Have you been wanting a greenhouse for a while, just did not know what greenhouse to choose? There is so much creativity when it comes to greenhouse shapes and structures. The ideas are almost endless. Just when we think we have seen it all, a new and unique greenhouse comes up. With all those design varieties and different names for those designs making a choice can be a daunting task.
After many years of greenhouse gardening experiences, here is our take on that question.
What is the greenhouse for
There are many reasons why one would want to have a greenhouse. Think about everything you want from a greenhouse.
Do you want –
– To start seeds in spring, or grow a greenhouse garden?
– Grow small or tall plants?
– To extend the season, or to grow year-round?
– To grow annual plants or perennials?
– A long season for your summer heat-loving plants or a place to grow winter greens?
– To spend some time in the greenhouse, having a hang-out place?
– Do you want it to be just functional, or also a decorative element?
The list can go on. Knowing what the greenhouse is for, helps us to know what greenhouse to choose. Different greenhouses in shape and structure have different functions.
Cost is another factor that often gets overlooked. If you only want to start your seedlings in a structure that costs several thousand dollars, buying your seedlings in a commercial greenhouse could really be more cost-effective. On the other hand, choosing the lowest cost option and expecting multiple functionalities can end up in disappointment and frustration. There always needs to be a balance, and with some planning, you can find the perfect greenhouse for you.
What are the climatic conditions?
The climate seems to be the most important factor. For example, in a windy area, a greenhouse might be best kept low to the ground with a flat roof, but that would be a disaster in an area with high snow loads.
Consider how much wind do you get and what is the prevailing wind direction. Also how much snow will the structure have to hold?
What is your sun angle? A greenhouse can lose a lot of sunshine by simply not being built to the sun conditions. In our northern location, the winter sun comes directly from the south, any glazing from anywhere else would only lose heat. The summer sun has a wide circle, to have glazing only from the south, would miss out on many hours of sunlight.
What temperature difference are you looking to achieve? A greenhouse in a tempered climate will be very different from the one that needs to endure -40 degrees.
Now let us compare some of the common greenhouses we know and have some experiences with.
Store-bought greenhouse kits
Aluminum or plastic frame greenhouses are available in different sizes and shapes in many different stores. We got our first one from Canadian Tire on an end-of-season special sale.
- It is usually very easy to assemble and you can start growing right away
- Looks neat and there are different sizes to choose from depending on one’s needs
- Special sales are available
- Good for hardening off seedlings and sheltering some container plants
- Re-sell easily (at least this is our experience)
- Stability might be a problem, it is helpful to read reviews
- Not suitable for windy locations
- Might not give you as much frost protection as you are hoping for
- Smaller sizes have a temperature control problem
- Bigger ones are often very expensive (look for specials)
Simple hoop house greenhouses are probably the most known ones. They come in different sizes and shapes. The gothic arch style seems to work better for areas with heavy snow loads, the snow can slide down easier.
- Easy and inexpensive to build
- Can be built into small or really big sizes
- It is quite simple to get good ventilation by simply rolling up the sites
- Simple to arrange plants
- Hoop houses tend not to withstand winter storms very well
- In a case of hail damage, the whole plastic cover will need repair
- A round hoop will not withstand heavy snow loads, snow shoveling off of the hoop house might be needed
Wooden frame greenhouse
This is usually a more permanent and stable building. It might be where the greenhouse got its name from, a house for growing. Historic greenhouses were built that way.
- Lasting structure
- Can look very nice, depending on how well the job was done
- Easy to organize plants
- Can be expensive
- It will need a foundation
- Might need a building permit
- Might need snow removal from the roof
A geodesic dome greenhouse is what we have been using for many years now. We love the greenhouse for summer growing, being able to use the summer sun to the full. It allows us to extend the growing season and grow heat-loving plants that we would not be able without the greenhouse. See also Growing a greenhouse garden, How to build a GeoDome greenhouse, and Version 2.
- Very unique, lightweight structure
- Stable in wind and snow
- Optimal sunlight penetration
- Has the most growing ground space
- A unique hang out place
- Gets all the summer sun
- An eye-catcher
- Needs lots of ventilation, since the temperature tends to get very high, thermal mass is a must
- It is a bit tricky to arrange the plants
Passive Solar Greenhouse
A solar greenhouse is a greenhouse with an insulated back wall for winter protection and a glassed roof and or front wall for light. The designs vary, on this high-tech greenhouse.
- Has the best thermal performance
- Is amazing for extending the growing season and spring seedlings starting
- Offers great possibilities for combining growing food with other activities such as education, a kitchen for produce processing, or just a hang-out place.
- Expensive to build
- Has limited sunlight in the summer, especially notable in the northern hemisphere. Speaking from our experience with the Garage Greenhouse, it is great for growing in spring and fall, not so much for summer and winter.
A Chinese-style passive solar greenhouse
A Chinese-style passive solar greenhouse is also a very interesting greenhouse. This particular greenhouse is located in our area, and the performance is amazing.
A walipini is a greenhouse that is partly or totally underground. Its performance is similar to the passive solar greenhouse with lower cost and more protection through the earth. The structures vary greatly. The video we added comes from a family that is building a new walipini including all they learned from the first one.
There are many other greenhouse structures. One of our summer hobbies is to go to different greenhouses and admire the ideas and possibilities: Portable Greenhouse, lean-on greenhouses, movable greenhouses (read more about it in The Winter Harvest Handbook).
We invite you to subscribe to Northern Homestead and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest for the latest updates.
thanks for sharing this! did you build your greenhouse yourself? where did you get the plans from and how much did it cost you? love the shape and i am sure it is very nice to have in your garden. would love to hear more!
Yes, we did build the greenhouse, since it is such a lightweight structure, it is not expensive. We have an instruction for the greenhouse.
I really do like the dome greenhouse. My mom would love to have her own greenhouse or greenroom.
As I’ve told you before, I would love to have a greenhouse. 🙂 I would like to start off with one like the first one pictured. You are making me dream of spring, girl! And that’s a good thing.
That was our first little greenhouse too, a good start! Hope spring comes soon for you, we have to wait a little longer.
Amanda Smith says
This is great! I’d love to have a greenhouse for my garden loving husband. Which kind do you think would be better for a person in a wheelchair? Hoop House?
Hoop house or the wooden frame greenhouse with raised beds could work great for a person in a wheelchair. A dome would work too, if you make a wide enough path all around and also raised beds all around, I can’t see why not, he sure would love it!
Renew Your Space says
I love them all! I would have to get an uber small one, but these are all good to know about. One of these days I will get one!
Love these greenhouses! 🙂 We have a wooden-framed 8×16′ “three-quarter span” greenhouse in our small Montana backyard (with the short beam side on the east, to heat up quickly in the morning, and the long side on the west, to reflect hot summer sun). My husband did the neatest thing though – the back end (northeast corner) is actually enclosed for our urban hens! We can feed, water, and check eggs despite inclement weather… the bit of extra heat is great for plants AND hens… we can store chicken feed/calcium/grit under shelves in the greenhouse… there is a nice swap of oxygen/carbon dioxide. We use the “deep litter” method of coop maintenance, using local leaves as our bedding… so when it’s time to clean out the coop and attached run, we can shovel all that good, composting stuff straight into gardens to finish up before planting in.
I spend a lot of time in the greenhouse… it’s a lovely “Mom Cave”!! 🙂
This are some great ways to use a greenhouse along with a chicken coop. Thank you for sharing!
Little Mountain Haven says
PREFECT timing! I was looking for a post like this recently as we’re building our first greenhouse this spring.
Shirley Wood says
I like the Wooden frame greenhouse, it is cute with those plants growing up the side. I used to have a greenhouse in another home we once lived in. I used it quite well and enjoyed it. I hope to have one again someday. In the meantime, I just have to garden the old fashioned way but that works pretty good down here in the deep south!
Spring can’t get here soon enough this year!!
I just love these ideas.. have been doing a lot of research so that we can be ready once we buy our property which I am hoping will be soon now (next spring). I also love the idea that one of the comments made about attaching the chicken coop at the end. I am handicap and having an extended greenhouse would be a wonderful idea for me… We have also extensively been looking into the idea of an underground greenhouse as we don’t usually get our last frost until sometime in May here (last year was June for our last snow-fall/the weather here can change in the blink of an eye.. literally), but the idea of having to shovel snow off the roof makes it an if-y idea for us with my limitations. Having a greenhouse would allow us to have a spring planting and not have to miss out on those lovely spring veggies… Thanks so much for sharing and I love your web-blog.. Blessings to you all from Northeastern Colorado…
Thank you for your kind words. Hope you find the right greenhouse for you.
Thanks for the post. It would be interesting to add passive solar greenhouses to your list of comparisons. I live in Yellowknife and am looking at building a high quality greenhouse. A passive solar greenhouse would have the best thermal performance, but would be more expensive to build and won’t catch as much light in the summer.
We did visit a passive solar greenhouse, you can read about it here community-greenhouse, You are right about the light problem in the summer, but we also find that in our short Canadian summers one almost needs two greenhouses, one for summer growing and one for fall/winter growing. Plants for winter harvest need to be started way before the summer crop is done, otherwise they will not mature.
Two greenhouses is not something I thought of. Right now I have a pretty small lot and just enough room for 6’ x 8’ plastic snap together greenhouse. However, this summer I’m moving to a house on a much larger lot and hence the planning for a good quality greenhouse. I am a strong believer of building to your local climate and gardening habits. Also, not all “northern” climates are the same. In my case I have lots of sun, but very cold nights in the spring. In late spring it can even be colder in my greenhouse than outside at night because the ground is still frozen and sucks the heat out of the greenhouse. During the summer things grow better outside of the greenhouse. In the fall my problem is a lack of light, not heat. It stays warm, but there’s no sun and things just stop growing.
Most springs I start seedlings inside in April by a south facing window and put them in the greenhouse during the day in May. Last spring I managed to slip on some ice bringing some plants into the greenhouse and broke my leg. That just sucked all around, but it did lead to a minor innovation. Instead of bringing the plants in at night I ran a small electric space heater for a few hours on a timer to keep things from freezing. The energy use was minimal and my plants got the best start ever. I was even successful in growing peppers for the first time ever! It is interesting to note that the plants I left in the greenhouse all summer did not do as well as the ones planted outside in mid-June. The peppers did not produce at all in the greenhouse, but the tomatoes did okay.
Interesting observation Justin, thank you for sharing. I would recommend you to read my post about the roofless greenhouse. It could be a great solution for you too.
Maggie Allen says
Wow, I had no idea that there are so many different types of greenhouses available! It sounds like it might be a good idea to go with the solar greenhouse, as long as you can afford it. The idea of having a warm place to relax in the middle of winter sounds absolutely amazing, especially if you’re surrounded by greenery. I would love to have my morning coffee in an environment like that!
Yes, at sure is a blessing to have a solar greenhouse.
Kelly Neddow says
Have you looked into a passive solar greenhouse with a climate battery? A great book for reference is “The Forest Garden Greenhouse” by Jerome Osentowski of CRMPi. crmpi.org https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKMi4Vlt_Ys
Why is solar greenhouse have less light in summer? The top is covered?
Ours is, yes, but you can build it with a glass roof as well. A solar greenhouse has less light because the sun can only come in from the south, you are missing the east and west sun (or parts of it), as well as the north sun during the pick of summer in a northern area.
Trina Henley says
Hi there, do you happen to know the make/model of the greenhouse in #1? We have the same greenhouse and unfortunately we don’t know that information. Our roof window broke off and I need to figure out how to order a replacement.
Sorry i don’t. All I know is that it was greenhouse from Canadian Tire. Maybe you can send them a picture and ask for it, that could help.
Eileen Charter says
Hi,I have 8’x 8′ raised bed with 16″ high sides.Have critters so will cover w/1/2″ hardware cloth. Will 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 hoops bend enough placed side to side. Or can I place diagonally? Would PVC work or other material? Thank you so much for your suggestions. 🙂
We don’t have much experience with hoop houses but here is a link with a good resource on how to build one. https://www.onecommunityglobal.org/hoop-houses/