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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Greenhouse Materials

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Greenhouse Materials

The materials you choose for your greenhouse will determine how well it retains heat, resists weather damage, and lets in sunlight. With so many options on the market, it can be tricky to decide which materials are best suited for your needs.

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about choosing the ideal materials to build your greenhouse. We'll go over the key factors to keep in mind, do an in-depth comparison of common greenhouse building materials, and provide useful tips to help you select materials tailored to your climate and budget.

Key Takeaways

  • Select durable aluminum or galvanized steel frames to withstand weather and last for decades. Polyethylene plastic covering is affordable but degrades rapidly.

  • In cold climates, prioritize materials like double-pane glass and polycarbonate panels that provide better insulation and heat retention.

  • For maximum light transmission, glass and polycarbonate are ideal. Polyethylene and fiberglass panels diffuse light well but pass more UV rays.

  • Concrete floors with gravel beds offer the best durability, drainage, and insulation. Wood floors look nice but require more maintenance.

a collage of greenhouses made from different materials

    Key Factors to Consider When Selecting Greenhouse Materials

    There are several important factors that should guide your decision when determining the best greenhouse materials. Carefully consider the following:

    Your Climate and Location

    The climate you live in will significantly influence the performance of various greenhouse materials. If you live in an area with extremely cold winters or very hot summers, you'll want materials that provide maximum insulation. Places with high wind or heavy snow will require durable materials capable of withstanding the elements.

    Make sure to select materials designed for the specific conditions in your geographical location. Greenhouses built with inappropriate materials won't last as long and won't create the ideal growing environment.

    Durability and Lifespan

    Naturally, you'll want your greenhouse structure and shelter to be durable enough to last for many years. The lifespan of different materials can vary significantly.

    For instance, aluminum frames are incredibly durable, long-lasting, and resistant to corrosion. On the other hand, polyethylene plastic sheeting may start degrading after just 1-3 years of use.

    Think about how long you want your greenhouse to last, and choose materials that will stand the test of time. More durable materials are often more expensive upfront but can save you money in the long run.

    Heat Retention Ability

    One of the main functions of a greenhouse is to create a warmer microclimate for plants. Different materials have varying abilities to retain heat inside the greenhouse.

    For example, materials like concrete, brick, or stone used for the greenhouse floor can absorb heat from the sun during the day and slowly release it at night. This helps keep greenhouse temperatures warmer.

    If you live in a colder climate, prioritize materials with better insulation values that will trap heat inside the greenhouse. This includes double or triple-pane glass rather than single pane glass greenhouses.

    Light Transmission Properties

    The whole purpose of a greenhouse is to let sunlight in to nourish your plants. So ideally, you want greenhouse sheathing that allows as much light transmission as possible.

    However, certain materials like fiberglass and plastic polyethylene sheets allow UV light to pass through, which can scorch and damage plants. Materials such as tempered glass or polycarbonate panels offer good light diffusion to prevent hot spots.

    Consider the lighting needs of the particular plants you want to grow, and select the best greenhouse covering materials that offer the right balance of light transmission and UV protection.

    Affordability and Budget

    Of course, cost is always a significant factor when building a greenhouse. Greenhouse materials range tremendously in price. For instance, glass panels are generally the most expensive covering material, while polyethylene film is the most budget-friendly.

    Set a clear budget for your greenhouse build, and look for material options that offer the right balance of performance, sturdiness, and affordability. Don't sacrifice too much on quality just to save money initially.

    greenhouses built from different materials

    Comparing the Top Greenhouse Structure Materials

    The frame and supports that form the backbone of your greenhouse structure play a huge role in its overall reliability and performance. Here are the most common materials used for greenhouse structures along with their key pros and cons:

    Aluminum Frames

    • Pros: Extremely strong, durable, corrosion-resistant, and long-lasting (up to 50 years). Lightweight yet sturdy. Easy-to-assemble greenhouse kits are available.

    • Cons: More expensive than other frame materials. Can conduct heat and get very cold in winter.

    Wood Frames

    • Pros: Inexpensive, easy to work with using basic tools, easier to customize or build extensions. Appealing natural aesthetic.

    • Cons: Prone to rotting, splitting, and insect damage, so needs thorough preservative treatment. Not as structurally strong or rigid as metal frames.

    Galvanized Steel

    • Pros: Strong, durable, and resistant to corrosion and rust. Inexpensive and readily available. Can handle heavy snow loads.

    • Cons: Heavier than other materials, making construction more difficult. Can bend in high winds. Prone to condensation.

    When selecting a frame material, aluminum is best for larger greenhouses you want to last for decades. Wood frames are suitable for small-scale greenhouses, especially if you plan to build them yourself. Galvanized steel strikes the best balance of strength and affordability.

    Here is a quick comparison table summarizing the key attributes of common greenhouse frame materials:

    Frame Material Durability Strength Cost
    Aluminum 50+ years High Expensive
    Galvanized Steel 20-30 years High Moderate
    Wood 10-15 years Low Cheap

    The Best Covering Materials for Greenhouse Roofs and Walls

    The covering materials on your greenhouse provide insulation, protect against weather, and allow sunlight to pass through. Here are some top options:


    • Pros: Allows the maximum amount of light transmission. Extremely durable if properly installed. Easy to clean and maintain.

    • Cons: Very heavy, requiring a sturdy frame. Expensive to purchase and install. Not flexible. Can shatter.

    Polycarbonate Panels

    • Pros: Lightweight but very strong and impact-resistant. Good insulation value and excellent light transmission. 10 year limited warranty.

    • Cons: Can yellow and become brittle over time. More expensive than other plastic options. Must be cleaned and replaced eventually.

    Polyethylene Plastic Sheeting

    • Pros: Extremely affordable and easy to install. Available in huge rolls to cover any size greenhouse. Transmits diffuse light well.

    • Cons: Degrades rapidly, needing replacement every 1-3 years. Not as durable or insulating as other materials.


    • Pros: Provides extremely even light diffusion. Flexible panels make insulation easy. Long lifespan of 15-20 years.

    • Cons: More expensive than plastic sheeting. Prone to yellowing, difficult to clean properly. Not as impact-resistant.

    For maximum reliability and light transmission, glass is ideal if you can afford the installation costs. Polycarbonate strikes the best balance for most homeowners. Use polyethylene film for temporary seasonal greenhouses.

    For a helpful at-a-glance overview, here is a comparison table of the main greenhouse covering materials:

    Covering Material Light Transmission Insulation Ability Cost
    Glass High Moderate Expensive
    Polycarbonate High High Moderate
    Polyethylene Moderate Low Cheap
    Fiberglass Moderate Moderate Moderate
    a metal framed greenhouse on a cement foundation

    Choosing the Right Flooring Material for Your Greenhouse

    Don't overlook the greenhouse flooring. A proper foundation is crucial for insulation, drainage, and cleanliness. Here are some top options:

    Concrete Floors

    • Pros: Extremely durable and easy to clean. Provides thermal mass to absorb and radiate heat. Allows for in-floor heating systems.

    • Cons: Expensive to pour concrete. Makes the greenhouse hotter in summer and colder in winter. A hard surface isn't great for plants.

    Gravel Floors

    • Pros: Inexpensive and excellent drainage. Allows for planting directly into the gravel bed. Easy to install and replace sections.

    • Cons: Provides no insulation value. Can track dirt into a greenhouse. Needs barricades to contain gravel.

    Wood Floors

    • Pros: Attractive natural appearance. Provides good insulation and is softer for plants. Allows for customized layouts.

    • Cons: Vulnerable to moisture damage and rot over time. Needs frequent sweeping to keep clean. Can be expensive.

    For maximum durability, insulation, and drainage, concrete floors with gravel beds are ideal for most greenhouses. Wood floors provide a nice aesthetic for hobbyist greenhouses.

    an image of gardening tools

    Other Important Greenhouse Accessories to Consider

    To create an effective growing environment in your greenhouse, you'll need more than just the structure and covering materials. Be sure to invest in these accessories:

    Ventilation Systems

    Proper ventilation keeps greenhouse air circulating to prevent hot and humid conditions. Passive ventilation openings or powered exhaust fans are a must.

    Irrigation Systems

    Hand-watering plants in a large greenhouse is extremely laborious. A watering system on a timer ensures your plants get adequate moisture.

    Heating Systems

    If you live in a cold climate, a greenhouse heater can keep your greenhouse frost-free even in winter. Choose gas, electric, or solar-powered systems.

    Conclusion and Final Tips for Picking Greenhouse Materials

    Choosing the right materials for your greenhouse is crucial to create the ideal growing environment tailored to your climate and plants. Keep these final tips in mind:

    • Consider getting a greenhouse kit with preselected materials designed for your location. This simplifies the build.

    • Select materials that balance durability, performance, and affordability. Don't cut corners or you'll pay for it later.

    • Make sure to factor in other costs like equipment, installation labor, and maintenance.

    • Do plenty of research and ask greenhouse suppliers for advice on materials best suited for your needs.

    With the right selection of sturdy framing, transparent covering, and accessories, your greenhouse will thrive for many seasons and expand your gardening possibilities.

    a product image of the Exaco Janssens Retro Royal Victorian VI (Three Sizes)


    What is the best type of greenhouse material for retaining heat in cold climates?

    Polycarbonate panels and double or triple-pane glass are the best greenhouse materials for retaining heat in cold conditions.

    What are the benefits of using PVC materials for a greenhouse?

    PVC fabric coverings are inexpensive, easy to install, and diffuse light well. However, they degrade faster than polycarbonate or glass greenhouses.

    Which greenhouse frame materials are the strongest and most durable?

    Aluminum and galvanized steel greenhouse frames have the greatest strength and durability. Wood frames are cheaper but more vulnerable to damage.

    Can you build your own greenhouse solely from polycarbonate panels?

    Yes, polycarbonate sheets can be used to construct DIY greenhouses. They are lightweight, strong, and easy to work with using basic tools so good for DIY projects.

    How are commercial greenhouse materials different from those used in hobby greenhouses?

    Commercial greenhouses utilize the most durable, high-performance materials to maximize growing efficiency. Hobby greenhouses prioritize affordability.

    Previous article The Complete Guide to Choosing the Best Floor for Greenhouse
    Next article 5 Best Home Greenhouses to Enhance Your Growing Season

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    About The Author

    Andy Wu - Resident Expert

    Andy Wu - Resident Expert

    Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

    As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

    His main focus is on sheds and generators!

    In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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