A Simple Guide to The Structural Integrity of Conservatory Roofs

A conservatory roof is a complex piece of engineering, and this guide attempts to explain the various forces acting on it in simple terms. I am not a structural engineer – this is a guide only and should not be used as the basis for any calculations. As always, if in doubt seek professional advice before deciding if a design is structurally sound.


There are several major forces acting on a roof:

  • The downward vertical load of the rafters, glazing and worst-case snow load
  • The upward vertical load from worst-case wind (as the wind speed increases it creates a vacuum effect which pulls the sheets upwards)


In order to determine if the roof is suitable for its site location we need following information:

  • The glazing weight per square metre
  • The maximum expected snow load per square metre (site specific)
  • The strength of the supporting rafters
  • The maximum deflection acceptable for the chosen glazing (which is lower for glass than polycarbonate)

The site specific information is often looked up from a location map – contact your roof supplier for more details.


A conservatory will begin to fail for a number of reasons:

  1. Glazing cannot deflect beyond the maximum possible, and cracks or disintegrates
  2. Fixings (screws, expansion bolts etc) cannot sustain the loads upon them
  3. Cappings can no longer resist the loads upon then and become detached
  4. The ring beams deflect causing doors or openers to jam


If the given design is found to be insufficiently strong there are a number of remedies, including:

  • Use stronger rafters to reduce glazing deflection
  • Use tie bars or tie bar removal kits to reduce ridge deflection
  • Use a portal frame
  • Use alternative glazing which is lighter or has a higher deflection co-efficient

Tie Bars

As the weight supported by the ridge increases (because either the span is large or the ridge length is long, or both), there will be a large force pushing the ridge down and the rafters outwards. When this load exceeds safe limits, the ring beam will start to be pushed outwards, which in the worst case could result in a roof collapse. A tie bar will prevent this outward movement by “tying” the rafters together. Note that the vertical element of a tie bar is simply to keep the bars level – all of the work is done by the horizontal members. Very large roofs may require two or more tie bars.tie bars

Use of a tie bar is illustrated below:

tie bar in roof

Portal Frames

A portal frame provides a structural support upon which the roof sits. Typically portals are made of a steel or aluminium tubing, which is either welded or mechanically jointed. The portal is designed to transfer the calculated loads to fixed concrete footings. As a result the entire structure will by much stronger and capable of supporting a larger roof. A simple portal frame is shown below:portal

The roof would sit on this portal as shown here:

full portal

Automating Remedies

Resolving some of these structural issues manually can be very time-consuming and often requires the services of a structural engineer.  Better software systems can recommend solutions automatically for many designs although complex designs will still need to be referred to an expert. In some cases there can be several ways of solving specific structural issues, and this is where the experience of a qualified engineer is invaluable.RoofWright Bronze, Silver and Gold editions all allow tie bars to be added and shown.

RoofWright Silver and Gold Editions allow designs to be exported to Autocad for further structural analysis, and allow portal frames to be drawn and shown.

All versions of roofwright provide for structural checks, but this data needs to be configured for your roof system. To find out if this information is available for your roof system, contact us or your roof system supplier.

John Morris-Ashton

Senior Support Engineer


Was this article helpful?

Related Articles