Conservatory conversion: How to adapt a conservatory for year-round use

living room conservatory with blinds and wooden flooring
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Conservatory conversions enable homeowners to establish a light-filled space in their homes but the endeavour might come with more caveats and red tape than might be initially anticipated. 

Find out how these conservatory ideas can help turn a rarely-used weather-inefficient space into a usable family room that adds value to a house, throughout the seasons. 

What are conservatory conversions?

Conservatory conversions can mean different things to different homeowners; for some, it may mean replacing the roof with a tiled or solid iteration, while to others it can mean removing the exterior door that is required by Building Regulations for conservatories to better connect it to the main living space. (Although the latter is not recommended.) 

These key elements of designing a conservatory in the traditional sense might simply no longer suit the house, but taking steps to make the space a more permanent addition can involve more than meets the eye. 

small conservatory extension to kitchen

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

What makes a conservatory not an extension? 

A conservatory is different to an extension as a result of its thermal and heating separation, and requirements in terms of Building Regulations and planning permission. 

Although they are similar in the sense that both add more usable floorspace to a layout, a conservatory's lack of insulation and permanent structure creates a key distinction that will be important to remember when making any changes to an existing conservatory. 

Conservatories, with their glass walls and ceilings (sometimes polycarbonate), which are under 30m2 generally don't need Building Regulations approval and generally planning permission is not required. An external-grade door must separate the conservatory from the main house to fall under this criteria.

Extensions, on the other hand, will be built to Building Regulations standards – which means the walls, doors and windows must meet certain U-values and thermal performance to comply – and as such, can be open to the existing house. A conservatory must also be heated separately from the main house where as extension's heating can be integrated. 

These differences will be very important in the eyes of the local authority if you are looking to change elements of a conservatory or are thinking about replacing a conservatory with an extension

Do you need planning permission to convert a conservatory into a room?

If the conservatory room will remain separated from the main house, then no planning permission will be required to convert a conservatory into a room. Be this through insulating a conservatory roof, or replacing it entirely (see below for more). 

Conservatory planning permission for new room additions is not generally needed, as long as it still meets the permitted development criteria. 

Another bit of good news is that conservatories also don't need to comply with Building Regulations (providing certain conditions are met). This may be important if you're debating between an extension or conservatory as the more permanent structure may need both planning permission and will certainly need Building Regulations approval. 

However, knocking through into a conservatory or removing the exterior door will require planning permission, and most likely major upgrades to an existing conservatory's thermal efficiency.

Updating conservatory interior ideas and designs can be a cost-effective alternative towards making a conservatory feel more like a liveable room without needing planning permission. Updates could include: 

  • Replacing the flooring
  • Updating lighting 
  • Adding a new heat source (like a radiator or stove) to keep it habitable in the winter
  • Painting or cladding exterior wall and dwarf walls
  • Installing exterior grade patio doors between the conservatory and main house
  • Use conservatory blind ideas to insulate and provide shade from the summer heat

wooden conservatory dining room with painted exterior brick wall

Although still separate from the main house, this lean-to wooden conservatory is most definitely a room in it's own right through simple design ideas, such as painting and cladding the exterior wall, creating a warm colour scheme and bringing interesting personal details into the room.  (Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you need planning permission to put a tiled roof on a conservatory? 

Providing your conservatory still meet the permitted development criteria then a conservatory roof replacement will not need planning permission. If you are at all unsure, check with your local planning authority. 

Is it worth converting a conservatory roof? 

If your conservatory roof is leaky or damaged or the space is simply is too hot or too cold to use as a room it will be worth converting a conservatory roof to something with better insulation. 

As an added bonus, the conservatory can be upgraded with more contemporary design elements and modern materials to replace old polycarbonate options for a stylish second chance for a dated space. 

Amy Reeves

Assistant Editor Amy began working for Homebuilding & Renovating in 2018. She has an interest in sustainable building methods and always has her eye on the latest design ideas. Amy has interviewed countless self builders, renovators and extenders about their experiences for Homebuilding & Renovating magazine. She is currently renovating a mid-century home, together with her partner, on a DIY basis, and has recently fitted her own kitchen.