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Greenhouse vs Conservatory vs Solarium: Which Enclosure is Best for Growing Plants?

Greenhouse vs Conservatory vs Solarium: Which Enclosure is Best for Growing Plants?

If you are thinking of adding a sunny new structure to your home for growing plants or simply enjoying green spaces for all four seasons of the year, you may be wondering about the differences between a greenhouse, conservatory, and solarium. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there are some distinct features when it comes to how each enclosure is designed and used.

This article will explain what sets these structures apart so you’ll know exactly which term suits the type of plant room you’re interested in. We’ll also discuss the unique benefits of each to help you determine which one is right for your climate, gardening goals, and priorities.

Key Takeaways

  • A greenhouse is designed specifically for plant production and growth, with climate control systems to optimize conditions.

  • A conservatory is intended as an extra living space that happens to support plant growth as a secondary benefit.

  • A solarium (or sunroom) utilizes passive solar heating for year-round use, with all glass walls and ceiling.

  • When choosing an enclosure, consider your climate, plant types, budget, and priorities for functionality vs appearance.

Exaco Riga Greenhouses 2S with flowers inside


    Defining Key Differences Between a Greenhouse, Conservatory, and Solarium

    While all these three types of sunny rooms are made chiefly of transparent materials like glass and plastic to let in natural light, they serve different primary functions.

    What is a Greenhouse?

    A greenhouse is a building made of glass, plastic, or other transparent materials in which plants are grown. The primary purpose of a greenhouse is to provide a controlled environment to optimize conditions for cultivating flowers, vegetables, and other plants.

    Greenhouses are designed specifically for plant production and growth. They often feature climate control systems to manage temperature, humidity, irrigation, ventilation, and supplemental lighting tailored to the needs of the particular crops being grown. Greenhouses allow gardeners to grow plants all year regardless of the external weather or climate.

    Commercial greenhouses are used for large-scale food production can be high-tech facilities with sophisticated environmental controls to support specialized crop growth. Hobby greenhouses for home gardeners are smaller structures, but still aim to create ideal growth conditions for the plants inside.

    What is a Conservatory?

    A conservatory is a glass-enclosed room that is attached to a house. Unlike a greenhouse, a conservatory is designed to also serve as a living space for people, providing abundant natural light and views of the outdoors.

    Conservatories have glass walls and roof to let in sunlight and warmth. But their primary function is an additional general living areas, sitting rooms, or sunrooms rather than specifically for cultivating plants and vegetables. However, the bright and sunny environment of a conservatory does support growing plants, flowers, and small trees as a secondary benefit.

    Conservatories are typically made of more conventional building materials like wood, metal, and drywall in addition to glass. They may have some temperature controls but lack the detailed environmental systems used in true greenhouses to optimize plant growth. Think of a conservatory as a glass-enclosed living room rather than a structure made solely for raising plants.

    What is a Solarium or Sunroom?

    A solarium is a glassed-in room with glass walls and a roof that is attached to a house. Solarium is constructed to utilize passive solar heating for use throughout the year.

    The main difference between a solarium and a conservatory is that while conservatories contain some conventional walls and foundations, solarium walls are often entirely made of glass or transparent plastic sheeting. The solarium allows sunshine to warm the interior during colder months.

    Solariums may have operable vents and shading devices but do not offer the same level of climate control as a greenhouse. A solarium provides a sunny space to enjoy views of the garden year-round. Plants can thrive in this environment as an added benefit, but plant growth is not the sole purpose.

    Think of a solarium as a sunroom enclosed in glass on all sides. The terms “sunroom” and “solarium” are sometimes used interchangeably. The key distinguishing factor of a solarium is that the walls and ceiling are completely made of glass or other transparent materials.

    Gazebo Penguin Florence Freestanding Solarium in Slate with furniture inside

    Comparing the Benefits of Greenhouses, Conservatories and Solariums

    Now that we’ve defined what sets these structures apart, let’s compare some of the unique advantages and considerations of each type of structure.

    1. Temperature Control and Growing Conditions

    One of the biggest differences between greenhouses and other glassed-in rooms is the ability to precisely control the environment. Greenhouses allow careful management of temperature, humidity, irrigation, ventilation, and supplemental lighting throughout the year to create optimal growing conditions for different crops.

    The technical climate control systems used in greenhouses give growers the power to simulate an ideal environment conducive to plant development. This allows for cultivating fruits, vegetables, and other plants regardless of the season.

    Conservatories and solariums take advantage of passive solar light and warmth but lack the active environmental controls of a true greenhouse. While plants can grow well in these structures, the conditions may not be ideal for plants that require specific temperature, lighting, or humidity levels at different growth stages.

    So if your primary goal is food production or growing delicate plants that need precise conditions, a greenhouse may be the best fit. If you simply want a sun-filled space to enjoy green plants year-round without needing to actively manage the environment, a solarium or even a conservatory may suit your needs.

    2. Costs and Maintenance

    When evaluating greenhouse vs conservatory vs solarium, installation and maintenance costs are another factors to weigh.

    Constructing any glassed-in structure and integrating it with your home requires a significant investment. Greenhouses are typically the most affordable option. Conservatories have a higher upfront cost for the additional amenities of a living space. Solariums fall somewhere in the middle.

    Operating costs are also highest for greenhouses that rely on supplemental lighting, heating, cooling, and irrigation systems. Automated vents and retractable shade cloths also add to greenhouse maintenance costs.

    The major downside of a solarium is the constant maintenance required to keep the structure in good condition. The glass side across all the walls means seals must be repaired and panes cleaned frequently.

    Make sure to assess both the initial expense and ongoing costs of construction, operation, and repairs when deciding between a greenhouse, conservatory, or solarium.

    Here is a quick overview of the average costs of these structures: 

    Enclosure Type Average Cost
    Greenhouse $15,000
    Conservatory $30,000 - $70,000
    Solarium $30,000 - $75,000

    Note: These are just estimates and the actual cost can vary based on your specific requirements and local market conditions.

    3. Light Exposure and Plant Growth

    Light is perhaps the most important environmental factor influencing plant growth and development. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants convert light energy into sugars and carbohydrates that fuel growth.

    Different plants have varying light requirements. Some thrive in direct sun while others prefer partial shade. Each plant species also has an ideal temperature range in which it grows best. The greenhouse environment allows customized control of both lighting and temperature for optimal plant health.

    While conservatories and solariums receive abundant natural light, differences in exposure throughout the day and year can limit what plants will thrive. Greenhouses allow growers to supplement with artificial lighting when needed to provide ideal intensities and durations of light.

    If you want to cultivate plants with specific light and temperature needs, the controlled greenhouse environment offers the greatest flexibility and customization.

    Elegant Exaco Janssens Victorian-style greenhouse VI 23 set in a tranquil garden with a cobblestone path and lush greenery.

    Final Words

    Each enclosure offers unique benefits in terms of plant growing capabilities, costs, and maintenance needs. By understanding the key differences between greenhouse, conservatory, and solarium and aligning the structural design with your climate, plant types, and priorities you can select the best option to create an ideal plant room tailored to your individual situation. With a well-planned sunny addition to your home, you can spend time in your new structure or enjoy the nurturing tranquility of gardening protected from the weather conditions.


    How is a home greenhouse different from a sunroom and an orangery?

    An orangery is essentially a sunroom with a brick base and a flat, glazed roof. Orangeries are sometimes referred to as "superior" types of sunrooms due to their sturdier structure. A sunroom or solarium is a glass-enclosed living area typically attached to the home and intended to be used during all four seasons. Unlike a solarium, a home greenhouse is a structure with walls and ceilings enclosed with glass or plastic. Its main function is to trap heat from the sun and create a warm, humid environment for plants.

    What makes a greenhouse suitable for plant production?

    Greenhouses, whether a production greenhouses or a home greenhouses, have regulated climate controls to help manage the internal temperature and humidity which is crucial for optimal plant growth. They also provide protection from adverse weather conditions.

    Why does a conservatory have to be attached to the home?

    It's not absolutely necessary for a conservatory to be attached to the home, but it is traditionally built that way. A conservatory is considered a room addition to the house and is usually used for relaxation or entertainment, rather than for growing plants like a greenhouse.

    How is a conservatory different from other glass roof structures?

    A conservatory is different because it has more of a living space function, usually with comfortable furniture, and they are very often attached and open to the main house. The walls and roofs are usually made of glass to allow for maximum sunlight. It's meant to be a livable space and is intended to be used during all four seasons.

    What are the different types of greenhouses?

    Greenhouses can range from simple structures with a plastic cover and no heat to more elaborate setups that exceed the building codes with automated vents, supplemental lighting, and heating systems. They're sorted into three categories based on temperature: cool greenhouses, warm greenhouses, and hot greenhouses.

    How can I know which type of greenhouse is right for me?

    You need to consider your intended use for the room, your budget, and the climate of your area.  Every case is unique. To discuss this in detail, you can contact us to help you find a that suits your needs.

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    About The Author

    Andy Wu - Resident Expert

    Andy Wu - Resident Expert

    Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

    As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

    His main focus is on sheds and generators!

    In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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