Freestanding Greenhouse

Greenhouse Structure–Most Common Types and Designs

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What type of greenhouse structure you need depends on where you live and what you want to grow. Greenhouse structure types and designs are categorized in a variety of ways such as temperature or structure.

Temperature

The spectrum of greenhouses based on environmental temperature needs include the following types:

Temp GradientCold Houses – Temperature can go below freezing 0C. This types provide protection for plants. However, temperatures still can get below freezing because there is no additional heat source. The purpose of a cold house is to extend the growing season. In the spring by allowing the crops start earlier and in the fall by allowing the crops to grow longer.

Cool Houses – Temperature averages 45-50F/7-10C. This type of greenhouse will maintain temperatures above freezing so that plants that die from extreme cold can survive.

Warm Houses – Temperature averages 50-60F/10-16C. Allows for a broader range of plants to survive cold winters.

Hot Houses – Temperature averages above 60F/16C+. Hot greenhouses maintain tropical plants such as orchids. In order to heat efficiently and consistently, they require supplemental heat.

Within each of these general types, there are many considerations to account. There are very simple greenhouses and highly complex ones. The more you involve technology, the better the ability to control the growing conditions, temperature and water and moisture levels. Thee is even a greenhouse design that minimizes direct sunlight (a shade greenhouse) and not have walls, or a screen-only structure to keep out insects.

Conventional / Free Standing

Freestanding GreenhouseThe 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).

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, south facing.

ProsCons
Simple straightforward design.
Maximize usage of space inside
More efficient air circulation, particularly along side walls
Can be any shape or size and located anywhere in your yard
Requires more material (wood and metal) versus other designs.
May need to bring electricity or water to the greenhouse
Has a higher heat loss in colder climates

A-Frame

A-Frame GreenhouseAnother popular greenhouse structure, the A-Frame. Rigid truss greenhouse or a peak greenhouse are other common names. The key advantages are its simplicity of design and minimization of materials versus other similar structures. It is one of the strongest styles of greenhouse and common uses for retail greenhouses or institutional greenhouses.

The popularity really falls on the simplicity of combing and roof and side walls together to create a singular triangular structure. The base can be either narrow or wide and works well in cold snowy climes as the snow doesn’t stick on the roof causing load issues. Finally, the long sloping sides create a significant amounts of sun surface and accommodates tall flowers or trees.

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).

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, south facing.

ProsCons
Simple straightforward easy to build design
Less material used relative to the Post and Rafter design
Narrowing side walls limits the functional use of the entire greenhouse footprint
Air circulation can also be problematic in the corners

Gothic Arch

Gothic Arch GreenhouseA variation of the Quonset design, it includes a arched frame manufactured from galvanized pipe or conduit. A gothic arch greenhouse provides a traditional appearance and superior functionality.

They have been used with success on numerous types of growing operations, and since the internal environment can be easily controlled, they are an excellent and cost effective option for growers in any region. The frame is usually covered with plastic sheeting.

Covering material options: corrugated polycarbonate, plastic sheeting

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

ProsCons
Simple and efficient construction design
Plastic sheeting reduces the overall design costs
Design allows water and snow to be shed from its exterior
Sidewall height is low, which restricts storage space and headroom

Hoop House

Hoop GreenhouseThe 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 use aluminum pipes or plastic PVC pipes and use a single layer of polymer plastic covering; a second layer may add additinal insulation. Hoop houses are one of the most inexpensive designs. Overall construction often costs less than $1 per square foot.

Covering material options: Plastic sheeting

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

ProsCons
Easy to build and adapt to small land units
Inexpensive relative to other designs
Design allows water and snow to be shed from its exterior
Design is inherently not as sturdy as the A-frame or Post and Rafter
High winds can cause issues
Ventilation can be an issue so you need to orient it with the prevailing winds.

Lean-to or Attached

Lean-To GreenhouseThis greenhouse shares a wall with your residence, traditionally built off the back of the home or garage, but you can build it 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 but depending on your planting zone, some have used plastic sheathing.

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

ProsCons
Shares a wall with the home, so cheaper overall construction costs
Closer to available electricity, water and heat sources
Temperature control can be difficult because the wall that the greenhouse is built on may collect the sun’s heat
Greenhouse wall windows may lose heat rapidly
ay have problems finding a suitable wall with enough space and direction to the sun

Window

Windows GreenhouseAlso 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 using single pane of glass, the window extends off the exterior wall of the home allowing maximum light penetration.

Typically these designs have windows that open on both sides. This allows maximum ventilation. One consideration within the garden window is water runoff. You need to take this into account otherwise the runoff water will cause damage to your wall.

Covering material options: Glass, as the greenhouse structure attaches to the home.

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

ProsCons
Maximizes the usefulness of windows within the home
Relatively inexpensive year-round growing option versus a standalone greenhouse structure
Growing options are limited to herbs and smaller plants

Cold Frame

Cold Frame GreenhouseCold Frames are used to extend the gardening season. The cold frame is the simplest and by far the cheapest greenhouse option. A cold frame is a square or rectangular bottomless structural cover with an angled transparent top. They 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.

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, with a south orientation for the tilted roof side.

ProsCons
Simple design
Costs are quite manageable—many are constructed using old windows and scrap wood.
Overheating, a single sunny afternoon with closed windows can cause serious plant damage
Quality of the material being used, old glass and wood, are particularly prone to breakage and damage.

Geodesic Dome

Geodesic Dome GreenhouseGeodesic dome greenhouses are beautiful and unique but they are also a great option for backyard food growing. The dome shape gives a large volume for a small surface area, with plenty of space inside for vertical growing. The shape also maximizes the sun exposure, so plants get the full benefit of the sun from all angles.

Covering material options: Plastic sheeting, shrink wrap, polycarbonate panels

Ideal location: Open field/backyard with any sun exposure

ProsCons
Shape provides significant strength
Significant space internally
More difficult DIY build due to the octagonal bottom shape
Requires a square space

Conclusion

So there you have it. These are the most common types/styles of greenhouses. You could easily combine two or three of these type to create additional types. For example, you could take half a geodesic home and make it a lean-to attached to your garage. You could also take the cold frame and put it on top of a raised bed. Your options are as limitless as your imagination and gardening space.

Thomas

Thomas is an avid gardener and started gardening with his Grandfather when he was just knee high. He has over 35 years experience in landscaping and greenhouse growing and is CAEP certified.