What Is a Greenhouse Made Of?

Lauren Wellbank
Written by Lauren Wellbank
Updated September 7, 2021
Woman gardening in greenhouse
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Greenhouses act as a summer vacation home for your plants when outdoor temperatures begin to drop, extending your garden's growing season

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Greenhouses—which also commonly go by the names hothouse, cold frame, and glasshouse—are structures that allow gardeners to prolong their growing season by creating a summertime atmosphere for their plants as the mercury begins to dip in the fall. These structures, which can vary in both size and the materials used, work by trapping warm, moist air inside to fool less cold-hardy plants into thinking summer is still in full swing. 

You can use almost anything to create a greenhouse. Some home gardeners collect old windows or doors to build make-shift structures on their property, while others opt to order ready-made greenhouse kits to build theirs. All you need is a solid structure that won’t succumb to winter winds or snow, and transparent materials that will allow sunlight to reach your plants.

Residential Greenhouses

The types of greenhouses found in neighborhood backyards will differ greatly from their commercial cousins. This is because hobby gardeners don’t often need to keep large inventories of plants growing over the winter. Instead, many homeowners use their greenhouses to prolong the season for their favorite cold hardy produce, or to keep more temperamental ornamental plants alive and well over the long winter.

Commercial Greenhouses

Larger commercial structures not only have to accommodate much more stock, but they need to be able to do so efficiently. This means commercial greenhouses are often outfitted with electricity, irrigation systems, and even lighting solutions to ensure that their crops never realize that summer has passed them by.

What Are Greenhouses Made Of?

Greenhouse in a home garden
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While commercial greenhouses can be multiple-story structures that recreate an ecosystem within their transparent walls, residential models tend to consist of framing, transparent materials like glass, plastic, vinyl, or polyethylene panels or sheeting, and an entryway. Within a residential greenhouse, you’ll normally find shelving to keep less cold hardy plants off the ground (which can still tend to get chilly as winter drags on).

Building Your Own Greenhouse

If you want to DIY your way to a longer growing season, you can do so by building your own greenhouse. You can start small by using an online kit, which will often consist of metal poles for framing and a translucent plastic sheet that can be zipped open and closed. If you’re looking for something a little larger scale, a trip to your local home improvement store will likely be able to provide you with everything you need for a bigger structure like wood framing that is rated for outdoor use or pressure treated, plastic panels, and the hardware you’ll need to put it all together.

Hiring a Pro

If you’re dreaming of fresh tomatoes all winter long, or have big dreams for your greenhouse, you might want to consider leaving the construction to the pros. Larger structures will not only need to be stable enough to protect the plants growing within them, but also you as you enter to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor. You can expect to pay a contractor around $10,000 for a basic greenhouse structure, which can be priceless when you’re chowing down on garden-fresh produce as a snow storm rages outside your door.

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