5 tips for Choosing Conservatory Material – Wood or Aluminum?

hardwood corbel

Our UK hardwood conservatories remain the primary design inspiration for all of our conservatories and skylights. However, aluminum, especially with the detailing that we can offer is a close second, and should be preferred in some situations.


Hardwood offers infinite variability in conservatory design. Its versatility is seen in the fine wood framing details that can be created. Curves and corbels, molded door panels and custom carved moldings and more have a softness and grace that the wood provides.

The details offered on aluminum offer a similarity to hardwood. While the look cannot rival that of hardwood, advances in aluminum extrusion allow for many details; ogee profile rafters, fluting, rake molding, and pilasters add traditional conservatory touches.

hardwood conservatory details

aluminum conservatory details

In general, hardwood conservatories have a softer feel, particularly for interiors, but low gloss paints can be used for aluminum that create a softer finish.

Hardwood structures can be made with naturally finished materials such as such as European Oak and American White Oak. Aluminum conservatories can be wood-lined, but the cost then becomes comparable to a hardwood conservatory.

There are 40 standard colors for hardwood, 6 for aluminum. Both can be done in custom colors. Custom color in hardwood is typically $510 cost, but aluminum could be several thousand dollars.

Hardwood and aluminum can have different colors on the inside and outside. There is essentially no cost for this for hardwood, because the client does the finish coat on the inside of hardwood, whereas factory cost for different interior on aluminum will be much more.


two color conservatory


There are certain design limitations for both materials. Hardwood door sizes are best limited to 6’8” to 7’2” maximum. Casement opening windows are better suited to aluminum frames where crank hardware, which is not traditional, is not unexpected.

Glazing bar patterns including applied lead are virtually identical. True-divided lights can be offered in either system.

There are no practical engineering limits for either conservatory frame material, but large open spans for commercial size spaces are better integrated with steel supports with aluminum frames. Hardwood offers better concealment of steel support for small and mid-sized buildings

Orangeries are increasing in popularity. They combine the solid feel of a room addition and the openness of a conservatory. Since the orangery has a perimeter of flat roof area with box gutters, these designs more suitable to hardwood than aluminum, because of the soffiting that is required under the flat roof area.


orangery box gutter


When aluminum should be the default choice:

  • Most pool enclosures
    However, smaller exercise pools will not produce as much condensation as full-size pools, so this is flexible, especially where unusual shapes or frame details are requested.
  • Growing spaces
    A “working” greenhouse should be done in aluminum for obvious reasons such as maintenance, high moisture (and thus stress on the glass) and the reduced likelihood of mold. However, note that hardwood buildings, with inset aluminum side window frames have excellent weep drainage when simulated divided lights are used. Special greenhouse paint can be specified for hardwood interiors. Single glazed greenhouses, especially where exceptional detail is wanted, is a suitable choice for hardwood, especially in temperate climates, but it will be more expensive than aluminum.
  • Commercial
    Especially were fire codes dictate non-combustible frames and panic hardware and cost and maintenance are prime considerations.
  • Coastal locations
    Engineering for hurricane zones, with appropriate testing data is more available than for hardwood, but either structure can meet required wind loads.
  • Absolute minimum maintenance required
    However, with the aluminum capped roof and aluminum exterior muntin bars on many hardwood designs, maintenance on hardwood is limited to routine painting on the side frames and interior.
  • Cost
    Aluminum will typically be 10-15% less than hardwood, but hardwood interior lined aluminum frames are generally the same as all hardwood.

Learn more about the possibilities for your project feel free to call us at 773-281-1212 or email inquiries@townandcountryus.com