Tuesday, February 02, 2010

PVC Greenhouse: So you are thinking about an all PVC Greenhouse

I'm glad you are thinking about building your very own PVC Greenhouse. I found the project very satisfying and looked forward to all the time I could spend constructing it.

First, be sure that this is the right type of greenhouse for you. The choice to go all PVC should be made for the right reasons. There are some beautiful, professionally produced, greenhouses made of wood, metal, and (plexi-) glass that are very functional and could really be a show piece on the right property. A wood/PVC combo construction seems like another great DIY project.

I consider some of the main reasons to go all PVC as:
1) Price: PVC pipe and fittings are quite inexpensive ($0.17 a foot for the pipe). My total cost is about $150.
2) Light Weight: I built mine on a roof deck. The roof could support a greenhouse 50 times the weight of the PVC version but who wants to carry all that up the stairs.
3) Seasonal: The PVC greenhouse is made to be taken down in the spring. It breaks down to a medium size set of its main component parts. Everything should be long and thin and pretty easy to stash away.
4) Space: I am city dweller and, as such, I don't have a garage or easy access to a basement. I cannot overwinter my plants and shrubs indoors. At the same time, I have very limited outdoor space for a greenhouse in the winter and even less in the summer when I want to use my deck
for gardening and pleasure.

Full disclosure: This greenhouse has not been put to use for a single winter yet. There will be many challenges and the real success will be in the spring when (if all goes well) my plants and shrubs emerge from their winter slumber and thrive once again in the warmer weather.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

PVC Greenhouse: Sizing your greenhouse

When I get around to scanning my hand drawn plans for my greenhouse you will see that I intended a 6 foot wide, 10 foot long 8 foot high frame with ribs made of 10 foot pipe lengths. This planning was well intentioned but the resulting greenhouse was a monster. I know because I loosely assembled it and was awed by its size. I adjusted mid-course in a few areas and now have a more modest 5 x 10* x 6 high with 8 foot ribs. Let me provide some sizing guidance and tell you about my experience working with PVC.

*10 feet actually became 11 feet which I explain below.

Watch your greenhouse "grow"
Whatever the initial dimensions of your pipe lengths are cut to, expect them to grow a little as you assemble them. The reason is that each tim you cut a pipe to insert a fitting you are adding between 1 and 2 inches.

In my case, I started with 10 ft long 1 inch PVC for the long base pipes. I need to cut those 10 foots to insert the T--shape pipe fitting where the ribs attached at the base. Each of the six T-pipe fitting is 2 1/2 inches long. No matter how hard you try to shove the ends of the cut pipe into the pipe fitting you'll have difficulty getting them inserted flush. In addition, there is at least 3/4 inch of space in the middle of the T to accommodate the rib attachment. So, in my case, my long 10- foot base pipe was almost 11 feet long.

Square Structure Sizing
I used 1 inch PVC for the square structure. When shopping for your PVC pipe grab two different 10 foot long piece: 1-3/4 inch and 1-1 inch. You'll notice the 3/4 inch bends and drops and the 1 inch basically holds its form. It was the rigidity of the 1 inch that drove me in that direction for the square structure. If you are going to have any dimension in your structure greater than 10 feet, I'd recommend upgrading above the 1 inch. This will add weight and dollars to your project so you may want to keep it to 10 ft. or less.

Additionally, consider whether you want to hang baskets from square frame. If so, you can upgrade the PVC pipe above 1 inch, add vertical supports half way down the 10 foot pipe, or plan to run galvanized electrical metal tubing inside your PVC for greater stability.

Curvature and length of the ribs
I used 3/4 inch PVC for the ribs. This seemed just flexible enough to bend around the square 1 inch pipe frame while still solid enough for a reliable structure. The 1 inch pipe is firm enough to hold mostly square and not to bow while 3/4 inch pipe is bent around it. However, where the ribs meet the square structure is a stress point . You need the ribs to be about 2 feet longer than the height of the square structure. If they are less the square structure will bow and curve under the ribs.

Ribs spacing
Space your ribs at about 2 feet apart. This should give the proper amount of support when it is time to add the exterior sheeting. If you cut lengths of pipe at 2 ft and add T fittings the spacing will be a bit over 2 ft but, in the end, it will be fine.

PVC is not an exact science
I'd like to close the sizing section with the notion that PVC was not made for this kind of contruction. When you start to fit you pipes and fitting together variances will be introduced. One pipe inserts 3/4 of inch into the fitting but anoth 5/8 of an inch. A T fitting for a one inch pipe adds 2 inches of length but a T fittings for a 3/4 inch pipe add less. In the end the dimensions change and grow as you assemble no matter how well you plan. The good news is that PVC is flexible...You should be too!!!

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