greater "wear and tear" on opening windows / doors. It is also more expensive than toughened glass. This is probably one of the reasons it's not so widely specified in conservatory construction. (Although in our opinion it is a perfectly good alternative for conservatory glazing.)

Q 4. At the rear of our house there are two inspection covers, which not only serve our house but the other people in our close. The question is, can we put a conservatory over these inspection covers and will we have to get planning permission to do so?

Lots of people do place conservatories over inspection chambers (manholes) and therefore avoid moving them. To do so you will need to use double-sealed manhole covers. (To stop that smell!) You also need to realize that there may be occasions when either you or your neighbours will want to access the manhole. Whilst this may be rare you should be aware of this potential inconvenience of lifting floorboards, carpets etc. You will not need planning permission in England/Wales for this specific issue. However you will need Building Regulation approval if you decide to move the position of the inspection chamber. You may also need to check local Bylaws and restrictive covenants in your property deeds. 

Q 5. What are the differences between North, South, East and West facing conservatories? What are the usual traits of conservatories with these aspects and what are the recommendations?

North Facing - Coldest - least sun. Less likely to need blinds in roof - especially if you use tinted opal polycarbonate. Strongly recommend use of Pilkington K Glass (or other form of Low E glass) in frames for extra insulation. Will need heating - especially in the winter and evenings. Please note that with bronze tinted polycarbonate the tint reduces the amount of light that can enter the room your conservatory is attached to. This results in a darker room - often requiring lights on during the day! South Facing - Hot - Very hot - so essential to have adequate ventilation. Go for plenty of opening windows and roof vents. Will almost certainly require blinds in the roof. You may also consider anti-sun glass (tinted) in the roof. Other options include air conditioning. East Facing - similar to north facing. You have the morning sun and conservatories in this location make great breakfast rooms. West Facing - similar to south facing. However you do have the benefit of evening sun. Wonderful to relax in at the end of the day. As a generalisation we do recommend Pilkington "K" glass/ Low E glass in all conservatories - no matter the location. It's just more important in north facing Locations. Additionally if you use Polycarbonate - go with 25mm instead of 16 mm.

Q 6. I have a conservatory supposedly made with Pilkington K glass. I am unsure about this. How can I tell?

The best way to tell is to use a coating detector. This is a unit which manufacturers and installers should have available. A detector costs about 60 and it's quite easy to use. You simply press it against the glass with the "K" installed and it either turns a red or green light on to confirm installation. A detector can usually be bought from specialist glass merchants or glass wholesalers. Frankly it is rare to use a detector as the glass will usually arrive on site with Pilkington K Glass "stickers" on the sealed units. These "stickers" also tell the installer which side of the glass unit should face inwards. Some installers will give you the "stickers" as proof (this we recommend). We suggest they are kept safe and given to any new owners of your property as proof also. Sometimes you can visually detect the K coating but this is more difficult. We quote below what Pilkington themselves have to say...." Pilkington K Glass has high light transmission and appears virtually the same as clear float glass. However, in rare instances of strong oblique lighting, the coating may be seen as a transparent film. This is simply a transient visual effect, which can be considered positive evidence of the coated surface being present. Further evidence of the coating's presence is through the very minor effect it has on white light transmission. This effect is so small as to be generally unnoticeable However, when a light coloured object or material is in close proximity to the glazing, dependent on local circumstances and conditions, a slight darkening can be noted." 

Q 7. Is it better to have the UVPC frames reinforced with galvanized steel or aluminium? One conservatory salesman told me today that galvanized was better because it has been proved that upvc causes aluminium to corrode - crumble after 10 to 15 years. I have been told that galvanized can rust at the cut ends. What is your view please?

Both Galvanized Steel and Aluminium are perfectly good materials for frame reinforcement. We would not say there is much to choose between either material. Some of the best and most respected names in the industry use these materials in approximately equal measure. Unfortunately "salespeople" will on occasions exaggerate potential problems as they try to persuade you to choose their company over another. We have never heard of the problem referred to by the salesperson that visited you. It is true that when you drill into galvanised steel some of the galvanized "coating" will be removed. Sometimes the "swarf" created does rust because the coating has been removed. (The evidence of rust soon disappears.) This is considered perfectly normal and it's a complete exaggeration to suggest that the whole galvanized steel reinforcement will suddenly deteriorate and rust also. We suggest, make your choice based on the calibre of the company and your belief that they will be around to honour their guarantees in the future. Most companies (including the not so great ones) offer perfectly good products with optional extras such as Pilkington K Glass and better security locking. Base the majority of your "decision" on this aspect of the buying equation.

Q 8. I have recently had a 8ft x 6ft all white PVC-U Lean-to conservatory built to the rear of my house. I intend to use it as a study. It is built on a dwarf wall concrete base. It suffers from condensation on roof supports and floor level joints. I am using a fully controllable oil filled radiator for heat, as main wall, not sufficient for a radiator. Could you please offer some help to my problem?

The good news is that your levels of condensation are likely to reduce as the "building works" dry out. It is not uncommon for conservatories to take as much as 6 - 12 months to dry out once built. During this period condensation will be particularly bad. However there is no guarantee that you will not have condensation after this period - especially if you have "only" used normal double-glazing and 16 mm polycarbonate. Our best suggestion is to install a dehumidifier (you can hire this) for a few weeks - this will remove a lot of the moisture. Also continue to vent the conservatory - a lot of people keep the windows closed believing this will help - it is far better to let the air circulate. You may also find it beneficial to install "trickle vents" in your framework - which allows you to have some ventilation without opening your windows. Trickle vents are available from most double glazing suppliers at 15 - 20 each. We recommend at least 25 mm polycarbonate in the roof and Pilkington "K" glass (low E ) for the frames in conservatories. This gives some of the best levels of insulation and helps reduce the risk of condensation. 

Q 9. We plan a kitchen or living space that would need heating and have a glazed roof. In addition it will be "open plan" i.e. there will be no permanent separation between the main house and the conservatory. How do you comply with part L of building regulations for England and Wales?

Most conservatories do not require building regulation approval however if you need help & advice on ensuring your conservatory meets Building Regulations then these two links should help: http://www.coo-res.co.uk/tools.htm and http://www.coo-res.co.uk/conservatories.htm

COOPER RESEARCH provide a CON-TEST for building regulations - this robust compliance test for conservatories and highly glazed hybrid extensions currently justifies design proposals for Part L compliance for a fixed fee. Contact them for a quote.

Q 10. Tell me what type of other furniture can I use in my sunroom - we now only have a patio table and chairs, but we are going to be using this room year around so we want to be comfortable.

Wicker is the natural choice for conservatories and sunrooms. Being a natural product you can leave it untreated if you wish or paint to suit your colour scheme. It is also both strong and lightweight. Wrought iron chairs and tables are also popular - often combined with glass or slate tops. The most important consideration with all materials used is - how well will they perform in the sun and heat? I suggest you ask the retailer who supplies for specific advice on this - you don't want to find you have a problem with fading in the bright sun. For a bit of colour you may like to add some soft furnishings such as throws, rugs or cushions. We like to brighten things up with florals or chintzes. Another thing you could add are window treatments such as painted shutters and sun blinds.


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