There are many factors involved in your decision to build a conservatory. Appealing photos make many conservatories look alike, but like any custom product, it is not a commodity that can be superficially compared. Good architecture and engineering apply as much to conservatories as to all other construction.
The best way to approach this decision is to consider a few questions:
- If a wood building, what type of wood is it? Conservatory companies choose timbers based not just on cost, but on “workability” a cost reducing factor. Weaker timbers require more intrusive structural add-ons or awkward additional components to meet engineering requirements. How do the bending and shearing strengths of different woods compare? That will tell you a lot about the quality standard of the manufacturer.
- How does the conservatory achieve required design loads? Does it use large portal frames added to the interior of the conservatory, or clad steel tubes clumsily out of proportion with the rest of the framing? Or is it discreet flat steel or columns, proportionally integrated with the rest of the framing?Do roof frames rely on screws only, or are concealed steel plates or spiders being used at critical support points.
- If aluminum, does it offer details that echo the look and quality of wood conservatories? Are the extrusions, paint finishes, hardware and connection details of high quality or inexpensively made to reduce price and compromise longevity?
- Are the aluminum components high quality? Heavy gauge aluminum with concealed connectors, or very low cost and quality PVC-clad aluminum. Or standard gauge, off-the-shelf aluminum? Do the aluminum profiles relate to the rest of the frame?
- What type of glass is included? Is it standard Low-E glass or high-performance Low-E, or is that an upgrade?
- How is the glass installed? Is it true-divided glazing, simulated divided glazing or applied bars taped to the glass? Does the frame have weep and breathing channels built in to prolong the life of the glass seals?Is the glass held into the window frame on the exterior or interior of the windows?
Is it called a storm-proof sash, which sounds impressive, but which leaves half of the glazing frame exposed to the elements and allows for a thinner framed, less expensive principal structure and a non-traditional window appearance?
- How is the roof protected externally? Does the system rely on wet (silicone) seals that will quickly degrade? If capped in aluminum, are there exposed screws which catch dirt and allow water to intrude, or exposed edges of gaskets that the sun will degrade? Is there an internal guttering system to drain water to the eave?
- Is a quality design and shop drawing service offered? A thoughtful design with plan and elevation views and a three-dimensional rendering that realistically shows you what it is going to look like? Do the shop drawings clearly show your contractor and architect the details and attachment and foundation guidelines? Is there licensed engineering for all states and Canada?
- Does a higher price or higher design fee mean that you will get a better building or better service? Ask what you get for the higher price or higher fee that is better than what some other companies provide? Does a lower price mean shortcuts or lower specifications in critical components?
- Who installs the conservatory? Trained and experienced crews, or subcontractors who do not work for the company? Or imported workers who are not familiar with North American weather conditions and building tools and techniques?
- Do they service what they sell? Is the warranty backed up by a commitment to the client or does volume at lower prices or offshore crews make prompt effective service unlikely?
- Most importantly, are they well-designed conservatories? When you look closely at their work, do the framing members relate well to each other and to the attaching structure? Do the glazing pattern bars and door stiles and horizontal frames align throughout? Do the roof pitch and attaching details seem well planned?When you look closely, does their work reveal a proper sense of scale and proportion, not only within the conservatory itself, but to the surrounding structures? Is there a reliance on excessive ornamentation or a quiet elegance that does not try to over-compete with its host?
Decide whether your primary goals are price, design, quality and durability or a good balance of all these factors. Are you paying less now to end up paying more later? Are you paying more now and not receiving more?
More to come. Look for future articles that expand on these topics.