When it comes to efficient greenhouse design, the best way to achieve success is to keep it simple. Start by identifying what you plan to use your greenhouse for. Annuals? Perennials? Pulls? If you have a large operation, it might make sense to have a few different barns for different applications. If this is your first greenhouse structure, it’s a good idea to start small and simple.
Decide what you plan to grow, what conditions you’ll need, and what size greenhouse you’re planning to build. From there, it’s time to design your efficient greenhouse.
Here are 5 tips that can help you implement an efficient greenhouse design, whether you’re planning a new greenhouse, or working to make your existing greenhouse more efficient.
#1 Determine Your Material Handling Process
Material handling is a greenhouse consideration that’s often left for last. But, how you plan to move plant material in and out of your greenhouse will have an impact on the overall design of your greenhouse. For the greatest efficiency, it’s worthwhile to establish your material handling process before you design the rest of the greenhouse.
Consider what material handling equipment you plan to use — portable modular conveyor belts? Manual or driven carts?
The equipment you choose will dictate a number of design features, like the space you’ll need between aisles. Quality material handling equipment, especially flexible solutions like portable modular conveyor belts can provide greater efficiency while reducing your labor requirements.
#2 Choose an Efficient Greenhouse Structure & Covering
Once you’ve decided how you’ll move material in and out of your greenhouse, it’s time to choose a structure and a covering. Your greenhouse structure is the bones of your operation. You’ll want to choose a structure and shape that work well with the plants you plan to grow.
What’s more important to the efficiency of your greenhouse, however, is the covering you choose. While there are plenty of options on the market, from glass to film to hard polycarbonate, some options are more efficient than others. Here are a few greenhouse covering options to consider if you’re hoping to make your greenhouse as energy efficient as possible:
- Double Layer Film with Inflation System. If you’re looking for an affordable and efficient option, a double layer poly film with an inflation system is a good option. The poly film itself is inexpensive, and the inflation system, which creates a pocket of air between the two layers, provides increased resistance to temperature variables. This greenhouse covering option will help keep your greenhouse warmer for a longer period of time, without the help of a heater.
- Twin Wall Polycarbonate. Though a twin-wall polycarbonate cover might be a bit more expensive, you’ll reap benefits both from increased greenhouse efficiency and an extended lifespan. Polycarbonate will last twice as long as a film covering, and makes for an efficient greenhouse design option.
#3 Consider How You’ll Regulate Temperature
The greatest threat to an efficient greenhouse design is fluctuating temperature. Since greenhouses need a great deal of ventilation and sunlight, it’s difficult to make them as efficient as a traditional building.
For some greenhouses, that means huge energy costs as they consistently heat and cool depending on the exterior temperature. It’s good to know that there are inexpensive and more efficient ways to regulate the temperature of your greenhouse:
A water wall or a wet wall is an efficient way to regulate the temperature of your greenhouse. There are a few ways to implement them. The easiest is to fill polyethylene bags with water. The bags absorb solar energy during the day, and radiate it into the greenhouse at night, keeping greenhouses in cooler climates warmer at night.
For hot, dry climates, a wet wall is commonly installed. Large fans blow air over a wet pad on a wall in the greenhouse. The water evaporates and is blown through the greenhouse, helping to cool it and increase the humidity for greenhouses in particularly dry environments. Though you will expend energy on the fans in this method, it’s still a more efficient option than a full air conditioner or constantly running a humidifier.
Another option to efficiently regulate the temperature in your greenhouse is a shade cloth. These can be installed outside the greenhouse on a push-pull drive or using manual operation. A shade cloth can perform two helpful actions that support efficient greenhouse design:
- Retain heat. The shade cloth prevents radiated heat loss by reflecting heat coming out of the greenhouse back into the growing area.
- Cooling and shade. During the summer months, a shade cloth can help reduce your cooling and water needs by shading plants on very hot, dry days. Shade cloths do significantly reduce sunlight to your plants, so it’s important to use them intuitively.
Installing a shade cloth on a push-pull drive or a cable drive is a good idea, so it can be moved easily and quickly throughout the day as light and temperatures change.
#4 Keep Your Greenhouse Leak-Free
Air leaks are detrimental to efficient greenhouse design. Unfortunately, they’re also very common, especially if you’re using a poly film covering, which is more likely to be punctured than a hard polycarbonate covering. That said, there are plenty of precautions you can take to reduce air leaks in your greenhouse:
- Keep doors closed. A simple, but effective way to improve your greenhouse’s energy efficiency.
- Use weather stripping. Weather stripping around windows, doors, fans, and air vents is always a good idea.
- Repair tears in covering. The faster you repair holes and tears in your greenhouse covering, the more efficient your greenhouse can be. Consider having a staff member complete daily or weekly checks to identify new tears and holes.
- Use insulation. If possible, installing quality insulation is the best way to reduce air leaks and temperature fluctuations in your greenhouse.
#5 Lighting Efficiently
For many greenhouses, natural light in the summer is all you need for quality crop growth. But, if you’re hoping to extend the growing season or support plants in early spring and late fall, you’ll need to install additional lighting.
Greenhouse lighting is a huge energy drain, and represents a large percentage of any greenhouse’s overall operating costs. For efficient greenhouse design, it’s important to install lighting intuitively and choose the best lighting option for your operation.
The most common lighting options for greenhouses are LEDs, high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, and compact fluorescents. If you’re working hard to implement an efficient greenhouse design, then LEDs should be your first choice. They offer significant energy savings and their bulbs last more than 10 times longer than HID lamps.
The drawback here is their upfront cost. You’ll certainly pay more for an LED bulb than for either an HID or compact fluorescent. But, if efficient greenhouse design is your goal, and you recognize the 40-70% energy savings that LEDs can provide, they are your best option.
There’s a lot that goes into efficient greenhouse design, from how you layout your greenhouse to how you build and insulate it. If you consider these 5 tips when building or renovating your next greenhouse, you’re sure to see significant energy and labor savings.
A key element of any efficient greenhouse is the ability to move products from one barn to another productively. Rapid-Veyor’s portable conveyors offer all the functionality you need, in a lightweight package that’s easy to move or configure according to your specific needs. Give our team a call at 616-662-0954 or contact us online for more information today!
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