There are around four million conservatories in the UK, according to recent government estimates. A lot of these were built ten to twenty years ago and may now be in poor condition. Most uPVC conservatories last twenty years at best, before major repair or rebuilding is necessary. As such, a consistent programme of upkeep is recommended to ensure a conservatory lasts as long as possible.
New technologies and better glass do make the newest conservatories far more energy efficient and durable. New conservatory roof designs, such as a predominantly tiled roof with added glazing, can extend the life of a typical conservatory far beyond the aforementioned lifespan. This second option of rebuilding to contemporary standards is there for those seeking change, a less involved plan of maintenance, or simply those who can afford to carry out the work.
A conservatory undoubtedly adds value to a property, but the more poorly maintained a conservatory is, the less impact it has on value. The most energy inefficient conservatories, for example, will actively contribute to higher heating bills, may cause issues through leaks, and may be the reason for dampness and mould in the home. This will keep the value of that property down rather than boosting it, just as not getting replacement windows would within a property that loses heat through old window frames, or indeed any kind of essential maintenance that will disadvantage any prospective property owner.
If you haven’t yet installed your conservatory…
The first place to start when it comes to extending the life of your conservatory is construction. If you are considering installing a conservatory extension to a property but aren’t sure the real value of it — whether as a financial investment or an investment in your family’s future happiness and wellbeing — it is so important to get the install right.
As it rings true for all home renovation projects, the importance of hiring an experienced and skilled builder is paramount when it comes to your conservatory. If your conservatory roof springs a leak two winters after it's installed, you will run into all sorts of problems getting it repaired. Always look carefully at the builder’s experience and customer feedback.
Reputable builders will offer a long guarantee — for a new conservatory you want to have about ten years at least. When you have a guarantee, ask whether there is a maintenance guide, as this guide will give you the specifics for the maintenance of your particular conservatory. Pay close attention to the wording of the guarantee as well, as in many cases adhering to the maintenance guide provided will be a part of the guarantee. If you don’t do what the guide says and you find your conservatory is damaged, you will be left without recourse.
Once you have a conservatory in place, don’t forget about it!
In the early days of owning a conservatory, it is easy to forget about checking for the little things — signs of wear, indications that the conservatory may need small maintenance jobs or could be the cause of heating bill changes or similar. It is important early on though to look out for any changes.
Check the glass regularly. Does it mist up at a particular, regular interval? Is there condensation present? If there is a pattern to the behaviour of the glass, check that it doesn’t change over time. If you are seeing a lot of condensation, for example, it could signal an issue with airflow. The entire property needs managing as a new room will affect the way heat travels across the house — condensation in other areas of the house could be caused by the imbalance in temperature or airflow between the main part of the home and the conservatory.
Think about the materials used and how they may deteriorate
Different materials behave differently and require different levels of care and attention. The glass and frames themselves are in fact much less important to pay attention to than the rubber seal between the glass and the frame. This is the element that can lead to most problems.
It’s obvious that you should try to keep your glass and the frames themselves in good condition — a crack or chip in a pane of glass is clearly not going to extend the life of the structure — but the way in which you clean the glass, for example, can put a strain on the seals that keep your conservatory watertight.
Get into a cleaning routine
Conservatories require more work than most rooms to keep them in good shape. Glass needs to be cleaned carefully and vigorously on a regular basis in order for it to be maintained properly — unless of course you have self-cleaning glazing. It is crucial that you only use products expressly for the cleaning of glass and a soft cloth that will not scratch glazing. Furthermore, the cloth you use should not damage the rubber seals at the edges of the glass either. Take extra care when cleaning the edges and frames.
After you have cleaned your windows, it is also extremely important to properly dry them. Not only will this improve their aesthetic appearance, but it will also ensure that there is no buildup of unnecessary moisture, which contributes to damp and potential mould.
Ventilation is key to avoiding condensation
The difference in temperature between the interior space and the outside can cause condensation. As windows have a different thermal transmittance level to brickwork, tiling and other types of solid, opaque building material, moisture is most often found on the glass in your home. For conservatories, this is no different.
Condensation is very difficult to get rid of completely. It is due to a property of the material in question, combined with the unfortunately cool prevailing weather in the UK. Keeping condensation levels as low as possible is very important. The less condensation, the less chance for this leading to damp and mould.
Ventilation is the key factor in the elimination of condensation. Somewhat cruelly, it is most important in colder weather. The more you keep your windows closed and heat your home in winter, the more likely you will get condensation build-up leading to a haven for mould to grow in the home.
The practicality of opening a window or door in the driving rain and cold speaks for itself. This is why trickle vents should be a part of the structure of your window frames in your conservatory. Consult your maintenance guide or simply have a look at the window frames to check to see if your conservatory has vents. If you don’t have vents, you may have a small window that can be left open — often these can be ‘locked open’ to allow for a small amount of air to pass through. This is especially important in the months immediately after your conservatory has been installed.
Even the smallest airflow will hinder the build-up of condensation. If you take the time to keep some means by which the outside air can flow into your home or conservatory, you will likely find no condensation issues whatsoever. It is a small step, but one that is often neglected due to either not knowing the benefits of proper ventilation or the desire to keep a property as warm as possible.
Rubber seals, DIY and keeping the rain out
If you discover a leak around one of the seals, it is likely caused by damage to or the deterioration of a rubber seal. These seals will naturally wear over time. If there is mastic sealant holding things together, there will be a gradual deterioration with temperature changes being felt more given that a glazed roof will heat up and cool down at a much faster rate than a tiled roof.
It is possible to repair or simply add more mastic sealant in the case of a leak. First, be sure you are dealing with a leak and not heavy condensation. Very high levels of condensation on a roof window can present like a leak — you can find your roof dripping with water due to severe condensation. Be sure you are solving the correct problem.
Once you have made sure you have a leak, ensure you consult the maintenance guide supplied with your guarantee at install. If you have a maintenance guide, it may give directions on routine repairs. It may even state that DIY repairs of this nature cannot be carried out without invalidating the guarantee. If you’re ever in doubt, get in touch with your installer or the holder of your warranty or guarantee. Always consult the instructions for applying mastic sealant and make sure the area in which you are working with sealant is dry.
Consider a solid conservatory roof replacement
Finally, it is worth considering replacing a glazed roof with a solid, tiled structure when it feels as if the conservatory is coming towards the end of its lifespan. Such a roof can be insulated and will last much longer than a glazed roof — up to fifty years in many cases. You can design roof lights into the build so that you continue to enjoy a bright and airy space. A typical build can take just five days and the energy efficiency benefits are clear from day one.