Conservatory Self Build Kits: Are They Worth It?

Conservatory Self Build Kits: Are They Worth It?

If you are dreaming of a gorgeous new conservatory for your home but the price is out of your reach, you may be thinking about building one yourself to save on the cost of labour. Fitting by a professional company will start at around £500 per square metre of floor space, making conservatories one of the highest value things you’ll ever buy.

There are ways to reduce the cost of a conservatory, for example by choosing lower specification glass or by keeping the design simple, but it’s unlikely any of these things will take your expenses below the £500/sq. m. threshold. The only way to really reduce this cost significantly is by building your own DIY conservatory using a self-build kit.

However, this is no set of IKEA drawers you’re dealing with here. Conservatories are buildings just like any other, and require a certain level of proficiency in specific skills if you are going to get this done safely and effectively. Here’s what you ned to know.

What to expect from your kit?

DIY conservatory kits tend to be of a very standard size, making them cheaper to buy because they are mass manufactured. It’s harder to find something that will fit with your house if your building is an awkward shape.

Kits are DIY friendly in that most of the holes are pre-drilled for your convenience and all the fixtures and fittings are included. Don’t go for the very cheapest kits on the market as they may be substandard, and could end up actually detracting from your home rather than adding value to it.

What skills will you need?

Standard conservatories involve attaching a uPVC or timber frame to a dwarf wall or directly to a base. However, some DIY kits will bolt straight onto the floor, so check the specifications to
make sure the kit you are buying is suitable for the installation you have planned. Your kit should contain a to-do list of works, which will roughly comprise of:

Building a wall and / or base

This is skilled work, and probably best left to a builder unless you are very experienced and confident.

Assemble the frame

Most of the framework should be easy to assemble as it should come cut to size and pre-drilled, but be prepared to do a little drilling or cutting yourself to get the perfect fit. These panels will be very heavy once assembled, so it’s best to work in a team of at least two people.

Working at height

Assembling the frame will involve working at height, so you’ll need good ladders and enough manpower to manoeuvre things into place safely.

Sealing the conservatory

You will probably need to seal certain parts of the framework to make it watertight once assembled.

Electrical

For lighting, fans and outlets, you’ll need an electrician to take care of connections to the conservatory.

Flooring

Choose from a carpet, laminate flooring, vinyl or tiles, but you’ll need to be confident in the fitting of them and have the tools to make your job easier.

Decoration

Probably the simplest of all the jobs here, you’ll need to finish the walls with plasterboard and / or paint and put the finishing touches to your room.

Sounds easy, right? Well, probably not, which is why not many people actually build their own conservatory from scratch. You’ll need some professional support along the way, even if you do a number of these steps yourself.

Where you’ll need a pro

Some elements of self build conservatories just can’t be done by an unqualified layperson. For example:

Electrical outlets

You’ll almost certainly need power to your conservatory, and under January 2005 guidelines this will need to be done by a professional electrician.

Plumbing

If you are planning to put a radiator or underfloor heating in the conservatory, this should only be done by a professional.

Foundations

Unless you are experienced in ground works, setting a base for your conservatory is a job best left to the experts.

Bricklaying

Again, unless you have specific skills and experience in this, it is doubtful you’ll be able to do a good job, so call in the professionals for your wall.

If you’re a keen DIY’er and want to ‘have a go’, there’s no harm in trying to learn new skills through the building of your own conservatory. However, do make sure that important things like electrical connections and structural integrity are at least checked by a professional before you start using the room.

Time commitment

The more complicated your conservatory, the longer it will take. A good estimation is around four to six days, but take your time and measure twice, cut once. How much is your time worth?

Cost of self build conservatories

By choosing to erect your conservatory yourself, you can expect a good discount on the price per square metre. As with all conservatories, the larger and more complex the design, the higher the cost. To give you some idea, you can expect a 3m square lean-to to cost around £225 per square meter, whereas a similar sized Victorian would cost around £300 per square meter. This page has some useful information on the cost of self build kits that will help you compare different designs and sizes.

So, is it worth it?

If you’re a keen DIY’er with a good stash of tools and a bit of time on your hands, plus a mate or two to lend a hand, chances are you could do a great job of building your own conservatory. However, if you have a day job and limited knowledge of building processes, a professional is going to get the job done a lot faster and easier than you can. Consider buying a self-build kit and then employing a local builder to erect it for you to save on the cost of a fitted conservatory from a large firm.

When Is A Conservatory Not A Conservatory

When Is A Conservatory Not A Conservatory

The definition of a conservatory is something of a contentious issue. Conservatories were, originally, temporary structures or very roughly built rooms which were added onto houses in order to ‘conserve’ plants over the winter months. They originated in the 16th century when wealthy households wished to grow citrus fruits which had been introduced to them by traders from the Mediterranean.

Today’s conservatories are much more than a roughly constructed greenhouse for plants, and indeed are as much a well-loved and used part of the home as any other room. But what makes a conservatory a conservatory, and when does it become an extension?

Why care if it’s a conservatory or not?

One of the biggest benefits of erecting a conservatory is that it is permitted development. This means you do not need to seek planning permission, nor do building regulations apply. If you take your conservatory design too far, however, you could shift it into the classification of an extension, thereby requiring both planning permission and building regs to apply.

What defines a conservatory?

Up until 2010, the classification of a conservatory was relatively well defined. Planning guidance said that:

  • Not less than three quarters of the roof should be transparent
  • Not less than half of external walls should be transparent
  • Should be separated from the main house by walls and a door
  • Should not use the central heating from the main house

That made it quite easy to define a conservatory, and gave both householders and builders a good guideline to aim for. However, since 2010 and the introduction of the new Part L of building regulations, the rules on the amount of transparency have been withdrawn, which has left the industry scratching its head as to where the line between conservatory and extension actually falls.

In order to remain a permitted development (ergo a conservatory), the building needs to comply with a number of rules. Some of these are listed here, and there is more information on planning permission and permitted development on our website . Local Authority Building Control (LABC) issued a guidance note relating to conservatories which was intended to clear up the confusion. This document stated that:

  • It must be at ground level
  • It must not be more than 30m2
  • It must be thermally separated from the original building
  • It must have its own heating
  • Glazing in critical zones must meet Part N of the building regulations

This would indicate that as long as a conservatory is separated from the main house by walls and doors, and has its own heating system, it should still be permitted development no matter how much glass or polycarbonate is fitted. Does this mean that anyone can throw up any sort of extension as long as it meets those criteria without any problems? Probably not.

The best practice note from LABC stated that although Approved Document L1B 2006 had been superseded, the general rules about the amount of glass or transparent material required still gave a valid basis for deciding if it is a conservatory or an extension. There is no hard and fast rule about how much glass you should have, and there is now the possibility for a solid roof, but if it starts to look more like an extension than a conservatory, you could run into problems.

It seems there is still some variation as to what the application of the current building regulations to conservatories should be between different local authorities. This means that the best advice would be to talk to your local Buildings Control Office or planning department if you are unsure as to whether you are building a conservatory or an extension.

There is lots more information available at the Planning Portal on this topic, and a lively discussion between builders on this forum.