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What is the Difference Between a Conservatory and a Greenhouse?

By Kaitlyn N. Watkins
Updated May 16, 2024
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While both sustain growing plants during winter, one might not be able to tell the difference between a conservatory and a greenhouse. Although there are several similar features shared by conservatories and greenhouses, the main difference is that people mainly occupy a conservatory, and a greenhouse is a made to be occupied by plants. Also a conservatory is typically attached to a house while a greenhouse is usually freestanding.

Aesthetically, the differences between a conservatory and a greenhouse can be clearly seen. A conservatory, which traditionally was built by affluent landowners, is essentially another room or wing of a house. The architecture of a conservatory can be very ornate with curved glass roofs and large open windows designed to enhance the overall design of the house and provide a place of relaxation for residents. A greenhouse, however, is a rather simple structure. While elaborate greenhouses do exist, the majority are modest, four-walled standalone buildings with the design emphasis on maximum light and heat efficiency.

By looking into both a conservatory and a greenhouse, one can see that the former is clearly meant to serve the comforts of people, while the latter is utilitarian. Often outfitted with design elements common to the rest of the house, a conservatory contains furniture and acts as an auxiliary living space for the occupants of the home. The extra warmth provided by the large windows and glass roof allows a conservatory to house growing plants throughout the winter, but these are usually part of the decor. The sole purpose of a greenhouse, however, is to sustain plants, and there are usually no furniture or creature comforts. From the easy-to-hose-off flooring to the shelves for plants, a greenhouse is designed for potting, watering and nurturing plants.

Both a conservatory and a greenhouse are designed to capture the sun’s rays to maximize warmth. There are likely to be vents and heaters in both a conservatory and a greenhouse, depending on the season. As part of the structure of a house, however, a conservatory has the potential to provide heat for nearby rooms through the use of fans or air circulation. Regardless of the season, a conservatory is likely to be better insulated and have a more regulated temperature than a greenhouse. The materials used to build a greenhouse are usually fairly lightweight and provide less insulation than traditional home-building materials.

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