Greenhouse Buyer's Guide

Researching what you need will help make your dream of a greenhouse a reality.

Photography by Christa Neu

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greenhouseFor many gardeners, a greenhouse is a dream—a way to keep the growing season going year-round or the key to turning your hobby into a profession. A greenhouse may be as simple as a temporary shelter that costs less than $500 or as elaborate as a solarium you build onto your home. To help you sort through the bewildering array of options available, we've compiled the following questions to help you choose the right greenhouse for you.

Factors to consider
What purpose will your greenhouse serve? Will this be a purely functional building hidden from plain view so its appearance is unimportant or will you integrate your greenhouse into the landscape of your lawn and garden? Would you like it to also serve as a living space in addition to a greenhouse?

If you answer purely functional, then are you looking to grow vegetables and/or flowers year round? Or, maybe you just want a practical place to start spring seeds and cultivate some tasty greens in the cold winter months.

Now, perhaps most importantly, how much money can you invest? This may ultimately be your deciding factor. There is no simple answer as to how much a greenhouse will cost. The price depends so much on the materials, the size, and whether you'll be building it yourself or hiring a professional. A small, temporary walk-in greenhouse for spring and summer use can cost less than $500; a sunroom will cost as much as any other addition to your home. You will also need to factor in the cost of heating. With these parameters in mind, read on and see which options best fit your greenhouse needs.

Different structural options
In simplest terms, greenhouses come in two basic styles: freestanding and attached. Freestanding greenhouses allow you to choose the best possible site. Ideally, the greenhouse should receive full winter sun, and its longest side should face south. But because freestanding structures are more exposed to the elements, they can be more expensive to construct and operate. You'll need to have plumbing, a heat source, and electricity installed.

With an attached greenhouse, you'll probably have to compromise on sun exposure. But keep in mind that you can even have a greenhouse on the north side of your house if you're willing to add supplemental lighting or grow plants that prefer shade. If you plan carefully, you may be able to make full use of your home's existing features, including water pipes, heating, and electricity.

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