Alternative, Frugal Greenhouse Ideas

A large hoop house with white cover in a field of green grass with a row of trees behind it.

If you're wishing you had a greenhouse but don't have the funds for one, check out these ideas for alternatives to the traditional greenhouses.

Alternative, frugal greenhouse ideas

This post was updated in January 2023

I've wanted a greenhouse for forever. 

A greenhouse or a high tunnel, either one. Or a sunroom attached to the south or west side of our house, somewhere I can start seeds early in the season. 

And to sit in during the winter when it's cold but I want to be "outside."

I've even collected a few windows here and there, and the storm door that we replaced on our home a few years ago, but I don't have enough to build my own greenhouse. Yet.

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Here are some unusual greenhouse ideas that my friends have used, as well as suggestions on how to heat a small greenhouse structure. These DIY greenhouse ideas will save you money too.

Unusual DIY greenhouses and heating methods

Are you wishing for a greenhouse? Maybe it IS possible.

Over the years I've found some innovative ideas for home-made greenhouses, hoop houses and other structures, as well as how to keep the plants inside them warm.

NRCS grant program

In case you're wondering, the high tunnel in the photos in this post belongs to a friend of mine. She got it through an NRCS grant program.

This program may not be available in all states.

A large hoop house in a field of grass with trees behind it.

A lean-to hoop house 

Another homesteading family I know built a lean-to greenhouse on the south side of their home. The structure was made of 16'x4' wire cattle panels (also called utility panels) with a short end on the ground and the other end attached under the eaves of their home. 

The framework was then covered with greenhouse plastic. The ends were built with wood, including a window for venting on hot days, and a door to the outside.

The wire panels are sixteen feet long, so they were bent into a curve before attaching them to the house.

The panels were attached to each other along their long sides, and formed a "room" alongside their home. It was sort of "half a hoop house" or a half-round shape.

By opening the windows between their house and the hoop house in the winter, these homesteaders took advantage of their wood stove's heat to keep their plants warm.

An in-the-ground greenhouse

I bought a goat from another homesteading family who built an in-the-ground greenhouse attached to their storm shelter.

They'd excavated right next to the half-in-the-ground tornado shelter and poured concrete for the floor and walls that went several feet deep into the ground, with concrete stairs at one end.

This "hole in the ground" was topped with a metal frame and glass windows that let the sun shine in. The greenhouse addition was the same size and height as their concrete tornado shelter, which made it attractive as well as functional.

Plants lined the shelves they'd built along the back wall. On particularly cold nights they used heat lamps (the kind used to keep chicks warm) to keep the space above freezing.

Seedlings growing in a seedling tray against a white background.

A tiny greenhouse made with windows

Yet another friend collected windows, just as I have. She finally decided she had enough of them for a closet-sized greenhouse, which her husband built.

She said she only needed it for seed-starting in the spring, and she didn't need a structure large enough to walk in. 

It was built against the steel siding of their garage, on the south side of the building. The steel absorbed the heat of the sun and kept the seedlings warm, but she also had a heat lamp inside for really cold nights.

Her little greenhouse was about 5 feet tall, and the width of one window. The front was made from a glass storm door. 

Her total materials consisted of four windows, the glass storm door on the front, and a wooden roof. The back wall of the greenhouse was the wall of the garage.

There wasn't enough room inside for her to walk in, but there were shelves inside for her seedling trays that she could access when the door was open. 

How to heat an unheated greenhouse

My fortunate friend with the drool-worthy hoophouse in these photos has a heated above-ground swimming pool inside to provide warmth for her plants. (And for an occasional winter swim too!)

Other methods of heating include:

  • Composting inside your greenhouse or hoop house
  • Housing chickens or rabbits inside your greenhouse or hoop house
  • A concrete or brick floor to capture the sun's heat during the day and release it at night
  • Building your structure against a brick, stone or metal wall
  • Water barrels (often painting black) inside the greenhouse or hoop house to capture and release thermal heat

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