Conservatory Roof Materials: Polycarbonate

If you’re looking for an affordable roofing solution for your conservatory that lets in loads of light, polycarbonate could be the right material for you. However, do weigh up the benefits and drawbacks thoroughly before making a choice, to ensure you end up with the right product for your home and lifestyle.

What is polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is made up from sheets of thin plastic laid one on top of the other. They usually have bridging sections which trap air in the spaces in between, creating a honeycomb effect which is both strong and provides some insulation for your conservatory.

The very thinnest polycarbonate sheets have two layers of plastic and measure 16mm in depth. However, the strength and insulation of these sheets is limited, so for a conservatory application it is recommended to go for a thicker structure. The thickest polycarbonate is around 35mm in depth and contains seven individual layers.

As well as different thicknesses, you can choose from a variety of colours and finishes including clear, opal, bronze and heat shield. The insulation values are similar between all the different colours, but the light and solar heat transmission vary greatly. There is a useful table here which gives more information on the properties of each finish.

The benefits of polycarbonate conservatory roofs

The biggest benefit of polycarbonate by far is the initial outlay required to have this type of roof installed. The material is less expensive to manufacture than glass, and is easier to handle, cut and install than any other roofing material. For this reason, the cost of installation is much lower than that of a glass or solid roof.

Polycarbonate is both lightweight and strong, making it easy to install without significant structural loading on the conservatory itself. It is opaque, meaning it diffuses light around the room without creating glare, and doesn’t show the dirt in the way that a glass roof would. Because the sun does not glare directly through the roof, there is usually no requirement for expensive roof blinds either.

The drawbacks of polycarbonate conservatory roofs

Of course, it’s not all roses, otherwise everyone would choose this type of roof with no questions asked. There are a few downsides to polycarbonate roofing for conservatories which it is important to be realistic about too. These include:

Noise

The sound of the rain on the roof may turn out to be a sound you grow to love, but for most homeowners it’s a real turnoff. Heavy rain can create an almost deafening pitter-patter in the conservatory, which is enough to put this type of roof out of the question for many.

Creaking

Polycarbonate tends to flex and move with temperature changes, so on a sunny day you will often hear lots of creaking and cracking as the roof expands and contracts.

Life expectancy

Glass lasts for a very long time, but not so for polycarbonate. Lifespan of this type of roof tends to be around 10 to 15 years, after which it will tend to become brittle and discoloured. The end covers, which keep dirt and insects from getting into the sheets, will eventually break down, meaning its time for a replacement.

Insulation

The thickest types of polycarbonate have a U-value equal to that of standard double glazed panels. However, with many new innovations in the world of glass and glazing, much better insulation can be achieved with high tech glass units than could ever be achieved with polycarbonate.

Ultimately, the decision is yours to decide whether you prefer polycarbonate to glass. For some, a conservatory is all about being able to see the sky, and polycarbonate is never going to do this for you. However, if you’re keen to procure an affordable, easy to install option, then it could be a great solution for you.