A couple of days ago my dad and I went to visit his barber at the barber’s private residence in order to examine the barber’s homemade greenhouse. The barber, Mr. Bell, has been cutting my dad’s hair for a couple of years. This last week they got to talking about greenhouse projects. My dad only has a greenhouse in his mind, so far. Mr. Bell has one very nearly complete in his own suburban backyard. Even though he has some finishing touches to complete, it is functional and has plants growing in it. He graciously showed us around and answered our questions about how it was built. I will do my best to describe what I saw, but keep in mind that while I have recently learned many things about PVC pipe, I am still a fairly helpless female. My dad also explained some of it to me as we looked at photos again. I will give as many details as I can, but this is not an exact building plan. (In the photos, Mr. Bell is in the tan jacket, my dad is wearing the yellow one.)
Mr. Bell wasn’t always a barber. First, he was a barber, then he worked in the construction industry, then he became a barber again. So when he went to build his greenhouse, he had some useful background construction knowledge. Still, the methods and materials used for his greenhouse are within reach of the average home owner, with the possible exception of the electrical wiring. I, of course, would need supervision if I attempted to build such a greenhouse. However, since I have completed my PVC pipe chicken hoop house, even I might be able to do some of the work on a similar greenhouse. I could at least boss people around.
The greenhouse has dimensions of nine feet by 16 feet for it’s floor. The greenhouse is built on and secured by 4×4 inch pressure treated posts that are cemented into the ground, one at each corner. Then, in general, the posts were spaced at four foot intervals around the base of the greenhouse. About three feet of each post extends above ground, except for the posts at the flat ends of the greenhouse. The three foot tall vertical posts are capped by a perimeter of horizontal pieces of wood, forming basically what is like a window sill all along at that level.
The top of each wood post has about a six inch deep hole drilled in the center end of it. In the sill planking above each of those holes, another hole was drilled in the sill planks to create a socket. Some holes were also made in the sill planking when there was no post underneath. The ends of PVC pipe frame are stuck into those sockets and holes. The rest of the main frame for the greenhouse roof is built off of this. A couple more posts were used to make the door frame (the door is just a heavy duty screen, or storm door, with glass panes that open and close like windows) in one flat end of the greenhouse. One very tall 4×4 inch post was added to the end opposite the door end. This gives even more stability to the structure.
Sections of 4×4’s of pressure treated wood are positioned horizontally between the posts, along at ground level, to serve as the foundation for the other parts of the building. These lengths of wood lay snug against the ground. When we were inside, on this sub-freezing day, there was no draft to be felt.
The lower part of the greenhouse structure is built to match the siding on Mr. Bell’s house, so it is basic house siding painted white. It is simply attached to the main frame posts.
The roof shape is formed with one inch, schedule 40 PVC pipe. (I was told that schedule 40 is stronger than schedule 80) You can see the pieces connected to create the nearly 9 foot ceiling. My dad is 6 foot 2 inches tall and he had plenty of head space under the row of light fixtures. The middle of the roof line was reinforced with the addition of 2 more pieces of PVC pipe. These are attached to and reinforce the central pipe hoop. The network of PVC pipe is connected with more horizontal pieces using 4-way PVC connectors in the middle portions, T-connectors at the ends, and plenty of screws. I am not sure how the vertical sections of PVC pipe on the flat ends of greenhouse are attached to the overarching end hoop. It was one detail that we forgot to ask about. My dad thinks thinks they might be cut and glued, or possibly holes are cut in the overhead PVC pipes and the vertical pipes are stuck in that.
The transparent covering over the roof top is, first of all, a layer of clear corrugated PVC. This can be found at Home Depot. The spaces at the cut ends of this corrugated PVC, next to the PVC pipe frame, are filled in with corrugated foam strips, so all is air tight. To add a little more insulation, there is some plastic sheeting over the very middle of the roof and down the sides part way. This is the same sort of sheeting that is used to put windows in tents and golf carts. This particular grade of sheeting is more resistant to shattering from impact, to which it is susceptible when frozen, because of the nylon threads criss-crossed through it. It is also screwed on at both lower sides. A lot of light gets into the greenhouse, as can be seen from our photos taken on a cloudy day.
The inside of the greenhouse is a masterpiece of utility and multifunctional design on a limited budget. The electrical wiring is extended from the service to the house. Inside the greenhouse, it is attached to the PVC frame using zip ties and there is all kinds of lighting. The light fixtures along the high point of the ceiling are basic lighting fixtures. There is a row of UV lights hanging low under the work benches on one side, to stimulate mini garden beds that were made in the amended soil within the greenhouse frame. The mini garden beds are divided by regular 2×6 lumber (or 2×8?), which may not last long, but was inexpensive compared to other material. Right now, there are things like broccoli seed that have just been planted in those mini beds.
One of the space efficient features of the greenhouse is that the work bench space over these mini garden beds is made of multiple sections which are hinged to allow them to be individually swung up to give sunlight to the plants when it is coming in at the right angle. When the sunlight is no longer optimum, the bench tops can be swung back down to have a wide workbench to use. The grow lights are attached to a wood framework under the workbench in a way that they are not disturbed when the workbench is opened. This framework also supports the free-swinging work benches when they are horizontal.
On the other side of the greenhouse, the workbench might be permanent. At least it is for now with all planters on it. The space under it is covered in large gravel as a base for storing everything from potting soil to the fan that still needs to be installed for circulation (just an attic fan purchased at Lowe’s). There is a row of fish tanks on top of it, being used as planters because Mr. Bell has visions of using them in the future for an aquaponics set-up. Until his budget allows a full-fledged aquaponics installation, he is using the tanks creatively, and the tank filter systems to help vent moisture out of the bottom of the tanks. It is working well and he is not having any trouble with soggy roots or unwanted growths deep in the dirt. There are healthy seedlings flourishing in some of the fish tank planters.
The lights above the fish tank planters are heat lamps. The containers in that location get plenty of sunlight, but they can get a bit cold sometimes. The heat lamps are hooked up to dimmer switches that are mounted just at the outer edge, under the workbench. There is also a square, red, industrial grade 240 volt heater at one end of the greenhouse, keeping everything at a comfortable temperature.
The water for the greenhouse is also routed off of the plumbing for the house (under ground with the electrical wiring) even though the greenhouse is free standing. This was done so that there would not be any hoses or spigots outside to worry about freezing. Of course, that is another reason it is important to have that nice red heater in there. There is also a wonderfully deep laundry room type sink. Under it, there is a four spigot system which is mostly hooked up to the maze of tubes set up for timed watering in both the fish tanks and the mini garden beds.
The only other flooring in the greenhouse is a row of pavers in the middle, set into the dirt. This keeps mud under control and allows for storage of items in a cleaner, drier environment.
Around the outside of the greenhouse there are barrels full of water, but they are not part of the greenhouse system. They are just a handy place to store extra water, not specifically designed for greenhouse insulation. However, some people like to use barrels like this in their greenhouse plan. Mr. Bell says he purchased the formerly syrup filled barrels from the Coke bottling company near Payette for $5 each.
As you can see, this greenhouse is full of good ideas and tips for anyone who is thinking of building their own greenhouse. It is fairly simple, but impressively stable. It should last quite a bit longer than the common plastic sheeting over a frame. Thank you, Mr. Bell, for letting us look around your lovely greenhouse!
(Mr. Richard Bell owns and works at Richard’s Barber Shop at 1004 12th Ave. South in Nampa. His card says he gives the best haircuts in Idaho! 208-463-7660)