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How can a conservatory cut your energy costs?

Posted by Helena Ripley on 27 October 2015 at 10:05 am

If your experience of conservatories is as spaces that are freezing in winter and heat traps in summer, you might be surprised to learn that they can actually help you save energy.

A well-insulated conservatory maximises solar gain by trapping heat from the sun, and that heat can then warm the rest of your house. The non-energy related benefits are extra living space and a wonderful view of your garden!

A high solar gain conservatory is not as straightforward as a run-of-the-mill glass and polycarbonate conservatory. Some conservatory companies produce well-insulated models with triple glazed glass, underfloor insulation and cavity wall insulation in the brick sections. These features are important if you want your conservatory to be a space you can live in all year round and they will help you make some use of solar gain. But to use your conservatory as a heat source for the rest of the house requires a little extra thought.

What do I need if I want to trap heat in my conservatory?

A south facing conservatory is a must so that you can get the most benefit from the winter sun; a north facing conservatory can be useable in the winter if it is well insulated but it won’t provide heat for your home. Orientation isn’t enough: you also need a way of trapping the heat. Double glazed windows with a low emissivity coating are a good start: the low-e coating lets much of the sun’s heat in, and prevents heat from being lost again by reflecting it back into your room. The coatings also block harmful ultraviolet radiation.

One way of collecting heat is to use thermal mass. In a conservatory this would take the form of a brick or slate floor. When the floor is at a lower temperature than the air it absorbs heat; when the air is cooler the heat is released. This has benefits in both the summer and the winter as it helps to keep the temperature in the conservatory stable.

It’s summer, I don’t want more heat in the house…

In the summer you need to keep any conservatory well ventilated as they can all act as heat traps, and you don’t need any extra heat in your house. A well-insulated conservatory should stay at a more constant temperature but once it has warmed up it will be more difficult for the heat to escape. Opening windows on opposite sides of the conservatory will allow movement of air; if you have a vent in the roof this will help to draw the hot air out. Blocking the sun with blinds or a deciduous tree also reduces the amount of solar gain. Blinds have the added benefit of acting as extra insulation in the winter, particularly if you get thermal blinds.

A warm conservatory is nice but what about the rest of the house?

You will need to find a way of moving the heat around. If you have a whole house ventilation system this won’t be an issue. If not, you’ll need to think carefully about how you will make the most of the warmth from your conservatory. Opening a window on the opposite side of the house- ideally on the first floor- will draw hot air through. For this to be effective you will need to keep the doors in between open to allow free movement of air. Obviously this isn’t a solution for the winter when open windows would let cold air in, but during the spring and early autumn it will help distribute the warmth.

Photo: SuperHomes

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