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Greenhouse Costs Guide: Cost to Build, Own and Operate

If you are looking to build or buy a greenhouse, below is a comprehensive guide on estimated greenhouse costs. It covers the different types of greenhouses, sizes, and even the different materials and accessories you will need.

Imagine over 2,500 acres of space devoted to farming vegetables in the US alone! Now, this one shows just how much people have adopted greenhouse farming. But why?

A greenhouse not only allows you to do year-round farming but also enables the cultivation of seasonal and sensitive crops that would otherwise not grow in your climate. It’s, therefore, ideal for both personal and commercial farming.

Greenhouses can be simple or complex. A simple greenhouse is usually made of a simple frame and covered using a clear material like plastic, glass, or fiber. A complex greenhouse may include fixed glass panels, sophisticated irrigation systems, heating, and even ventilation.

But, how much do greenhouses cost? Well, while it might be hard to get an exact price upfront, greenhouse costs entirely depend on the size and complexity of the structure.

Overall Cost Estimation of Greenhouse Building

In addition to the cost of the frame and cover, several other things add to the cost of owning a greenhouse. Some of these costs are not obvious at first but become evident once the initial construction job is complete.

The average costs for greenhouses range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. The costs could also spike when you engage the services of a professional to help with the installation. For example, installing a pre-designed portable greenhouse with professional assistance may cost a few hundred dollars.

There are various benefits of engaging a professional to do the installation. You not only save on time, but you also minimize the risks that could arise later due to poor installation. Some of these risks include unstable foundations, air, and water leaks, and poor ventilation.

You may also decide to buy a greenhouse kit and do the installation yourself. The DIY greenhouses costs are relatively lower compared to buying pre-installed ones. You also don’t have to engage a professional.

A small DIY greenhouse will cost a hundred dollars on the lower side. However, some kits may cost a few thousand dollars, increasing the overall DIY greenhouse cost.

Styles of Greenhouses and Costs

greenhouse designs

There are various types and styles of greenhouses. The styles differ depending on several factors such as the weather and the types of crops to be planted. Each style has its own cost implication.

Some of the most common greenhouse styles and their square footage cost include;

1. Hoop Greenhouse

A hoop greenhouse is one of the cheapest greenhouses to build. Hoop greenhouses consist of hoops that are installed into the ground. Plastic sheeting is used to cover the hoops.

The best thing about plastic sheeting is that it is cheap and readily available. The average greenhouse costs for a hoop greenhouse range from $5 to $10 for one square foot.

Hoop greenhouses differ in size. They can be small and low, or large enough for someone to walk in. They have excellent ventilation features, and snow and water can slide down easily.

2. Gothic Arch Greenhouse

A Gothic arch greenhouse is almost similar to a hoop greenhouse. However, it has a semicircular frame that allows it to easily shed snow and water. The peak is also higher than that of a hoop-style greenhouse.

Its frame is usually made of galvanized pipes, which are then covered using plastic sheeting. However, it has a low sidewall that makes it difficult to walk through and also restricts plant growth. The greenhouses costs for a Gothic arch structure vary between $10 and $15 for one square foot.

3. Rooftop Greenhouse

Rooftop greenhouses are usually installed on a flat roof. They are common in urban areas where space is limited, and the only available space is on rooftops. You can also build it onto walls of buildings.

These greenhouses are simple but require sturdy materials like metal frames and glass or solid plastic panels. One square foot of a rooftop greenhouse costs between $10 and $25.

4. Lean-to Greenhouse

A lean-to greenhouse, as the name suggests, is built to lean onto existing walls. These could be the wall of a garage or a house. Because of the shared wall, it uses fewer materials compared to a standalone greenhouse.

This brings down the cost to around $25 for a square foot. The cover is usually made of glass. One advantage of a lean-to greenhouse is that the walls absorb heat, regulating the greenhouse temperature.

5. Dome Greenhouse

A dome greenhouse is round with a domed peak, where the round shape helps in the absorption of heat and light. It is made using a metal or PVC frame then covered with glass or plastic sheeting. One square foot costs between $10 and $25 to build.

A domed greenhouse is spacious and provides enough space for plants to grow and people to walk through. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, keep it small to reduce the height and diameter.

6. Pit Greenhouse

Pit greenhouses are built onto a hole, usually dug on the ground. These greenhouses are warmer than other greenhouses because the earthy floor does not lose heat easily.

However, you need to carefully analyze the soil you are building on. Loose soil, for example, may not be stable enough to support the structure.

Once above the ground, the greenhouse can take any shape or design. If you want to cut down on cost, you can use hoops to build the frame.

You can also opt for rigid roofs, but they are more expensive. Pit greenhouses cost an average of $20 a square foot to build.

Cost to Build a Greenhouse: More Factors to Consider

 greenhouse size

The following are more considerations that help to estimate the greenhouse costs of building a new structure.

1.  Structure Size

By now, it should be obvious that the bigger the greenhouse, the more money you will spend. The size of the greenhouse determines the amount of building materials you need to purchase. These materials are usually not cheap.

Also, large greenhouses require accessories like irrigation lines, fans, and heat. To maximize space, you can opt for vertical gardening, which provides more yields per square foot.

A greenhouse may cost anywhere between 10 dollars and 100 dollars for one square foot. If we are to convert this to greenhouse construction cost per acre, you should expect the greenhouse cost for 1 acre to fall somewhere between $40,000 and $100,000.

Fortunately, the cost per square meter reduces as the size of the greenhouse increases.

2. Materials

Materials are also a major expense when it comes to building greenhouses. You need to carefully choose the materials to use for the frame, as well as for the covering. The frames can be made using wood, PVC pipe, or steel. The cover could be made from materials like polyethylene, fiberglass, or tempered glass.

Greenhouse construction materials vary greatly in price, and they have their pros and cons. For example, the tempered glass may cost about $2.50 per square foot, while polythene may cost less than half that amount. On the other hand, glass is highly durable, while polythene is not.

In another example, cedar framing costs around $1 per foot, while steel framing may cost at least $2.50 per foot. However, steel frames are more sturdy and durable.

3. Site preparation

Preparing the growing space may take a lot of work, depending on the land’s condition and size. Some of the basic things that need to be done before the greenhouse is set up include leveling and setting the foundation.

For big or commercial greenhouses, you may need to hire special machinery for that purpose. Also, you may require the assistance of a professional, which raises the greenhouse costs altogether.

4. Utilities

A simple greenhouse may operate without additional accessories. But complex ones need utilities like heaters, lighting, fans, thermostat controller, and sophisticated irrigation systems.

These utilities drive up the cost of building that greenhouse. They also contribute significantly to the operating and maintenance costs.

5. Climate

The climate determines the kind of utilities you need. For example, very cold places need heating while hot places need ventilation and cooling. Also, in places where natural light is not enough, you may have to invest in lighting to compensate.

See related: 9 Cheap Nursery Pots – Greenhouse, Garden Top Picks

Greenhouse Operating Costs

As mentioned earlier, apart from the initial cost of setting up the greenhouse, there are other recurrent costs. These costs relate to the maintenance and the day-to-day running of the greenhouse.

So how much does it cost to maintain a greenhouse? This depends on the kind of materials used during construction, the utilities available, and even the crops you have planted. The major operating costs include the following;

1. Water

A greenhouse requires a lot of water because of the year-round crops. Depending on the irrigation system used, the water bill may increase significantly. It’s therefore recommended that people use efficient irrigation systems to lower water usage and reduce operating costs.

Running water can be quite expensive and can have a great impact on greenhouse costs for maintenance. So it’s advisable to complement it with rainwater. However, this requires the installation of rain collection barrels, gutters, and downspouts.

2. Lighting

Most greenhouses rely on the sun for lighting. This means, not every greenhouse needs additional lighting. However, in situations where natural lighting is scarce, artificial lighting is needed.

Proper lighting set up costs anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. In case you need professional assistance to set it up, you have to pay even more.

The cost of a single light ranges between $40 and $150. The bigger the greenhouse, the more lights you need.

The cost of the lights varies depending on the size, quality, wattage, and other technical factors. To reduce the costs, use LED lights that are designed with energy efficiency in mind.

3. Irrigation Tools

For a simple greenhouse, you can use a simple long hose with a spray nozzle to irrigate the plants. But for complex greenhouses, you need to invest in a quality full irrigation system or kit.

The most common irrigation tools are drip irrigation and spray systems. They are usually not very expensive, but their cost significantly increases when you factor in the setup.

4. Plants

Plants and their seeds don’t come cheaply. Therefore, be prepared to spend a significant amount of money every planting season. The cost of plants varies greatly depending on the type and the number of plants you need.

Because a greenhouse is meant to give produce all year round, you need to ensure that old plants are replaced regularly. Also, remember to factor in fertilizer and soil as they form a significant portion of greenhouse costs.

5. Pest management

You should put in place measures to control the spread of pests. Otherwise, there may be nothing to harvest when the time comes. Where possible, use natural ways of protecting your plants, such as sticky traps and organic oils.

You can also prevent pests through companion planting. This involves planting different crops in close proximity to promote the growth of beneficial insects that feed on the pests.

6. Repairs

As with any other structure, greenhouses require repairs from time to time. This helps to keep the entire unit in good condition. For example, polythene film covers sometimes break and need to be repaired.

Also, some frames, especially the cheaper ones, need regular maintenance to prevent them from collapsing. The frames and covers can be repaired using sealing tape.

Other things that also require regular repair include plumbing, lighting, and any moving parts like creepers and cross connectors. Although you can do most of these things on your own, some of them may require professional repair. This could cost you more.

See Related: How to Grow Sugar Cane Indoors

7. Heating

Usually, greenhouses are heated naturally by the sun. But if you live in a cold area, heating greenhouses costs may contribute significantly to your operating costs.

Heating a greenhouse for one night may cost you an average of $10. Some plants, such as tropical vegetables, also require more heat than is available from the sun.

Artificial heaters are usually powered by electricity, gas, or propane. The most cost-effective and energy-efficient heaters are radiant heaters. Instead of heating the air, they heat the plants directly.

You can also opt for a heated greenhouse that comes with insulation. However, you will have to cough up more money because they cost an average of $35 to 45 per square foot. Alternatively, you can try reflective film for insulation.

Commercial Greenhouses

commercial greenhouses

A commercial greenhouse should be at least 20 feet wide and 6,000 square feet. But how much does it cost to build a commercial greenhouse?

Usually, commercial greenhouse costs range between $2 and $30 per square foot. The bigger the greenhouse, the lower the cost per square foot.

The cost of commercial greenhouses varies depending on the type and the materials used. Other things that greatly impact the cost of a commercial greenhouse include shade, insulation, ventilation, and irrigation.

Simple commercial greenhouses with minimal utilities can go for as low as $2.00 per square foot. However, tent-style greenhouses with insulation and cooling are more expensive and can cost upwards of $5 per square foot.

Low-Cost Greenhouses

Despite greenhouse farming being an expensive venture, it is still possible to build a low-cost greenhouse using supplies from local hardware stores.

In case you are wondering how to build a low-cost greenhouse, start with getting a good frame and cover. These are the most important parts of a greenhouse.

For the frame, you can go with cheap and readily available materials like rebar or PVC pipes. You can also use cedar or wood poles for the frame. However, you need to ensure that they are treated to prevent rotting.

For the covering, you can use plastic film that is at least 4mm thick. Plastic is relatively less costly compared to other materials. Also, it offers sufficient light penetration and temperature regulation. You can also get affordable pre-installed greenhouse kits.

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