A Greenhouse for Cold Climates, Eh?

By Miriam Schaffer
exterior cold climate greenhouse

A Greenhouse for Cold Climates, Eh?

A Greenhouse for Cold Climates, Eh?

Not all greenhouses are created equal. Variance in greenhouse design, heating systems, and structural materials make certain greenhouses more applicable for colder climates than others. For instance, a hoop house might be a great season extender for a grower in the Pacific Northwest, but it couldn’t withstand high wind and snow loads that occur in regions like the Midwest or Canada. If you are a grower living in a northern climate, you need structural integrity and full environmental control to successfully produce in your greenhouse through the cold, dark and snowy Winter months. 

At Ceres, we get a lot of questions about whether our greenhouse design is fit for colder climates. The answer is YES, Let us explain why a Ceres greenhouse is an optimal cold climate greenhouse.

Design 

Traditionally greenhouses are designed to maximize interior sunlight and solar gain for ideal greenhouse temperature. While this sounds desirable, oftentimes this concept entails glazing materials making up most of the greenhouse. Excess glazing allows heat to escape faster, making a greenhouse inefficient and expensive to heat if you live in a colder climate. If you live in a northern climate you’ll want your greenhouse to be insulated while also allowing a sufficient amount of sunlight in. 

At Ceres, we’ve patented a passive solar greenhouse design that harvests the sun’s energy and retains it with insulated North, West and East solid end walls. The East-West orientation of our greenhouses allows for sunlight to enter the greenhouse, through the south-facing roof, and reflect back onto the plants after bouncing off the North wall. With this design our growers are seeing light levels up to 100% more inside their greenhouse than outside in the Winter. Additionally, our insulated walls work well to retain thermal energy inside our greenhouses,   lowering heating costs.  

sun harvest render

Heating 

Even with an insulated design, using supplemental heating may be necessary in colder regions depending on what you want to grow.. Common ways of heating a cold weather greenhouse include installing an HVAC system or using space heaters. While effective, these methods can really bump up your energy bill through the Winter months. An alternative would be to choose a more sustainable and energy-efficient heating system like a Ceres GAHT™ System

GAHT during the day

Our patented GAHT™ (ground to air heat transfer) System is a form of climate battery that provides year-round climate control by utilizing the volume of soil underground as thermal mass to help regulate internal temperatures. Our GAHT™ system uses minimal energy to operate and will heat and cool a greenhouse at a fraction of the cost of a traditional HVAC system. This system is effective in every climate because, below Earth’s surface, soil temperatures remain constant year-round – at about 50-60°F. Our ground to air heat transfer system harnesses that energy in the soil for efficient heating. For growers living in colder climates, the corrugated pipes of our GAHT™ system can be installed at different depths to accommodate for deeper frost lines. 

Ceres has designed and installed more air heat exchange systems than any company worldwide and many of our clients use their GAHT™ system as their sole source of heating and cooling. 

Structural Materials 

A greenhouse optimized for cold climates can withstand high wind and snow loads while maintaining a controlled temperature within. Different structural materials are better than others when it comes to accomplishing this. For instance, a galvanized steel frame will endure the harshest of Winter climates and will last much longer than a stick frame.  

At Ceres, we take into account your geographic location to design a greenhouse that meets your local wind and snow loads. This means determining appropriate truss spacing so your greenhouse can stand against 75+ mph winds, and recommending glazing material that will allow high light transmission while also supporting a heavy snow load. It’s also imperative that you consider materials with higher insulation values for your cold climate greenhouse. Our insulated metal panels (IMPs), that make up the north, east and west walls, work to prevent heat and light from escaping. We offer IMPs with insulation ratings up to R-42. For more information on greenhouse materials and their specifications, contact a greenhouse expert.

Case Study 

We invite the challenge of designing and building greenhouses for extreme climates. In fact, part of our core vision is to come up with grow solutions for regions where producing food year-round is challenging. Here’s a quick story about one of our clients who lives in Almonte, Ontario, Canada – a place where Winter lasts about 6 months out of the year.

The client in question came to Ceres because he was tired of buying “crappy greens from California” (that’s a travel distance of 3,000 miles or 4800 km). He wanted a year-round greenhouse to produce his own lettuce, that was more efficient than the traditional greenhouse designs he saw on nearby farms. Ceres worked with him to design a passive solar greenhouse that would use innovative technology to successfully grow greens through the bitter cold Almonte Winter. The goal was to see how inexpensively we could build a high-tech Canadian greenhouse. Ceres took into account his local wind and snow loads and designed a 30’x70’ HighYield™ Kit greenhouse combined with a GAHT™ system.

exterior cold climate greenhouse

Construction of his greenhouse finished in August and he is currently producing lettuce hydroponically at full capacity for himself and the local community. The name of his greenhouse farm is “Greenshaus Inc.” which is a nod to the German engineering of the structure. We spoke to him this month (November 2019) and he is currently heating his greenhouse with his GAHT™ system ONLY. November temperatures outside his greenhouse get down to 22°F (-7°C) and the inside of the greenhouse consistently stays above 55°F (12°C). We are excited to see data like this coming from one of our more standard greenhouse designs. 

The lettuce that he grows arrives on the shelves of the local grocery stores, or is plated at a local restaurant, the same day it’s picked. He also serves his local community by opening up his greenhouse to the public on Thursdays. Community members come by and pick their own lettuce and get to shake the hand of the farmer who grew it. And we can attest that his greens are incredibly tasty and fresh and don’t have the flavorless quality of lettuce that’s been shipped thousands of miles.

If you would like to learn more about this client’s greenhouse journey or have questions about your cold weather greenhouse project, contact us

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