| The conservatory -sunroom, is this UK phenomenon about to hit the other side of the Atlantic?
In the UK the conservatory as a live-in sunroom has become nothing short of a £15 billion ($25 billion) a year industry. It is now estimated that one in every four homes in the UK has a conservatory as a room addition.This popularity easily outstrips all other form of home improvement. Is the US about to follow the trend or is this destined to be a purely English phenomenon.
It is not difficult to appreciate why the people in the UK have warmed to such an idea. They create a space that benefits from being enclosed and protected like the rest of the home but at the same time enjoying the warmth, light and air that a conservatory sunroom offers. It has also proved to be the only form of home improvement that could practically guarantee an increase in the value of a home that was in excess of the capital outlay. The additional value would never be enough to make a fortune for a homeowner, but at least the return made them feel very comfortable about the wisdom of the necessary outlay.
In the UK with it's cooler climate that added warmth might also, at first, persuade you that it was the key reason for their popularity. This again proves to be one of the benefits, but I would suggest being able to choose a room with added warmth, was not quite the same as relocating to Florida!
A few years ago I was asked by two brothers who were re- locating from New York to help set up a company in Austin,Texas. They intended to build English style conservatory sunrooms. They had decided to use components and fabrication methods imported from the UK. As every American knows, the climate in Texas is more akin to that of Egypt than the UK. Nevertheless, as I was not financially involved, and they persuaded me that there was a market, I agreed to provide design support both in the office and out in the 'field' (or should that be desert or scrub). On a personal note at this point I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Texas. I was made very, very welcome. My visits to Zilker Park and Barton Springs on a Sunday morning was an absolute treat, and how could a stay in Austin go without mentioning Fat Tuesday, St Patrick's and 6th Street. Back to conservatories. I was of course totally intrigued, but I was also amazed. The English style thing proved popular but what about the comfort level in a sunroom in such a climate. Firstly, on the technical side, the heat was reflected from the roof by using a form of multi-walled that had aluminium 'flecks' co-extruded through it. One of the trade names is called 'Heat Shield'. The IG units in the sides of a conservatory in the UK would be designed to keep the heat in. I learnt that in Texas that same technology that I was so familiar with in the UK was used by reversing the units to keep the heat out! Then what were the benefits. A few enquiries with our Texas cousins soon clarified the situation. In the UK conservatories were used to free us from being surrounded by walls during long winter months. (a little morning sunshine would make breakfast in the conservatory very agreeable) In Texas a conservatory sunroom would do precisely the same except in Summer! Instead of being surrounded by walls in the middle of summer (protected from the heat in air conditioned rooms), an air conditioned space such as a conservatory would provide a very welcome break!
After being in the conservatory business for over 20 years this threw an entirely new light (forgive the pun) on the benefits of a conservatory, not just in warmer climates but also as used on my home ground. I now believe that this reason is probably the key one in the UK!
There is a further aspect that enforces the 'purely English phenomenon' opinion. In the UK at least half the conservatory sunrooms that are built do not require any form of building permission. Although this has bound to have had an effect, having to wait just 6 weeks in the UK to get full blown planning permission is not much of a deterrent.
The addition of a conservatory can have many benefits. Unless your climate is perfect at all times of the year, I am sure that a case can be made for an improvement in quality of life because of their acquisition. Whether this particular style will prove as popular in the US, only time will tell
Part 2 The conservatory as a substantial room addition, Learning from the mistakes made in the UK - plus! more tales from my travels 'Stateside'
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