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Building vs Purchasing a Greenhouse: An In-Depth Comparison

Building vs Purchasing a Greenhouse: An In-Depth Comparison

Deciding whether to buy or build a greenhouse is a major choice for any gardener looking to extend their growing season. Both options have their own set of pros, cons, and considerations when it comes to cost, construction, customization, and long-term maintenance. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key factors you need to weigh when choosing between constructing your own greenhouse or buying a greenhouse kit.

Key Takeaways: Build vs Buy Considerations

  • For most beginners, investing in a greenhouse kit is the easier, faster, and more affordable option.

  • Building a custom greenhouse takes more skill but allows for full creative control and customization.

  • Weigh factors like cost, construction experience, climate conditions, and timeline when deciding.

  • Kits simplify installation but limit size options and alterations down the road.

Key Considerations When Choosing Between Building and Buying a Greenhouse

There are several important factors to take into account when determining whether to build or buy your greenhouse:

Costs

One of the biggest things to consider is the difference in upfront costs as well as long-term expenses.

  • Building your own greenhouse allows you to source less expensive materials and design it to your budget. Smaller DIY greenhouses can be built for $500-$2,000, while larger permanent structures may cost $5,000-$25,000 depending on the size and materials used.

  • Pre-fab greenhouse kits are available at a wide range of prices. Hobby kits can cost as little as $200 for a small portable greenhouse and up to $5,000 for a premium backyard kit. Larger commercial kits run from $5,000 into the $10,000+ range.

  • Ongoing costs for warming, cooling, and maintenance must also be accounted for in either scenario.

Construction Experience

  • Building your greenhouse from scratch requires basic construction skills including carpentry and glazing. If you don’t have these skills, the project becomes much more difficult.

  • Assembling a greenhouse kit is easier but still requires following instructions properly, some tool usage, and the ability to troubleshoot any issues.

Timeframe

  • Constructing a custom greenhouse can take weeks or even months depending on the scale of the project and your pace.

  • Greenhouse kits can be assembled in days or weeks rather than months. Having all parts and plans ready makes the process faster.

Customization

  • One of the biggest advantages of building your own greenhouse is the ability to fully customize the size, shape, materials, and features.

  • Greenhouse kits offer far less customization ability out of the box. You may be limited by standard kit sizes and features.

Climate and Structural Considerations

  • When building a greenhouse, you’ll need to account for snow load expectations, wind levels, and other climatic factors with the structure.

  • High-quality greenhouse kit manufacturers have often designed their kits to withstand common climates and meet structural requirements across many regions.

Permits and Codes

  • When erecting a greenhouse structure from scratch, you’ll likely need to get permits and ensure you meet all local building codes.

  • Greenhouse kits are designed to meet most building codes. However, you may still need permits for a larger installed structure.

The Pros of Building Your Own Greenhouse

Constructing your own custom greenhouse has some distinct advantages:

Full Creative Control

Building a greenhouse from the ground up allows for nearly unlimited customization options when it comes to size, shape, layout, materials, and more. You can tailor the greenhouse exactly to your space constraints, climate, and gardening needs.

For example, you may want a greenhouse of an unusual shape to fit in the corner of your yard, or a taller structure to accommodate larger plants. Choosing unique materials like reclaimed windows is also easier with a custom build.

Potential for Cost Savings

In some situations, building your own greenhouse can be less expensive than buying a pre-made kit. Savings come from sourcing discounted or recycled building materials yourself.

For example, you may be able to find used windows or lumber at salvage companies. Or you may have access to free or cheap materials like PVC pipe from a construction site.

Another way to save is designing the greenhouse yourself and only purchasing the specific materials you need, avoiding retail markups on kits.

Environmental Sustainability

Opting to construct a greenhouse yourself allows you to prioritize sustainability by using recycled, reclaimed, or upcycled materials. Not only is this beneficial for the environment, but it can save you money as well.

For example, old windows and barn wood can be fashioned into a greenhouse frame. Repurposed plastic bottles can provide insulation. Get creative in sourcing used materials for an eco-friendly build.

Customization for Specific Plants

When designing and building a greenhouse yourself, you can tailor the features to the specific plants you want to grow.

For example, a greenhouse for orchids would focus on providing the proper humidity and air circulation. One for starting vegetable seedlings early in the spring can maximize usable shelving space.

Here's the overview of all the major differences between building vs buying a greenhouse:

Factor Building Your Own Buying a Kit
Cost Lower upfront cost possible Higher upfront cost
Construction Skills Needed Carpentry, glazing, etc. required Basic skills sufficient
Timeline Weeks to months Days to weeks
Customization Fully customizable Limited options
Permits/Codes Typically needed Usually not required

The Challenges of Building a Greenhouse

While constructing your own greenhouse has advantages, there are also some downsides to consider:

Demands Construction Skills

To build a safe and effective greenhouse from scratch you’ll need basic skills like:

  • Carpentry for framing and structural components
  • Glazing for installing greenhouse panels and windows
  • Electrical work for lighting, ventilation, and other systems
  • Plumbing skills for irrigation or water features

Without experience in these areas, your custom greenhouse may not hold up over time.

Potential Structural Issues

When designing your own greenhouse, you take on the challenge of ensuring the structure meets building codes and can withstand wind, snow loads, and other climate factors in your region.

Making mistakes with the foundation or framing could lead to collapse or damage during extreme weather. Permits help ensure standards are met but aren’t guaranteed.

Achieving Proper Insulation

Getting the insulation right is crucial for an energy-efficient greenhouse that maintains even temperatures. Determining the right materials and installation methods takes careful research and execution.

More Time Consuming

Even for skilled DIYers, building a greenhouse requires significant time for planning, sourcing materials, site preparation, construction, and finishing touches. Be prepared to invest weeks or even months into the process.

May Exceed Budget

Starting a custom greenhouse build without a firm plan can lead to budget overages as the project evolves. Hidden costs, change orders, and upgrades can inflate the total costs beyond initial expectations. Carefully estimate costs ahead of time to avoid surprises.

The Pros of Buying a Greenhouse Kit

Getting a pre-made greenhouse kit offers some distinct advantages:

Faster Set-Up

The biggest benefit of a greenhouse kit is the accelerated timeline. Because parts are pre-made and instructions provided, greenhouse assembly goes much quicker. Kits can be installed in days or weeks rather than months.

Lower Skill Requirement

Greenhouse kits are designed for amateur DIYers. Instructions walk you through each step without needing expert carpentry or glazing skills. Some basic construction experience is still helpful.

Structural Soundness

Reputable greenhouse kit companies use engineering principles to design structures that withstand wind, snow loads, and typical climate conditions when properly installed. Meeting codes are less of a concern.

Warranties and Customer Service

Most quality greenhouse kits come with at least a 1-year manufacturer’s warranty. This guarantees components against defects. Help is also just a phone call away if issues arise during assembly.

Professional Installation Option

For those who want their greenhouse kit professionally assembled, many companies offer this paid service. Professional installation guarantees the structure is assembled correctly.

Convenience and Selection

Ordering a greenhouse kit is simply more convenient than sourcing all the materials required for a custom build. Kits come with everything you need in one package. You also have a selection of kit options to choose from.

If you decide to purchase a greenhouse kit, be sure to do your research to find the best option for your needs and budget. Checking out this greenhouse buyer's guide can help you compare different types of kit models and features.

The Downsides of Purchasing a Greenhouse Kit

Despite the advantages, greenhouse kits do come with a few drawbacks:

Less Customization Capability

While some kit providers offer different size options, you generally lose the full customization that comes with building from scratch. The shape and features are predetermined. You get what the manufacturer offers.

Limited Size Options

Greenhouse kit sizes tend to be more limited and fixed. If you want an intermediate size or unique shape, a kit likely won’t accommodate this. With a custom build, you can create exactly the footprint you want.

Higher Upfront Cost

For basic hobby greenhouses, kits can be cost-effective. However, larger or commercial kits can be expensive when sourcing custom materials might save money. The retail markup can inflate the costs of kits.

Difficulty With Later Alterations

Once a greenhouse kit is assembled, making structural modifications is harder than with a custom build. You’re limited by the fixed design. Expanding or renovating may not be practical.

Final Thoughts

When weighing whether to build or buy a greenhouse, each option has its own pros and cons. For most home gardeners, purchasing a greenhouse kit is the best way to go. Constructing a custom greenhouse does allow for more creativity and cost savings, but requires expertise most amateur builders lack. The time investment is also substantial. Unless you need an unusually shaped or sized greenhouse or want to showcase artisanal DIY skills, a pre-fab kit is simply the smarter choice for hassle-free greenhouse growing.

Greenhouse kits have come a long way in terms of quality and durability. Just be sure to properly secure the greenhouse according to instructions, and maintain it regularly. Then you can reap the rewards of harvesting homegrown produce or flowers earlier in spring and later into the fall.

FAQs

What are the main differences between glass and polycarbonate glazing materials for a greenhouse? 

Glass provides better light transmission but polycarbonate is more durable and flexible. Glass is also heavier and more prone to breakage. Polycarbonate is lighter, impact-resistant, and easier to work with for DIY construction. However, polycarbonate can become hazy and brittle over time due to UV exposure. Overall, glass is better for optimal plant growth while polycarbonate is often the more affordable and practical option.

Is it cheaper to build or buy a greenhouse?

In most cases, buying a greenhouse kit is cheaper than building one from scratch. Greenhouse kits allow you to avoid the costs of investing in all the raw materials individually. They also save on labor costs for construction. However, for larger or custom greenhouses, sourcing recycled or inexpensive materials yourself can ultimately be more cost effective than buying a high-end prefabricated kit.

How important is it to ventilate a greenhouse?

A: Proper ventilation is extremely important in a greenhouse to prevent overheating and regulate humidity. Greenhouses should have vent windows, roof vents, and/or exhaust fans for air circulation. Vents should open automatically at a set temperature range. Good airflow prevents disease and controls condensation while providing desired temperatures. 

What factors should you consider when deciding where to put a greenhouse?

Optimal greenhouse placement maximizes sun exposure, particularly in winter, while minimizing shade and wind. Face the greenhouse south or southeast if possible. Consider existing utility access for electricity and water. Check building codes and zoning laws for any restrictions. Make sure the location has good drainage and allows convenient access inside.  

What tips can reduce greenhouse heating costs? 

Insulate well, seal any leaks, and use a high-efficiency greenhouse heater. Solar heat sinks, radiant barriers, and thermal curtains also conserve heat. Avoid overheating and only heat to the temperature your plants need. Invest in an energy-efficient greenhouse design with passive heating from sunlight. Growing cold-tolerant crops in winter also reduces heating needs.

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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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