Careful planning is important before a home greenhouse project is started. Building a greenhouse does not need to be expensive or time-consuming. The final choice of the type of greenhouse will depend on the growing space desired, home architecture, available sites, and costs. The greenhouse must, however, provide the proper environment for growing plants.
The greenhouse should be located where it gets maximum sunlight. The first choice of location is the south or southeast side of a building or shade trees. Sunlight all day is best, but morning sunlight on the east side is sufficient for plants. Morning sunlight is most desirable because it allows the plant’s food production process to begin early; thus growth is maximized. An east side location captures the most November to February sunlight. The next best sites are southwest and west of major structures, where plants receive sunlight later in the day. North of major structures is the least desirable location and is good only for plants that require little light.
Deciduous trees, such as maple and oak, can effectively shade the greenhouse from the intense late afternoon summer sun; however, they should not shade the greenhouse in the morning. Deciduous trees also allow maximum exposure to the winter sun because they shed their leaves in the fall. Evergreen trees that have foliage year round should not be located where they will shade the greenhouse because they will block the less intense winter sun. You should aim to maximize winter sun exposure, particularly if the greenhouse is used all year. Remember that the sun is lower in the southern sky in winter causing long shadows to be cast by buildings and evergreen trees (Figure 1).
Good drainage is another requirement for the site. When necessary, build the greenhouse above the surrounding ground so rainwater and irrigation water will drain away. Other site considerations include the light requirements of the plants to be grown; locations of sources of heat, water, and electricity; and shelter from winter wind. Access to the greenhouse should be convenient for both people and utilities. A workplace for potting plants and a storage area for supplies should be nearby.
Types of Greenhouses
A home greenhouse can be attached to a house or garage, or it can be a freestanding structure. The chosen site and personal preference can dictate the choices to be considered. An attached greenhouse can be a half greenhouse, a full-size structure, or an extended window structure. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type.
Lean-to. A lean-to greenhouse is a half greenhouse, split along the peak of the roof, or ridge line (Figure 2A), Lean-tos are useful where space is limited to a width of approximately seven to twelve feet, and they are the least expensive structures. The ridge of the lean-to is attached to a building using one side and an existing doorway, if available. Lean-tos are close to available electricity, water and heat. The disadvantages include some limitations on space, sunlight, ventilation, and temperature control. The height of the supporting wall limits the potential size of the lean-to. The wider the lean-to, the higher the supporting wall must be. Temperature control is more difficult because the wall that the greenhouse is built on may collect the sun’s heat while the translucent cover of the greenhouse may lose heat rapidly. The lean-to should face the best direction for adequate sun exposure. Finally, consider the location of windows and doors on the supporting structure and remember that snow, ice, or heavy rain might slide off the roof or the house onto the structure.