Types of Greenhouse Structures

Greenhouse structure

This is Part 1 of the Gnome’s Greenhouse Guide. It introduces you to all the different kinds of greenhouse structures. But it doesn’t stop there! The guide is packed with a lot more super useful stuff about greenhouses you won’t want to miss, so check it out from the beginning.

Updated: October 3, 2019

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.

Our Suggestion: The Royal Victorian V134 from Janssens of
Belgium is a fantastic post and rafter greenhouse with a solid five-star
rating that’s hard to beat. The price may be difficult to justify or swallow
by just looking at it online, but every customer review that appears on
Amazon for this product raves about the quality of this greenhouse being
well worth every cent spent.

The kit not only includes the durable, powder-coated aluminum base
greenhouse frame and tempered glass windows, but also includes frame
extensions, a misting system, and a sliding frame door. The windows of this greenhouse are held in place with high-quality rubber seals, which
help in providing optimal insulation.

The windows are also made of exceptional 4mm tempered laminated
glass and is guaranteed not to fade with age as some acrylic or plastic
options tend to do. Customers happily report that the greenhouse glass
stands up to hail, snow, heavy winds, and debris.

If that wasn’t enough, this greenhouse comes with a 15-year limited
warranty. Customer service is reported to be wonderful to contact and
work with, and the manufacturer sends instructions and an instructional
DVD so that you can assemble the greenhouse yourself. But, it’s a good
idea to have a professional come and assist if necessary, as the
materials may be heavy or cumbersome for one person to handle alone.

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.

Our Suggestion: A great walk-in, A-Frame type greenhouse is
made by Outsunny. This greenhouse features fantastic UV-resistant
polycarbonate sheets, making sure your plants are kept safe while also
providing natural light access throughout the day.

This greenhouse can be ordered in different sizes to suit your gardening
needs. It is built with a heavy-duty base and frame made of powder-
coated aluminum. The galvanized base provides an excellent, solid support for the greenhouse and ensures that it is sturdy even in high winds.

The Outsunny greenhouse has a sliding door panel for easy access and
sports a hinged rooftop vent to help with ventilation for your plants. It
comes with an illustrated instruction manual for assembly and is reported
to be easy to put together.

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.

Our Suggestion: DELTA’s Walk-in Garden Greenhouse is the
best gothic arch stylized greenhouse for its price point. It’s commercial
grade and is not small at 40-feet by 20-feet, so be sure you have plenty of
space if you want to purchase and use this greenhouse!

The frame of this greenhouse is made of high-quality galvanized steel
tubing, with rafters spaced at five-foot intervals. It utilizes cloth rails, and
metal locks fasten the cloth to the frame of the greenhouse.

There’s plenty of overhead space in this greenhouse. But by design,
there isn’t as much sidelong space the lower to the ground the
greenhouse goes, so keep that in mind. There are two doors to this
greenhouse, placed at either end of the structure.

There is an included six-month warranty on the cover of the greenhouse,
but a representative of the manufacturer has noted that they don’t receive
any replacement requests, as the cover is of a high quality and doesn’t
really need replacing despite only being designed as a seasonal-use
greenhouse.

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


1.4  Hoop house

Hoop house greenhouse
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.

Our Suggestion: If you’re looking for a hoop house designed
greenhouse, the best kit to purchase is the Best Choice Tunnel Garden
Greenhouse. It has a low price point, but you definitely still get a quality
product that will protect your plants.

The door seals with a tight zipper and the windows of the greenhouse are
easy to roll up and secure to allow for an amazing amount of ventilation
and light penetration into the greenhouse tent.

The cover is made of a heavy-duty, durable threaded plastic that fits
snugly over the rust-resistant, powder-coated steel frame. Strong ropes
and stakes work together to create a stable, reliable structure that will
allow you to garden in a controlled environment for years to come.

Customers that bought this product have had excellent interactions with
the customer service team. Purchasers of this greenhouse report prompt, helpful responses and solutions! So you can buy this greenhouse with
peace of mind that any problems or questions you may have will be
answered quickly, accurately, and politely by the service staff.

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.

Our Suggestion: The Sun Room 2 Greenhouse is an excellent
attached greenhouse for your home at a reasonable price! It is attractive,
durable, and guaranteed to meet your gardening needs and expectations.

The heavy-duty resin frame is durable and is promised to be maintenance-free for years of use. The panels of this greenhouse aren’t glass, but they are 3mm thick translucent acrylic. These are 100% UV protected, and are as attractive and clear as glass without the potential safety concerns, especially if you have children or pets that may be in the greenhouse at any time.

The roof of this lean-to style greenhouse is made of a 4mm thick twin-
wall polycarbonate, which also offers great UV protection and is guaranteed to endure harsh weather conditions and high winds without a problem.

The hinged side door and the roof vent allow for easy air circulation and
ventilation on especially hot days. There is a seven-year limited warranty
on this greenhouse, and you can obtain a copy of this warranty prior to
purchasing the greenhouse by calling Target’s Guest Services department.

Customers who left reviews on this greenhouse have mentioned that it
took a while to assemble even with help, so if you need professional help
to install this greenhouse it may not be a bad idea to hire a handyman or
skilled freelancer to assist you. Otherwise, be prepared to take some time
to install this greenhouse.

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.

Our Suggestion: Whether you’re replacing a window you already have
or are installing a whole new window for your window greenhouse, Texas Greenhouse Company has all you need for your new addition.

The bay view windows that TGC offers are fully-customizable for your
home and to meet your specifications. Framed in galvanized steel and
high-grade aluminum, they promise to be every bit as reliably durable as
a full-size greenhouse, for a fraction of the cost and only as much space
as you need.

TGC will not only deliver your new window greenhouse, but they’ll install
it as well anywhere within the United States. Installation is guaranteed to
be quick, professional, and accurate. With professional installation and
high quality, you’re guaranteed to have many years of use with their
products, and TGC offers an automatic guarantee of five years from the
date of delivery and installation.

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.

Our Suggestion: Miracle-Gro’s AeroGarden Ultra LED System
is a favorite in window farm-capable systems. It will fit on deep window
sills or easily on counter tops and end tables without a problem and is
incredibly simple to set up.

Up to seven plants can be grown at a time in this compact system, and
using hydroponics there’s no soil or dirt to worry about causing any mess.
It comes with a high performance, full-spectrum LED lighting system that
is already adjusted to maximize photosynthesis in growing plants.

This system has an interactive LCD screen control panel that gives you
updates on when to water or add nutrients to your plants to guarantee
healthy, complete growth of your plants.

Customers that bought this product overall seem very happy with it, and
are glad to have a fun, attractive way to grow small plants and herbs
within their own home!

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

1.8 Cold frame

Cold frame greenhouse
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.

Our Suggestion: The best cold frame greenhouse is Kealive’s Portable Wooden Cold Frame Kit. Costing less than $100, you are assured to receive a quality product at a low cost that will protect your plants and extend growth periods. 

This cold frame kit features two adjustable covers, which will allow you to adjust and optimize ventilation and moisture levels for a wide variety of overwintering plants. The thick, sturdy wooden frame and polycarbonate panels keep warmth securely inside of this greenhouse and protect your plants from exposure, frost, and storms. 

The frame is constructed from treated fir wood, which is anti-corrosive and deters pests from trying to get to your plants. It is economically friendly and doesn’t give off any offensive or irritating smells. 

This cold frame greenhouse is particularly easy to assemble with very simple instructions. It also has a fantastic two-year warranty with lifetime customer service. 

All of the customer reviews of this particular product on Amazon rate it at five stars, and you can’t beat that. Reviews express that the unit was simple to put together, that all necessary hardware was included, and that the customer service they received even after purchase was great. 

1.9 Mini portable

Description: Mini greenhouses are typically small and portable. They aren’t usually large enough to step inside and are often simply covered, shelved units that optimize available heat and light within the home or in enclosed, outdoor areas. 

Covering material options:  Mini greenhouses are meant to be portable, so their covers are usually plastic sheeting. This allows the mini greenhouse to remain lightweight and easy to move, should the need arise.

Pros: The compact size makes mini portable greenhouses the best option for people that don’t have a lot of floor space but still want to have a greenhouse area. They tend to be easy to assemble and are also extremely affordable. 

Cons:  These compact greenhouses aren’t particularly sturdy, and are usually too small for serious gardeners to get much use out of versus a full-sized greenhouse. 

Our Suggestion: If you want a functional greenhouse that doesn’t take up much space, the Four-Tier Mini Greenhouse by Best Choice Products is an option you should take an interest in. 

This compact greenhouse has four shelves arranged vertically, which will optimize any small space and make it great for growing a variety of plants like ferns and herbs. It will fit perfectly on any patio, balcony, or right in your home or office. 

The powder-coated steel bars are resistant to rust, corrosion, and other damage caused by frequent use and natural wear. While the shelves are fairly sturdy considering the price of this unit, it should be noted that they probably shouldn’t be strained with more than approximately 40 pounds worth of plants at a time. You could also keep extra pots, tools, and other gardening supplies on these shelves.

The cover of this mini greenhouse is made of polyethylene plastic, which does a fantastic job of keeping your plants warm and protected from any unfavorable elements, wind, or oversaturation. 

The cover features a zipper door, which allows you to have easy access to your plants, equipment, or tools as needed. Once unzipped, the door can be rolled up, which makes ventilation a breeze for this portable mini greenhouse. 

Customer reviews confirm that this unit is extremely simple to assemble, the instructions are clear and easy to understand as well. This greenhouse can be assembled quickly with very little effort, meaning your plants can be safe, warm and secure on its shelves the same night it arrives from delivery.

Customers are pleased with the quality of the mini greenhouse for the price that they paid, and while there are notes that they wish it was more sturdy and could handle more weight, they are overall happy with the fact that the greenhouse does its job better than expected. 

1.10 Tabletop greenhouse

Description: Tabletop greenhouses are very simple DIY type greenhouses if you’re feeling particularly crafty and you have limited space in your home but want a safe place to grow and keep a plant. They are aesthetically unique as they can be made of a variety of materials and do not have one, uniform design. You can make these out of fish bowls, picture frames, shadow boxes and more, or can buy a premade option. 

Covering material options:  Tabletop greenhouses can be made with panels that vary from glass to acrylic or plastic. The frames can also be made of a variety of materials depending on the look you want for your home. However, they don’t typically need covers other than that, but if it’s particularly cold in the space they’re in you can use a plastic covering. 

Pros:  These types of greenhouses are compact, affordable, and are commonly used in a decorative fashion, though they can absolutely keep live plants in them. With a variety of DIY and purchasable design options, you can have as few or as many of these small greenhouses in your home as space will allow. 

Cons:  Due to their small size, tabletop greenhouses are limited in regards to the kind of plants that you can comfortably house in them. Unless you build your own, most also don’t come with any available drainage by default, so they are primarily great for plants with low water maintenance requirements. 

Our Suggestion: With so many options for tabletop greenhouses out there, and so many amazing DIY ideas for them, it’s difficult to pick one to name as the best. Depending on how large or small you want your tabletop greenhouse to be, the options are virtually limitless. 

But, one of the highest-rated tabletop planters is the Purzest Glass Terrarium, and there’s plenty of reasons we can see why. It’s not as small as some tabletop planters, which expands your options while still only retaining a small bit of space in your home. 

It has an attractive house shape to it and features a swing lid that makes it easy to plant, move, or care for the plants you do decide to put into it. Its relatively compact size makes it ideal to use as an attractive yet functional centerpiece for your coffee or dining room table. 

It is made of ultra-clear sodium-calcium glass, which allows you a crystal clear view of your plants. Customers who bought this tabletop greenhouse have used it for mosses, succulents, air plants, small animals like snails and scorpions, or purely as decoration. The possibilities with this little terrarium are endless!

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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4 Comments

  • Hi,I have 8’x 8′ raised bed with 16″ high sides.Have critters so will cover w/1/2″ hardware cloth. Will PVC hoops bend enough so I can stand up inside at 5’5″? I have 12″ wide T shaped path inside to allow access to plants.Flunked geometry. Will 12 ft PVC hoops bend enough placed side to side. Or can I place diagonally? Would PVC work or other material? Thank you so much for your info,Eileen

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