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Greenhouses

by Matt Goering

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For many homeowners, spring means it's time to lace up the garden gloves and get to planting. For a select few, however, gardening is a year round endeavor. For these avid plant enthusiasts, a greenhouse is an absolute must. The addition of one of these structures is a relatively easy and straightforward home improvement project, and the hours of enjoyment you'll experience throughout the year make it one investment that is well worth the money.

Location, Location, Location
If you're entertaining how to build a greenhouse on your property, the first thing you need to evaluate is where you're going to put it. Because a greenhouse is reliant on getting a steady stream of direct sunlight throughout the day, and year round, it pays to take the time to make sure you put it in the optimal spot on your property. As mentioned, direct sunlight, day in and day out, from January to December, is by far the most important factor. Don't forget that the sun's position in the sky changes season to season, so make sure you put your green house in a place where it will receive an equal amount of sunlight at Christmas as it does in the middle of July. Once you've pinned down the sunny spots in your yard, think practically. Since gardening is the goal, the closer you can get to your outdoor gardens, the better.

Types of Greenhouses
A greenhouse is not one of the structures where every one looks the same. In fact, there are so many design possibilities that it can be overwhelming at times deciding which is best for you. Talk to a landscaper or nursery about designs that they've seen work well over time, and educate yourself as to the optimal designs for our particular landscape. Here's just a few of the most popular green house plans to help get you going.

  • Attached models are built using your home as the supporting back wall. They are usually lean-to type structures whose ceilings sometimes rise at a straight angle up to the eaves, and that can also be built with a curved eave that angles in and attaches to the side of the home (especially suited to multi-story homes). Attached houses are really only effective when installed on the south side of a structure because of light considerations.

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  • Even span models are built off of the end of a structure. They have a gable on one end, then are attached to the supporting home, or outbuilding, on the other side. This greenhouse design offers a little more light than attached versions, but does require a lot of space to have installed.

  • Window mounted units are perfect for town homes, apartments, and other residences with limited space. In short, the "greenhouse" is built as an extension of a window opening, making it much smaller in size than other models, but perfect for that weekend greenhouse enthusiast.

  • Freestanding models encompass the many designs of stand alone green houses on the market. They can be small and cozy, or take up your entire yard. And they can be built as A-frames, domes, barn-style, or just about anything else you can imagine. The only qualifications here are getting electricity to the structure to run heaters and fans, and if you plan to use it in the winter months you need to remember that it can be a cold trek across the yard in chilly weather to check on your babies.

    Materials
    Once you've decided on style, you're going to have to think about materials. Again, there are so many products to choose from that it can be overwhelming. Glass is by far the classiest, but it can break or shatter easily and requires a sturdier frame and structure because of its weight. Fiberglass is about the perfect fit, but make sure you buy top-grade glass since lower qualities will deteriorate quickly and need to be replaced often.

    Plastic coverings come in two varieties. Double wall plastic is tough, durable, and usually guaranteed for 10 years or more, making it a good solution. Film plastic is by far the cheapest alternative, but unless you live in a climate that experiences little or no extreme weather, you can count on having to patch and replace it regularly due to incurred damage.

    If gardening is your thing, deciding how to build a greenhouse is one of the most pleasurable and satisfying projects you can undertake. There are contractors who specialize in building these garden havens, and it's always a good idea to track one down for no other reason than to get a good idea of what styles, materials, and designs are going to be best for your home.

    Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.