Building A New Greenhouse

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Building A New Greenhouse

So you’re thinking of building a new greenhouse? Here are some tips I’ve learned building our new propagation range in Fresno, Calif.

The first thing on your list should be to create a master plan on how your structures will be laid out now and potentially in the future. This should include all utilities entering the greenhouses and any special requirements for your equipment. You might not build on your greenhouse for a while, but you should always give yourself the option of adding on in the future without any obstructions.

Questions you need to address during this process:

- Can the new greenhouse(s) be built on our existing property without any modifications?

- Do we need to move older structures to accommodate our new greenhouses? To keep the flow of your new greenhouse, it might be better to move some of your existing structures.

- What are the timelines to build this structure and what permits do I need? It’s important to check with the Building Department beforehand as building codes are always changing. You don’t want to order your greenhouses and then find out they can’t be built.

- Figure out how you’re going to power this greenhouse in regards to electricity and heating source. Will it be natural gas, propane or alternative fuels? Will your current power source be able to handle the extra load, or will you need to install another electrical panel and gas source? If you have to install another electrical panel, think about the future load and install a larger service panel. Also at this time you might consider a three-phase electrical panel if you currently don’t have one. Three-phase electrical motors are more efficient than single-phase. You will find the cost to operate between single-phase motors and three-phase motors over the lifetime of your greenhouse can be enormous.

- What greenhouse company has the type of greenhouse you want? Remember to choose carefully. The supplier you choose will be your partner in helping you grow your business now and into the future. Pick one that has a good reputation and will fix any problem that should arise during construction or operations. Ask them for referrals for the type of greenhouses you plan to build that have been in operation at least a year. Talk to the owners or growers and ask if there have been any issues or problems they have encountered.

- What equipment do you need to make this greenhouse work? Check with the equipment companies you’re considering and ask them for references close to your operations. Again, do the same due diligence as you did with the greenhouse manufacturer. Once I pick an equipment company, I like to keep all the equipment the same. This helps keep the maintenance more simple in regards to parts and repairs. The more different equipment, the harder it gets in stocking parts and repairs.

Once you have the above questions answered, you’ve come to the hardest part: What is the cost for all this and where will the funding come from? 

The Budget

It will be very important in this process to be as accurate as possible so you will not get yourself into a cash flow bind building your new greenhouse. I and others have learned the hard way that whatever you estimate the cost to be, you always seem to be over the budget by 15 to 20 percent. I highly recommend that you add that into the budget as a safety net. Remember you don’t want to dip into your savings or use your supplier’s money to finish your project.

In this process you will need to cost the following:

1. Structure includes benches, energy curtains, environmental controls, heating and cooling systems, fertility equipment and glazing.

2. Construction, which includes all installations of both structure and equipment in your new project.

3. Preparation cost, which includes grading or tear down of older facilities and clean up.

4. Power systems, which include new gas services and new electrical panel along with a new water system, if needed.

5. Concrete work, which includes walkways, flooring or driveways.

6. Electrical and plumbing work to all your equipment.

7. Any equipment you might be thinking of purchasing.

8. Freight cost. Don’t overlook this, because the freight on all your material and equipment can add up. Remember the material will be shipping from all parts of the country and sometimes from overseas.

Now that you have a budget for your new greenhouse, the next decision and the most important one is which method of funding you will use. If your project is a smaller job, leasing can be used with payments usually over three to seven years. The benefits of leasing are less paperwork and the structure and equipment are used as collateral, so your down payment will be smaller. If your project is larger, banks offer longer terms and lower interest rates. The tradeoff is the amount of paperwork needed and a larger contribution on your part. Both will require three years worth of financial records. The banks will want to know how you are going to pay them and cash flow this, so be prepared to explain how you intend to do this. Whether you are going through the bank or a leasing company, it’s best to have several companies to approach to get the best terms. 

Let’s Get Going

If your credit was excellent and you have been fully funded, the next process is coordinating with all your contractors. Always keep everyone informed. Your contractors will not be happy if they have their crews sitting around because parts have not arrived or other contractors are in the way.

On our project, I acted as the general contractor and kept everyone informed and on track. You will want to create a job board with all contractors listed and a timeline when they are supposed to come in and do their jobs. The job board is useful because you can easily see if everyone is on schedule or if there might be a conflict with contractors getting in each other’s way.

Here are a few helpful hints you should keep in mind (I had to learn them the hard way): When you have a problem or pricing issue with anyone on your project, write down what was said and have them sign the copy so you can have that on file in case any issues arise in the future regarding payment or job performance. Also, if you think your project will take three months, it’s safer if you allow another month to allow for unforeseen issues (which always seem to arise).

Those are some quick pointers for building your new greenhouse. There will be times when you wonder what else can go wrong? But with good preparation and coordination with your suppliers and contractors, you will minimize as many problems as you can before they slow down your project.

Danny Takao is president of Garden Bloomers Takao Nursery, Fresno, Calif., and vice president of OFA - An Association Of Floriculture Professionals. You can e-mail him at

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