Designing a year-round solar greenhouse


Solar greenhouses are a carbon-friendly means of growing plants, fruit and vegetables. They differ from regular greenhouses in their ability to provide not just natural light for the contents of the greenhouse, but also heat as they store energy through solar panels which can be re-used for heating. To maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of your solar greenhouse, you should consider how your solar greenhouse is designed, so that you are able to save money by using less water, energy and resources, and to grow more fruit and veg all year round. The most obvious place to start, is where you should put your greenhouse.

When you are considering the design of your greenhouse and setting up its location, ensure that it is placed on a level surface. When you are installing, double check that is secure and stable. Failure to do so will result in many problems later down the line – especially in those stormy winter months. Panels and glass are affected by poor installation, and may not last as well as a securely-installed greenhouse will as they could become loose. So, even if you are installing your greenhouse in the summer and assume that everything is ok, just bear in mind how the greenhouse will react to traumatic winter weather.

Your greenhouse should face towards the sun to capture as much heat and light as possible – and therefore collate more energy. If you are in the northern hemisphere, your greenhouse should face towards the south. Many people think that this is the only thing that they need to consider, however there are other changes you should look at making, such as gaining the most efficiency from the light and heat that is captured.

greenhouseInsulating the greenhouse is one way that you can conserve the energy received from the sun. Not every surface is needed for collecting light, and by insulating the surfaces that do not, you can preserve the heat that the greenhouse receives. One way in which to do this, is to use shade paint. The best surface to be insulated is the North wall (as the South wall is the most efficient one to receive the Sun’s energy), but you should also look to insulate parts of the west and east walls too – the parts that are not receiving as much energy as others.

Another method of insulating your greenhouse, is to use sealant. A waterproof seal such as silicon, keeps the heat in and protects the greenhouse against rainfall. Whilst we are discussing rain, some greenhouse owners are also anxious to protect their greens from heavy storms and build fences or natural hedges as a barrier. This obviously depends on your specific geography, and the likelihood that your greenhouse will be damaged from storms and natural disasters.

Another method of insulation to consider, is thermal mass. You want to be storing as much thermal energy inside your greenhouse as possible, so concrete, stone, water and soil all make good forms of thermal mass. For example, you could choose to use water gallon drums as a form of preserving energy. Alternatively, bubble wrap also makes a good form of insulation (although this is not necessarily the most aesthetically-pleasing of ideas!!)

Whilst we are discussing the preservation of heat inside, you should overlook the heat that can be lost through the ground. Insulatingyour underground can help resolve this problem. When the topsoil freezes, you are likely to lose heat through the floor of the greenhouse so remember the greenhouse’s fifth wall when insulating. It might be more cost effective to only insulate specific parts of the greenhouse during certain seasons – again this is dependent on your living location.

When making your seasonal changes, you should also factor in the amount of energy you are receiving – both not enough and too much can affect how efficient your greenhouse is. During the winter months, when less sun and therefore energy can be stored, maximise your greenhouse’s exposure to the sunlight. Pay close attention to the angles of sunlight that reach you (they do differ all year round), so that you are receiving the most that you can. By contrast, during the summer months, you could receive too much heat. Excessive heat can damage plants, and most prefer a light-diffusing form of glazing. Keeping a greenhouse involves regular changes and maintenance all year round.

Furthermore, the conditions inside your greenhouse can also be manipulated by you.To ensure that you are growing the healthiest and strongest plants, vegetables and fruit, their needs to be a good flow of air. Ventilation can be enhanced by keeping intake vents low and exhaust vents higher. Moving air also reduces mold, keeps insects and pathogens at bay.

More directly, the health and speed by which your plants grow should also change depending on the conditions. During hot months, more watering is required. Not only do plants lose water through evaporation, but they also use water in transpiration. It is simple to check that your plant has enough water and this should be monitored regularly. Foliage dying and leaves losing colour or wilting are signs that your plant is dehydrated.

In addition to watering plants individually, you should also consider their wider environment. During hot weather, you can cool the atmosphere by thoroughly watering the hard surfaces as much as is necessary (around three times throughout the day in the summer). Not only does this provide the plants with an environment that is increased in humidity, but it also keeps away unwanted insects from your greenhouse!

Solar greenhouses can provide you with an incredibly exciting and efficient way of storing energy, and growing a variety of plants that can feed you and others around you forever! Although the design of a solar greenhouse can be quite complex, the benefits that you will receive from an effective design will help you to make the most from your greenhouse. View it as an exciting project, and enjoy your greenhouse experience!

Designing a year-round solar greenhouse
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Designing a year-round solar greenhouse
Build your own year-round solar greenhouse using tips and advice from a builder with decades of greenhouse construction experience.
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