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Weighing Your Greenhouse Options

Getting stuck choosing the best greenhouse? There are many factors to consider, and a variety of options available when it comes to greenhouse setup and design. In this post, I’ll break down and explain some key elements to keep in mind when browsing for your first greenhouse.

One of the first considerations is size. Before taking the plunge on a particular model, you’ll want to have your greenhouse site in mind. Pick an open spot with full access to sun. Generally speaking, a greenhouse with a retractable roof is ideal, which will allow more flexibility and expansion in the future. Even if you simply want a spot for starting your seedlings, you’ll still find that having an extra 10 or 20 square feet will give you more breathing room and workspace, and it might encourage you to expand to a new gardening territory.

Greenhouse glazing material

The glazing material is another important consideration. The glazing type will affect a range of properties, most notably the R-Value, lifespan, cost, and weight.


Polycarbonate is very hard and strong. It generally has a lifespan of 10-15 years, after which time it may start to yellow. In the double or triple wall varieties, it has very good insulation and light diffusion.


Glass has a wide range of properties, but generally speaking, it is the heaviest of greenhouse glazing. Glass can potentially last forever with proper maintenance, and it is recyclable. It may be harder to install than other materials and doesn’t have the same light diffusing properties of the plastic based coverings, but it is scratch resistant, fire resistant, doesn’t expand and contract, and it has a classic aesthetic.


Acrylic is fairly similar to polycarbonate, but with a few slight differences. It gets slightly more brittle when it ages– either due to fluctuations in the temperature or from being struck, but acrylic is clearer than polycarbonate and has better light diffusion, and it also won’t yellow over time. Acrylic has a lifespan of 10-20 years.


Polyethylene comes in two varieties: film and rigid panels. Poly film is good for simple or temporary structures, or for those working within a tight budget, and tends to last 1-5 years. Ridged polyethylene is softer than acrylic and polycarbonate, and can be rolled up when transported. It’s cloudier than the other plastics, and has a white appearance rather than clear–which can lead to a slightly cooler greenhouse. Polyethylene still maintains good R-Value and longevity, lasting 10-20+ years.

Environmental control

Environmental control is another factor to take into account before deciding on your greenhouse setup. Airflow and ventilation are important for greenhouses of any size, as temperatures can get hot in an enclosed space– it’s a good idea to have a glass and glazing shop drawing expert design the ventilation system of your greenhouse and pick something that will be easy for you to maintain. Fans may be needed for circulation and to help plants develop strong stems, and a shade cloth might be necessary for certain partial-sun plants.

We hope this guide steers you in the right direction! Check back every month for articles helpful to both future, current and seasoned greenhouse owners.

Next month: basic greenhouse management and tips for new greenhouse owners.

Comments 7

6 years ago

I love all the INFO, thanks, Can you comment also which material is best for winter? we live in zone 7 and usually the LOWEST TEMPERATUREs are 0, but one time we had a below 12 and the frame of my greenhouse shatter


6 years ago

In terms of high R-value, low U-value, The 5mm Solexx (polyethylene) is probably the best bet, followed closely by triple wall polycarbonate and double panned glass. But for winter growing you’ll probably want to add additional insulation to the areas of the greenhouse not receiving full sun– you can put up bubble foil insulation on the northern side of the greenhouse, and you should insulate the ground as well. Hope this helps!


6 years ago

We get quite a bit if snow in our area. Which style of greenhouse would be best?


6 years ago

All of the greenhouse types sold on this site are capable of withstanding heavy snow loads. It’s the greenhouse frame (and not the panels) that’s the more vulnerable aspect of greenhouse system, so if you are considering an especially large greenhouse and if you regularly get massive snow loads, you’ll want to make sure the greenhouse is well grounded and you could consider adding an additional internal crossbeam as shown in this YouTube video:


6 years ago

Interested in a lean to type green house. Our home is on the shore of a large salt water bay. I have concern about salt spray and aluminum construction. Also can you comment construction and why acrylic may be better than glass. Also we are in a Northeast exposure to high winds. But the lean to would be on the south west side of the house.

Thanks for the article and your response!


6 years ago

Most of the lean to style greenhouses use a high-strength plastic or wood framing, but you could use a powder-coating on aluminum framing if that is your preference. Acrylic and polycarbonate panels offer better light diffusing properties than glass, they are lighter in weight, and often are made to snap together easily for lean to style greenhouses. Glass is still a perfectly viable option, but it will be a bit more costly and difficult to set up initially. I hope that’s helpful, thanks for the question!


6 years ago

I like the Colonial Greenhouse from The Little Cottage Company. Looks are very important to me on my Blue Ridge farm. However, this has to be functional as well. I plan to use my greenhouse to start plants earlier than my April 15th frost date.

In addition, I would like to try my hand and growing some vegetables totally inside (heirloom tomatoes particularly). It is possible that I might keep some plants year round such as orchids but that I have not decided. This greenhouse has no roof panels that vent that I can see. According to the info, all the windows are functional. There are gable vents.

My first question is relative to air circulation– do the options on this greenhouse allow for enough circulation?

Also, if I am going to grow some tomatoes in the greenhouse all summer, what would I do about the floor–would a dirt floor with a ground cover cloth be best compared to the floor kit that is an option with the kit?

Thanks for your help with these initial questions.


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