Types of Greenhouse Structures

Greenhouse structure

1.1 Conventional / Post and Rafter greenhouses

Description:  The Post and Rafter design along with the A-frame are two of the most common greenhouse structures due to the simple construction of embedded post and rafters. This design is among the strongest with the rafters lending support to the roof. As the design is top-heavy, the frame must be footed, which will increase costs relative to other design options.

Covering material options: Typically glass, however rigid translucent polycarbonate glazing panels are now being used in many kits (lowering the overall cost relative to glass).

Pros: Simple straightforward design. Maximize usage of space along the side walls. More efficient air circulation, particularly along side walls.

Cons: Requires more material (wood and metal) vs. other designs.

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, south facing.

1.2 A-Frame

Description: One of the most common greenhouse structures, the key advantages are its simplicity of design and minimization of materials versus other similar structures (Post & Rafter). The popularity really falls on the simplicity of combing and roof and side walls together to create a singular triangular structure.

Covering material options: Typically glass, however rigid translucent polycarbonate glazing panels are now being used in many kits (lowering the overall cost relative to glass).

Pros: Simple straightforward design. Less material used relative to the Post and Rafter design (its most comparable design alternative).

Cons:  Narrowing side walls limits the functional use of the entire greenhouse footprint.  Air circulation can also be problematic in the corners.

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, south facing.

1.3 Gothic arch

Description: A variation of the Quonset design, it includes a semicircular frame manufactured from galvanized pipe or conduit. The frame is circular and usually covered with plastic sheeting.

Covering material options: Plastic sheeting

Pros: Simple and efficient construction design. The use of plastic sheeting reduces the overall design costs substantially. The shape of the design allows water and snow to be shed from its exterior.

Cons: Sidewall height is low, which restricts storage space and headroom.

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, with north-south orientation.


Hoop house1.4  Hoop house

Description: The hoop house gets its name from its shape, although houses can be constructed with straight lines using elbows to get the desired shape of the structure.  Hoops are made from aluminum pipes or plastic PVC pipes and covered with a single layer of polymer plastic covering; a second layer may be added for better insulation. Hoop houses are considered one of the most inexpensive designs, with overall construction often less than $1 per square foot.

Covering material options: Plastic sheeting

Pros: Easy to build and adapt to small land units. It is inexpensive relative to other designs. The shape of the design allows water and snow to be shed from its exterior.

Cons: Design is inherently not as sturdy as the A-frame or Post and Rafter.

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, with north-south orientation.

1.5 Lean-to greenhouse / Attached greenhouse

Description: This greenhouse shares a wall with your residence, traditionally built off the back of the home, but can be built on the side depending on the orientation of the home.

Covering material options: Glass is typically used as the greenhouse structure is attached to the home.

Pros: As the greenhouse shares a wall with the home, overall construction costs are lower relative to stand-alone glass greenhouses (A-frame, pillar and rafter). Lean-to greenhouses are also closer to available electricity, water and heat.

Cons: Temperature control is more difficult because the wall that the greenhouse is built on may collect the sun’s heat, while the greenhouse wall windows may lose heat rapidly.

Ideal location: The greenhouse should ideally be attached to the side of the home with a southern exposure.

1.6 Window greenhouse

Description: Called garden windows, greenhouse windows or even bay windows, they are an excellent option for growing herbs and small plants within the home. Instead of being a normal single pane of glass, the window juts off the exterior wall of the home allowing maximum light penetration. Typically these designs have windows that open on both sides, allowing maximum air ventilation. One consideration of plant layout within the garden window is water runoff.

Covering material options: Glass is typically used as the greenhouse structure is attached to the home.

Pros:  Maximizes the usefulness of windows within the home, and relatively inexpensive year-round growing option versus a standalone greenhouse structure.

Cons: Given the limited space, growing options are limited to herbs and smaller plants.

Ideal location: The greenhouse should ideally be attached to the side of the home with a southern exposure.

1.7 Windowfarm

Description: A windowfarm is a vertical, indoor garden that allows for year-round growing in almost any window. It lets plants use natural window light, the climate control of your living space and organic “liquid soil.”  It is a form of vertical hydroponic farming.

Pros: The windowfarm system is truly DIY, maximizing the opportunity for people to grow their own fresh produce regardless of where they live (backyards not needed). By far the cheapest option with starter kits costing less than  $199.

Cons: A hydroponic system requires more components (pumps, tubes, nutrients) and maintenance than a typical soil-based greenhouse.

Ideal location: A southern-facing window is the ideal location for a windowfarm system.

Cold frame1.8 Cold frame

Description: Used to extend the gardening season, the cold frame is the simplest (and by far the cheapest) greenhouse option. A cold frame is a structural cover over your garden (glass or plastic) to protect your plants from excessively low temperatures, wind, snow and rain.

Covering material options:  In true DIY spirit, anything goes (glass, plastic sheeting), the main requirement is that any covering should be able to be opened to allow heat ventilation.

Pros:  The cold frame is one of the most popular designs because of its simplicity, a bottomless box with a skylight. And the costs are quite manageable—many simple designs are constructed using old windows and scrap wood.

Cons:  The main disadvantage of cold frames is overheating, a single sunny afternoon with closed windows can cause serious plant damage. Another disadvantage relates to the quality of the material being used, old glass and wood are particularly prone to breakage and damage.

Looking to buy? Read our Greenhouse Structures and Supplies Buyer’s Guide>> for help on purchasing decisions.

image 1: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism via Compfight cc; image 2; TCDavis (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND); image 3: best4garden- wood products via Compfight cc

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2 Comments

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