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dapjwy 11-16-2010 08:20 PM

Converting a Traditional Greenhouse?
Equilibrium's thread about converting warehouses and greenhouses got me thinking about the greenhouse that I'm lucky enough to have on the property we bought. It has been three years and I've not taken too much advantage of it.

Mostly I've been focused on my native habitating, and I felt that the greenhouse really didn't offer much to plants already adapted to this climate. Now that I'm getting more interested in focusing on my vegetable gardening I'm starting to think about extending the growing season, or, if possible, grow some veggies year round.

The other day I was walking and thought about creating some kind of passive solar heating. I was envisioning some kind of 5 gallon bucket or barrels to fill with water and use as plant stands. Whatever I do, I'd like it to look nice, considering it is a glass house and therefore see-through.

This brings me to another issue. Last night I was doing some research about of "'Passive solar heating'+greenhouse". Some of the results explained that traditional glass greenhouses lose so much heat through the glass and require gas heat. They recommended creating a different structure using straw bales covered in clay for insulation and angled roof that takes advantage of the angle of the winter sun while not getting direct sun during the summer which results in less overbearing heat in the summer.

My problem is, I don't intend to build one of these better greenhouses--at least not any time soon. Does anyone have any ideas how I can "retrofit" the glass greenhouse I have to make it function in the winter?

philip 11-18-2010 07:50 PM

If I am getting this, you are thinking of getting your standard greenhouse, finding out which direction the winter sun is coming from, and then banking up the water bottles inside to shade the green house from the summer sun.

I suppose the idea is that the summer sun heat is smoothed out over 24 hours, and the winter sun comes in directly.

Hm. I know there are laminates you can buy that bounce the IR end of the light, meaning your glass becomes opaque to this heat. You could retrofit the place with that on the summer facing sides? Maybe just the roof. And use the water banks up the walls, so you get the warmth. You can then tune this with adding more and more of this laminate until you hit your sweet spot.

I guess if you had a nice N rich compost bin... you could stick it in there in the winter, and try to use that to take the edge off? (That might be total fantasy by the way. I have no idea how much heat these things will throw out.)

edit : i know from sleeping out rough a bit, that most of the heat you lose is out into the ground. They say that one blanket below you is worth two above you. You could get some of those foam interlocking tile things, throw those puppies down. That would probably preserve heat too.

dapjwy 11-18-2010 08:16 PM

Thanks for the post, philip. I, too, am concerned that it is total fantasy for me.

I am gathering together links to share with you as we speak.

Not sure how I can actually retrofit it. I doubt that the placement of the greenhouse could possible match up with the winter sun. For now, I'm just hoping that I can maintain some heat in black water-filled containers--with pots on top of them. ...Oh, and maybe some black stone tile or something. For now it is just a dream, but I appreciate any feedback and ideas anyone can share with me.

dapjwy 11-18-2010 08:38 PM

Here are two links:

The Greenhouse - Energy Efficient Home Design - Solar Heating - Passive Solar Greenhouse Plans — ByExample.com

philip 11-18-2010 08:43 PM

Some part of the greenhouse would have to point at the winter sun, no?

dapjwy 11-18-2010 08:59 PM


Originally Posted by philip (Post 82275)
Some part of the greenhouse would have to point at the winter sun, no?

Yes, I'm sure. I do have sun--but I'm not sure it is the best angle for the sun. I'm more concerned about the summer getting too hot. Oh well, what can I expect from a traditional, glass greenhouse. I'll just do the best I can with it.

I even have a south-facing slope behind the current greenhouse, so eventually, if I wanted to (and can afford it), I could build the right angled roof and everything (using the bank as part of the solar mass). We'll see if I get that into vegetable gardening first! ~wink~

dapjwy 11-18-2010 09:00 PM

dapjwy 11-18-2010 09:36 PM

http://grandsolarpower.com/indoorgreenhouse/ : "The shed-type has a long axis running from the east to the west. It has a south-facing wall glazed to collect maximum amount of the energy from the sun. The north-facing wall on the other hand is very much insulated to avoid heat loss. These features are what contrast a solar greenhouse from the ordinary ones."

The shortest end of my greenhouse is south-facing (with opposite side facing north, of course.) It is not ideal, but it is what I have. I'd like for the north-facing side to look nice as it can be seen from the street. That is the side that should house the water-filled barrels, but that is not very attractive--also the door is right there, so it could only have a barrel on either side. Hmmm... maybe four barrels on each corner.

dapjwy 11-18-2010 10:54 PM

I should be in bed by now, but I'm still doing greenhouse research.

After seeing some mini-greenhouses...looked almost like someting Victorian to me (though, I'm really not cultured enough to know if I'm right. :) ). It got me thinking: What about putting a mini-greenhouse INSIDE the main green house--or several of them? It seems to me that should create a bit of a buffer of insulation, does that sound right to anyone else?

Equilibrium 11-22-2010 01:25 AM

My greenhouse has been nuthin but trouble. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and to make you feel better.... mine was professionally designed. ;) I started out with a cedar and glass structure.... looked like a million bucks until I kept passing out in it. Turns out I'm allergic to cedar and pine.... split my head open really good once even with all the roof vents open and the fans on so he took it down... he literally took it down. He gave me a new aluminum framed poly greenhouse with surgical steel grow tables and benches. The only things we saved from the 1st greenhouse were my furnaces, my swamp cooler, my fans, the exhausts and the intakes which made the greenhouse I had 1st not a total loss I guess. Everything else went and that included all my pine and cedar benches, shelves, and potting stations. We gave them away. The replacements are surgical steel or stainless steel and they're on poured concrete. If you're interested in that route I'd check old restaurant supply houses since most of what's used in restaurants works in a greenhouse. I'll spare you everything that went wrong but it's because of the problems I've been having that I went online and ran into those converted warehouses. If you've got a "freebie" greenhouse like you and me.... there's always something we can do with them even if it's just using them as expensive over-sized cold frames. Yours doesn't have the greatest siting from what I've read but I don't really think that matters one bit since it's not like you're gonna be growing rare tropical orchids in there or anything and even if a greenhouse is sited perfectly.... there's still micro climates inside all over the place. Keeping them cooled down in summer is a trick.... you'd need shade cloth and good ventilation and a swamp cooler would be a big help but they're sorta expensive and I'd think for veggies those would all be planted outside by late spring anyway so I for sure wouldn't incur the expense of cooling it down in summer.... let it cook. Anywhoooo... maybe you can't ever grow veggies year round through the dead of winter but you can sure as heck shoot for that goal and even if you don't make it you'll still extend your growing season big time. I'm thinking I'd start by stacking up bales of hay or straw on the outside of that north wall over winter. You can buy a few sheets of that pink foam board insulation and just set it up on the outside then stack the bales up against it. If you think it looks bad for those coupla months maybe toss a tarp or 2 over it and tell everyone it's firewood? I know you wanted it to look attractive from that side but you're gonna have to do something about that north wall. I think philip nailed it on the head about heat loss to the ground. I know we've got some sort of an insulating tarp over the gravel and directly under the poured concrete. I have no ideas about what you can do except maybe make a call to FarmTek and see if they have a product. I wouldn't buy it.... I'd just suck their staff engineers' brains for ideas. You might want to look into composting in the 4 corners of your greenhouse. Maybe 4 55-gallon drums? Compost radiates a surprisingly decent amount of heat. I'm sure you can go online and find folk keeping their greenhouses toasty warm using cow manure. I thought about solar and checked into glauber's salt 4 yrs ago. I ended up ditching that idea and I can't remember why.... I'd have to ask my husband if you're interested since he's the one who nixed the idea plus getting your hands on glauber's salt is like next to impossible in the US and who wants to make their own? Not me. I like your water wall idea. Maybe you can pick up some more ideas here, Solar Greenhouse Resources. I know the glass on my 1st greenhouse was "treated". I forgot what was special about it... it's been a couple years and I've got poly now. You're still glass and you're gonna lose heat through that once the weather turns so maybe check into if you could duct tape up plastic sheeting on the inside to help or maybe there's some sort of a film you could buy especially for glass used in greenhouses that could help keep some of the heat in. I dunno but they seem to have a product for everything and glass greenhouses are pretty common so there's got to be other folk losing heat through their glass. I think there's ways to cut corners just about everywhere with a greenhouse but... don't cut corners on the ventillation. You do need at least one intake and exhaust and probably 6 fans to keep the air moving in there. Roof vents would be a good idea too but you can probably get around buying those if you stick to veggies. You know.... hazelnut had a boatload of greenhouses so I bet she can give you more ideas than me.

Equilibrium 11-22-2010 01:29 AM

I just found what I think was the problem with the glauber's salt but.... the site's got some other ideas you might get an idea or 2 from, AE-89.

dapjwy 11-22-2010 07:20 PM

Thank you, Lib.

Sorry to hear you had such bad luck--especially the cracked noggin! I'd never heard of an alergy to to cedar! Too bad, it sounded beautiful.

I'm pretty much resigned to just extending the growing season. I'm not too concerned about growing in the summer...I can do that outside. I'm interested in the water wall, but maybe the compost idea would be GENERATING heat, instead of just absorbing and releasing it.

I was looking at insulation panels with reflective foil (or something) on it... I'm thinking about putting the foil side inside so it helps bounce the light around. Not sure if that would work, but I keep brainstorming.

Thanks for the link. I'll check it out now. I'm not giving up hope, but trying to be more realistic.

Equilibrium 11-26-2010 02:20 PM

I always get hives when I brush against pine and I knew I was allergic to cedar pollen but…. I never thought I’d have problems breathing in a cedar framed greenhouse…. you don’t think of those things when you want something really bad. Don’t be so down…. this is like totally doable and who knows…. maybe even during winter!!! I gotta run here real soon since we're going to the Trans Siberian Orchestra but I've got a coupla quick thoughts.... run with your water wall and try composters and then add a little spice to your operation by getting your creative juices flowing. Use some of those cheap pink foam insulation boards on the inside and maybe paint them with Kool Seal Elastimore Roof Coating…. you can get it at Lowes last time I checked and a gallon is around $20. Slop the paint on then back them up to the walls and let the light bounce while you get added insulation from the foamboards. It’s probably be better gluing 2 mil mylar to the foam insulation boards…. aluminized side outward…. onto the boards and then you’d get super duper reflectivity. If you needed to cool down the greenhouse in summer all you’d have to do is turn the foam insulation board around. Dual purpose!!! Mylar has well over 95% reflectivity if it’s applied smooth as in no creases or wrinkles which is tricky since I’ve done it before. You can pick up whole roles of 2 mil mylar cheap. I use 4 mil mylar on 3 paneled privacy screens inside my house. I have grow shelves in front of regular house windows with orchids on them and I position the screen behind the shelves so I maximize the light coming in through the windows. Works wonders and I get unbelievable results so yes!!! Yes you can bounce light around on the cheap!!! Another possibility is foylon. It’s way thicker than mylar and you can use Velcro to put it where you want without needing a backing for it. Both mylar and foylon reflect radiant heat so you might want to borrow a light meter from someone and check out where you’re at. You don’t want any hot spots in your greenhouse or you’ll end up with dead plants. Just remember…. radiant light energy is electromagnetic with wavelengths between 400-700nm and radiant heat energy has a wavelength between 800-2000 nm. Since you’re going the veggie route I got to thinking about heat loss into the ground like what Philip mentioned. I dunno what your flooring is but what about picking up a some of those $3 survival blankets and tossing those on the ground with the reflective side up>>>? That could be a totally viable option since they reflect about 80% radiant heat and they sell em everywhere. If you tear one walking on it no biggie…. Just buy another one and slap it over the other one you ripped. You know… they always say 1 good blanket underneath you is worth 2 on top so if they’re good enough for people…. they should be good for plants. Another idea I’ve got would be using heat coils under seed trays. I keep meaning to try that one myself. I use old heating pads that don’t have those auto offs but that’s only because I had them. Heating coils would be a lot cheaper and you could probably keep those soil temps around 70 through the night.

dapjwy 08-05-2012 11:10 AM

This morning, after walking, I noticed a black, metal barrel for sale at a local yard sale. It got me thinking again about trying to extend the growing season in my greenhouse. I'm thinking that filling it with water will allow it to absorb heat during the day and give it off at night. My plan so far was to place four of these in each corner of the greenhouse and use it as a platform on which to grow some vegetables...

So, upon returning home I did a Google search for "converting a greenhouse"--the first link in the results was my own post here! :) Later, I searched for "passive solar greenhouse" and came up with this informative site: Bradford Research and Extension Center: Building a Passive Solar Greenhouse

...so, it would seem that four barrels would not be enough...but, I'm guessing it woud still help extend the growing season at least a little. Also, the angle of my greenhouse's roof is not right...but, I hope to implement some ideas and see what I can come up with.

I've also been thinking about installing windows in the roof that can slide open which might, hopefully, allow me to use the greenhouse in the summer as well--I could allow more heat out and let the RAIN in so I wouldn't have to water as much. Just some thoughts--not sure they will work, but it is fun to puzzle over the idea.

Equilibrium 08-05-2012 09:15 PM

You don't have any neighbors with chickens do you>>>? Just a thought but.... chicken poops get steamin' hot. Before I had my own chickens, I went to a neighbor's house and "volunteered" mucking out his chicken coop so I could keep the poops for my composter. For whatever reason.... chicken poops get way hotter than horse of cow poops. We're talking they can get so hot you can't touch the metal shovel after digging around in a pile of chicken doo doo. I'm wondering if several barrels of compost acting like radiators might not be at least some help heating your greenhouse?

havalotta 08-06-2012 12:28 AM

I recall seeing photos of a green house up this way that had a foundation of mortar and rocks built up around it maybe hip high?
She always kept a wood stove stoked in it... I think it had a fan or blower that pushed the warm air through some sort of a pipe system running horizontal along the midway as it was used all year round and needed someone to tend the fire if she left for more than a day or two...

dapjwy 08-06-2012 09:19 PM


Originally Posted by Equilibrium (Post 118034)
You don't have any neighbors with chickens do you>>>?

...I'm wondering if several barrels of compost acting like radiators might not be at least some help heating your greenhouse?

No one who is my immediate neighbor--but I'm sure someone around here must.

Thanks for the suggestion...it is a good one...but not one I'd relish implementing.

I remember my dad telling me years ago that chicken manure makes great compost but it really STINKS! Now, if I could only train chickens to poop directly into a composter-contraption-outhouse-kind-of-thing...then I might go for it.

dapjwy 08-06-2012 09:38 PM


Originally Posted by havalotta (Post 118042)
I recall seeing photos of a green house up this way that had a foundation of mortar and rocks built up around it maybe hip high?
She always kept a wood stove stoked in it... I think it had a fan or blower that pushed the warm air through some sort of a pipe system running horizontal along the midway as it was used all year round and needed someone to tend the fire if she left for more than a day or two...

Hmm...I don't think I'm ready for anything like that--yet (who knows what the future will bring). I'd like to see how much I can do with some small changes...and then go from there.

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