How to make a conservatory warmer: 9 ways to turn up the heat - Grand Designs Magazine
Rotunda conservatory with Duette blinds by Hillarys

How to make a conservatory warmer: 9 ways to turn up the heat

Feeling the chill? Cosy up your conservatory with our heating ideas for every budget

By Amy Cutmore |

If you’re currently feeling frozen out by your conservatory, you’re not alone. As winter sets in, there’s a strong chance your once sunny and cosy garden room will suddenly become chilly and inhospitable. But there are plenty of ways to make a conservatory warmer – whether you plan them from the beginning of your conservatory project or introduce them later down the line.

You’ll need to take a slightly different approach to conservatory heating versus other rooms in the home. “Since a conservatory is primarily constructed of timber and glass, it will gain and lose heat differently from a traditional brick and mortar structure,” explains Lisa Morton, director at Vale Garden Houses. “A little sunshine in the day will allow your glazed room to gain heat quicker than say a living room. But in the evening and as the sun goes down, it will lose heat much quicker than rooms of solid block construction.”

So how should you go about bringing the heat? Try one of these ideas – or, better yet, a combination.

1. Use thermal curtains

Conseratory with fruit frees and botanical soft furnishings

Image Credit: ILIV

“Good quality, window treatments such as lined curtains are worth the investment,” says Debbie Leigh, design manager at fabric brand ILIV. “Blackout and thermal linings help to keep a conservatory space warm in winter but also cooler in summer, by blocking out unwanted light.

“Their ability to help keep the cold air from seeping into the home makes them particularly useful during the autumn and winter months,” she adds. “Blackout and thermal linings help to keep a room warm, which also has the added benefit that any heating/cooling systems will work more efficiently, too.”

When buying curtains for their thermal properties, look for those made from heavier fabrics such as velour or velvet. If you pick a lighter linen or cotton, make sure it has a thermal lining. Measuring up is absolutely crucial when investing in thermal curtains. Precious heat can escape if they are too short, too narrow or hung too close to the top of the window. This writer prefers a tighter pencil-pleat or pinch-pleat design over eyelets – again to keep the heat in.

2. Or opt for specialist pleated blinds

Conservatory with grey blinds, grey sofa and armchair

These Thermashade blinds by Hillarys are motorised, so can be used to control the heat at a moment’s notice.

Yvonne Keal, senior product manager at Hillarys, would usually recommend blinds over curtains in a conservatory. “Conservatories are more prone to condensation than other rooms in the home,” she explains, “and curtains can trap moisture leading to mould. Sunlight can also cause curtains to fade over time. In a conservatory, where the sunlight is more intense, you will need to take extra care over your fabric choices.”

“Blinds can really help get rid of the chill in your conservatory. To make your conservatory the right temperature all year round, you should think about choosing blinds that are great for spaces where temperatures reach extreme highs and lows,” Keal continues. “Our pleated blinds can be made from specialist fabrics that help to retain the heat, allowing you to enjoy your conservatory in the winter. Our Thermashade pleated blinds have an innovative honeycomb-shaped cell which helps reduce heat loss in conservatories by up to 27%*.”

It’s also worth considering electric and smart options as some windows in your conservatory may not be easily accessible.”

*Hillarys product testing at the University of Salford’s Energy House Laboratory 2023.

3. Get underfloor heating

Underfloor heating is the most sought-after type of heating in an orangery or garden room,” says Karen Bell, sales director at David Salisbury. “It provides a lovely ambient heat throughout the room without the need for accommodating radiators, which might impact the décor of the room itself.”

“The easiest way to describe floor heating is like a sunny day,” adds Tom Edmunds, general manager at underfloor heating provider Wunda Group. “Imagine standing on your patio in the sunshine. The patio is warm, the walls are warm. Even in the evening when you go indoors, when you touch the brickwork, it’s still warm. That’s the sort of heat you get off floor heating.”

A common misconception of underfloor heating is that it is expensive and disruptive to install. But that needn’t be the case, depending on your chosen system.

“With traditional underfloor heating, pipes are buried in screed,” says Sam Jump, product manager at Wunda Group. “But this isn’t a practical solution for most people because, being buried in screed, it’s not controllable and takes hours to warm up and cool down.”

“Rapid response floor heating has all the benefits of water-based underfloor heating – low running costs, energy efficiency, heat-pump compatibility and so on – but with a rapid response. Your whole room will warm up, from cold, in as little as 20 minutes.”

Costing less than £40 per sq m, Wunda’s system consists of high-density polystyrene panels with a single pipe that runs back and forth across your floor. This is connected to any existing heat source through a manifold. The panels can be laid onto an existing floor, which is an easy DIY job. You’ll need to get a professional to connect the manifold to your heating source, such as a boiler or heat pump. Your new floor can then be laid on top. In a small-to-medium size conservatory, the job can be done in a weekend, if not a day, with minimal disruption.

“It’s compatible with almost all floor types, except maple and beech wood – which has a high water content – and carpet over 2.5 tog,” says Sam Jump. “Lots of carpet manufacturers that now offer designs that are compatible with underfloor heating, if your heart’s set on a softer floor.”

4. Improve your flooring

Orangery-style conservatory with patterned vinyl flooring

Mediterranean 524 Evora Vinyl flooring, £24.99 per sq m, Carpetright.

Getting the flooring right when planning a conservatory is almost as important as its design and structure. There’s a lot to consider – not least options that feel luxurious underfoot while being able to retain heat when the temperature drops outside.

“Luxury vinyl (LVT) is a high-quality option for a conservatory, offering solid durability whilst being compatible with underfloor heating,” says Jemma Dayman, hard flooring buyer at Carpetright. “Laminate flooring is also exceptionally durable, low-maintenance and easy to clean, making it another popular choice. And if you don’t have underfloor heating, laminate is preferable as it is thicker than vinyl sheets alone, offering more insulation to properties and softness underfoot.”

“Carpet or carpet tiles can be very effective in keeping the cold at bay and add to the cosiness of your conservatory,” adds Jemma. However, be aware that carpet can be impractical if you regularly access your garden through your conservatory and that thicker togs of carpet will be incompatible with underfloor heating. Using rugs with hard flooring may be a more compelling option.

“Wool rugs are by far the superior choice for keeping a room warm because the natural fibres are designed to trap heat,” explains Punam Chada, carpet and rug buyer at Carpetright. “Alternative options are cotton or polyester rugs, which are durable and easy to clean.

“Layering textured rugs on top of carpets not only adds additional comfort and softness but also increases warmth and heat retention. Statement rugs with added thickness, placed over low-pile carpets are a smart and relatively inexpensive way to tackle any particularly cold floors.”

5. Upgrade your radiators

Conservatory with window seat, sofa and footstool

This conservatory by Vale Garden Houses includes low-level radiators.

It can be hard to work a radiator into a room that’s wall-to-wall glass. If you have low walls beneath your windows, you will be able to purchase horizontal radiators that sit below the glazing, which come in modern and more traditional styles. Or you could consider a slimline vertical design if you have wall space between panes of glass. Either can be plumbed into your existing heating system, but extra pipework and professional installation will be needed.

“For those that only use their conservatory or sunroom on an irregular basis during the colder months, or perhaps just want to keep any damp and mould problems at bay, an electric radiator could be the best option,” says Nick Duggan, director at The Radiator Centre. “Modern electric radiators come with a whole host of controllability helping with energy consumption and more and more are now available with smart technology too, allowing the user to control the radiator from an app.

“Installation is effortless, simply plug in and switch on. Costs for the most basic electric radiators can be as little as £100, and go up to several thousands for the very latest designer styles.”

6. Try IR technology

Infra-red heating panels come in various forms and can be either wired into your existing electrics, or even plugged into an existing socket, as a retro-fit heat source. Some of the most popular solutions for conservatories include wall-mounted mirrors-cum-heaters, slimline white panels that can blend with walls or ceilings, and clear glass panels that can be mounted in the apex of a glass conservatory roof. They can even be finished to look like artwork, or double as a chalkboard.

IR panels are quick to heat up, and can be very affordable. However, as they radiate heat into the room directly, you’ll need to keep the space around them clear. They tend to work best in smaller rooms.

7. Replace the roof

Powder blue pitched conservatory roof by Hampton Conservatories

Replacing the roof could make your conservatory far more energy efficient. Image supplied by Hampton Conservatories.

According to home improvement company SEH BAC: “The biggest culprit for heat loss within a conservatory is the roof. Typically, around 80% of heat is lost through it due to inadequate roof insulation.”

The average cost to replace a conservatory roof is around £4,000, depending on the materials used, according to My Job Quote. The job can be done in as as little as a day, but may take two or three.

You have three main options when it comes to your roof materials: polycarbonate, glass and a solid tiled roof.

  • Polycarbonate is the cheapest option – it’s strong and durable, but isn’t as pretty as glass and can look a little dirty and tired over time.
  • Glass is a popular choice and mid-priced option. Go for triple glazing for the best insulation.
  • If you are really feeling the chill, a solid tiled roof is the priciest but cosiest option. It will ensure your conservatory doesn’t overheat in summer, too.

8. Look into trench heating

Fan assisted trench heating next to sliding patio doors

Trench heating is often covered in traditional cast iron grilles, but this modern fan-assisted version by The Radiator Centre feels sleek and contemporary.

Underfloor heating is an obvious option in rooms where it’s impossible to work in radiators. But it’s not your only choice. “Trench heating is perfect for use in rooms with large expanses of glass, as the heat coming up from the trench acts as a kind of ‘air curtain’,” says The Radiator Centre’s Nick Duggan. “This minimises heat loss and restricts draughts, as well as preventing window condensation.”

Lisa Morton agrees. “This is a very traditional method of providing heat,” she says. “Heating is placed in a trench within the conservatory baseworks, and then covered with decorative cast iron floor grilles. Although costly to build the trench and install, it’s very attractive in a garden room setting.”

There are two types of trench system – a wet system that is plumbed into your existing heating system, and an independent electric system, where floor-mounted heaters with built-in thermostats provide instant heat.

“The trench’s width and depth determine the size of the heating element and therefore the heat generated,” Duggan explains. “This also effects also the amount of cooler air that can be drawn in through the grilles, warmed and convected back out into the room. Greater airflow, and consequently heat, can be achieved with the installation of a fan system.”

As Morton has said, installation of standard trench heating to an existing home can be disruptive and costly. Paticularly if you install a wet system that runs off an existing boiler. But Duggan has a solution in the form of the electric micro canal system, from £500, The Radiator Centre. “With small-but-powerful heat exchangers and super quiet fans, it provides immense power from a H60mm x W140mm unit,” he explains. “Due to its small size, this particular trench system can easily be retro-fitted and connected to existing room thermostats.”

9. Install a stove

It is absolutely possible to install a stove in your conservatory, but there are several factors to consider. The first is the size of your space. It’s inefficient to have a stove that’s not powerful enough for the room, or worse too powerful. It’s actually better to have a smaller stove that burns strongly. With a more powerful stove that churns out too much heat, you’ll be constantly opening doors and windows. And worse, tar can build on the inside of your flue – a potential fire hazard.

Charnwood’s handy stove calculator can help you determine the kW output you need for your room size. If you live in a smoke control area, you must choose a DEFRA-approved stove. This will be more efficient and better for the environment.

Any stove will need an insulated flue, to let smoke and waste gases escape. It’s possible to cut a pane in the conservatory’s roof for the flue to pass through. To comply with building regulations, a flue installed close to an outside wall must extend above gutter height and 1 metre above your conservatory roof. Finally, your log burner must sit on a non-flammable base at least 50mm thick.