Once kids come along it won't be long before your home begins to feel cramped. You will long for somewhere out of the way to store baby and toddler detritus, and as the kids grow older, an extra room can be a place for them to play computer games and do homework. One answer to the perennial problem of space (or lack thereof) is to move to a larger property, but this is an expensive solution and there is no guarantee you will find a larger house within your budget. You may also be reluctant to move when your current home is near the kids' school and other important amenities. Extending the downstairs is one way of adding extra living space, but should you go for a conservatory or splash out on a full-blown extension?
There is a cost difference between a conservatory and an extension. Generally speaking, a conservatory will be the cheaper option although this does depend on what specification you go for. However, conservatories are more expensive than they used to be because they now have to be better insulated, so if you go for a top quality installation, you could end up paying more than you would for a small single storey extension with a window and door.
Extensions are built to last, so as long as the builder does a good job, it should last as long as the rest of the house. Conservatories are different. Most of them start to look a bit scruffy after a few years and after 20 years you will probably need a new one.
The biggest disadvantage of conservatories is that they are too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, even with blinds fitted. It is possible to enjoy use of a conservatory all year round, but you need to install an effective form of heating and avoid building it in a south facing location. Underfloor heating and Adige vertical radiators will help, as will a wood burner, but you will almost certainly get more use out of a brick built extension.
Conservatories and extensions both add value to a home, but how big a price tag will depend on a multitude of factors. A large bespoke conservatory in keeping with the style of the home will be a major selling point, as will a well thought out extension, but if the workmanship is shoddy or the structure has seen better days, you won't gain anything when you come to sell. The same applies if you have sacrificed most of your garden in the process.
One area where a conservatory trumps an extension hands down is light. By their very nature a conservatory allows lots of natural light into the space. You won't have the same effect with an extension because building regulations restrict the number of windows and doors you can have.
Another area where conservatories win is the view. Acres of glass in a conservatory means you can enjoy full panoramic views of your garden, whereas even with French windows or a patio door in an extension, the effect is not the same. Of course if your garden is a weed infested doggy toilet then you probably won't be too concerned about enjoying the vista, in which case an extension could be a better bet.
Ultimately, whether you go for a conservatory or have an extension built will come down to personal preference. There is no right or wrong and if you don't plan on staying in the property for more than five years, you don't need to worry about the structure falling down. But whatever you decide upon, make sure you obtain several quotes and always use a reputable contractor.