Too cold in the winter. Too hot in the summer. Loud when it rains. Despite the various flaws with conservatories, they were a wildly popular addition to homes in the UK all the way up to the early 2000s.
Since then, their popularity has declined. New products have entered the market which massively outperforms older conservatory products, and homeowners are acutely aware of the drawbacks a traditional conservatory has.
Conservatory boom to a dribble
I am reliably told that the peak of the conservatory market was around 2004. I have seen figures pointing to around 300,000 installations in a single year. I imagine that was a very good year for business in the fenestration sector.
Ever since then, however, the humble conservatory has been in decline. They were always poor when it came to controlling hot and cold. Polycarbonate roofs were loud and could sometimes be deafening depending on the severity of the rain. For some, it became a dumping room because many ultimately became unusable due to their poor energy performance.
As the first decade of the new millennium progressed, new products were developed to try and transform the conservatory market. There are at least three million conservatories installed in homes in the UK. That presented a massive retrofit opportunity for suppliers who were bringing out solid roof and warm roof products.
These were designed to either replace the polycarbonate or glass roof on existing conservatories and to try and breathe some life back into the new-build conservatory market. It’s worth saying at this point that replacing the polycarbonate roof with a solid one no longer makes it a conservatory but an extension. This was an attempt for the conservatory market to muscle in on the extension market but at a fraction of the cost and much less disruption.
It is debatable whether solid roofs have really provided that much disruption to the extension market. But one thing it has done is contribute to the death of the traditional conservatory market. Google Trends data reflects this market change:
The peak of the market is easy to see at the chart’s start. The progression of the decline in conservatory search data is steady and constant.
It was around the start of the financial crisis and recession though when solid roof and warm roof products were really making a push. The industry attempted to stimulate demand and spending by offering new products which promised to turn cold, unused rooms into useful living spaces, as was originally intended with the original conservatory.
You can see a slight retention in trend data around the same period. But not long after the climb downwards resumed to what is not really just a trickle. But the demise of one market birthed another.
Solid roof market born
The popularity of solid roof and warm roof products exploded. Homeowners were quick to learn that there were new products available which could transform a room that they could no longer use but would very much like to.
Selling the USPs was pretty easy. No need to build an expensive new extension. You could keep the frames, dwarf wall and foundation so long as they were in good condition. Extremely low u-values help to improve energy efficiency. Less disruption and mess on site.
There was a rush to bring new products to market by most conservatory roof suppliers. This included the birth of some brand new companies dedicated to solid roofs alone. The quality has been questionable on some models. And I do sometimes worry about the quality of the installation by some companies who rush to install them without paying due care and attention to the existing frames and building work.
All in all, though, this new market has been pretty successful and has easily carved itself a new niche within the wider fenestration sector. Not that I think they are the total problem solver. Even with partially glazed options or Velux roof windows, solid roofs do not allow as much light to enter the room as their glass or polycarbonate counterparts. This then risks the adjoining room, usually a living room or dining room, becoming darker still. Often when we have described this to our own clients they have resorted to a glass roof, even though there are drawbacks with that particular option.
I joined this industry just after the boom for conservatories ended. But at the time, Ultraframe was still listed on the London Stock Exchange, having originally floated in 1997 and reaching an all-time high price of 370p per share. It was bought into private ownership for 30p per share. The success of the conservatory market in the latter decades of the 20th century made a swathe of people and companies very successful indeed. Although the conservatory as a standalone product has its drawbacks, it remains popular with some homeowners, and helped to build up the wider fenestration sector.
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IMO conservatories became too expensive. Often 2/3 the cost of a similar sized basic extension.
When folks have this pointed out, along with all the drawbacks, its a no brainier to pay a little more to have a perminant structure, rather than something that will last maybe 15 years.