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Conservatory versus Solarium

If you’ve started to research sunrooms you have likely come across a room called a conservatory or a solarium.  Like most people, you are probably left wondering about how the two rooms are different.  Homeowners are commonly confused about the differences between the two and that’s partially because many sunroom manufacturers have somewhat blurred the definitions.  To help you have a better understanding, we have compiled a guide to conservatories and solariums below.

The easiest way to identify both of these rooms is by their construction.  Both are constructed primarily of glass which makes them the ‘sunniest’ of all sunrooms.  They are both ideal for housing plants due to heavy amounts of sunlight Both rooms are typically attached to the existing walls of a home and come in various architectural styles. 

Common Ways to Refer to a Solarium or Conservatory

You may have already noticed that people refer to the same type of room in multiple ways.  Of course this make the whole process even more confusing but we've listed some of the common terms used below to help you out.

  • Conservatory
  • Green House
  • Solarium
  • Orangerie
  • Atrium
  • Patio Room
  • Garden Room


The term ‘Solarium’ is derived from the Latin word ‘sol’ which means sun.  Solariums were popular in Rome and even in medieval times where they could be found on castle towers as a circular room surrounded by glass.  Conservatories have their roots in European tradition.  Commonly, wealthy homeowners used them is a modernized version of a green house to grow plants.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, those wealthy enough could grow many species of plants and fruits in these rooms year round.  Some even heated them through underground floor air ducts with burning wood or coal.  Certainly technology has come a long way since those days but the overall use of the rooms remains the same—they are an ideal place that lets in a lot of light and is great for relaxing, having a cup of coffee and a good book, or entertaining guests.

Glass Considerations

The reason Conservatories and Solariums let so much light in is because their walls and even roofs are made primarily of glass.  Traditionally, glass is not the best thermal insulator which makes the problem of having a room that is cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  This is especially true if the room has only single paned glass without any type of glazing or insulation.  Modern advances in window technology have made the insulating properties of the windows in these rooms far superior to the original solariums and conservatories.  Manufacturers have introduced Low-E glass, dual paned glass, argon filled glass, heat reflective glass, and other types of windows with various laminates that increase energy efficiency.  Oftentimes you will pay extra for more advanced glass but it’s worth it if you want a room that doesn’t exaggerate the current outside temperature.  Further, many sunrooms feature sliding, venting, or tilting windows.  If it gets too hot or too cold you can simply open or shut the window to achieve the proper ventilation.  If design is a concern, you can also find rooms that featured curved glass, frosted glass or etched glass for added character and beauty.

Architectural Styles

When it comes to the different styles of conservatories and solariums, there is much confusion in the industry about which is which.  As these rooms have become modernized and mass produced, some of the styles have blended together making it difficult to give each a proper classification.  Our best advice is to understand the basic and most common styles available and then just to be specific in what you are looking for when working with a sunroom professional.  Don’t be afraid to point to pictures as a frame of reference or to ask specific questions.  To help you get started, we have laid out the three most common styles for you below.

  • Victorian Style
    • More elaborate decoration and ornamentation with specific detailing on the rooftop finials and spires
    • Make sure the style will fit with your current home as it’s not something
  • Edwardian Style
    • More of a squared looks as opposed to a rounded look
    • Simpler architecture
    • High pitched roof which is typically the focal point
  • Georgian Style
    • 18th century style during the reign of King George which followed the Victorian era
    • Best to use in conjunction with a house built in a similar style
    • Features an element of grandeur yet is typically less ornate than a Victorian room
    • Traditionally does not have rain gutters
Roof Options

As mentioned previously, the typical construction of a conservatory or solarium is defined by its use of glass.  This also applies to the roof.  Typically, manufactures will use a form of tough safety glass to ensure stability and durability.  Also, since the roof is difficult to clean, many have introduced various forms of self cleaning glass.  Another common option for the roof tops is polycarbonate which is not exactly glass and is known to deflect more of the light.  It is less clear and also does not insulate against noise as well as glass.  The shape of the roof can be domed, pitched or even flat. 

Common Materials

The most common materials used to construct the frame and structure of a conservatory or solarium is vinyl, wood or aluminum.  While aluminum is perhaps the strongest, vinyl has in advantage as being a maintenance free material as well as a good thermal performer.  Wood also has good insulating properties and unique visual appeal depending on the wood species used.  To know which materials is best for you, you’ll also need to keep in mind what your home looks like.  You’ll want the material to compliment your existing home so that your new room simply looks like a natural extension of your home.

Planning and Location

Since these rooms are made primarily of glass, you’ll want to keep in mind the location of the sun when building your new conservatory or solarium.  To this end, it’s a good idea to have your room facing south so that you’ll be able to capture the most sunlight possible throughout the day and throughout the year.  This is especially the case in the winter months if you’re looking to extend the time you’ll be able to be in the room in the year.

These rooms are also idea when surrounded by greenery.  If you have an existing garden, try to plan on having your room surrounded by the garden.  By doing this, you’ll have more of the feeling of ‘bringing the outdoors in’ when you go into your new room to relax.  If you’re relaxed enough, you might find yourself feeling like you’re actually relaxing outside even though your enjoying the comforts of indoor living.

Manufacturers of Conservatories and Solariums
  • Admiral Sunrooms, Inc: Offers Solariums and Edwardian/Victorian style conservatories
  • Craft-Built Manufacturing Company: Offers Betterliving vinyl Victorian-style conservatories
  • C-Thru Industries, Inc: Offers English style conservatories
  • Four Seasons Sunrooms, Inc: Offers aluminum, wood and vinyl clad conservatories in Victorian or Georgian styles
  • Patio Enclosures, Inc: Offers straight eve and curved eave solariums as well as Victorian and Edwardian style conservatories
  • Solar Innovations Inc: Offers wood and aluminum conservatories with many styles including double pitched, nose styled, and hip end. Features a wide range of decorative aluminum elements
  • Temo Sunrooms, Inc: Offers conservatory in Victorian or Edwardian style

Still Need More Information About Conservatories and Solariums?

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