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If you’re an avid gardener or love picking your own fresh citrus straight from the tree, a greenhouse or orangerie is the perfect addition to your home. Adding one is a great way to prolong your growing season and protect your crops from the cold — not to mention, with an addition like a conservatory, you can try your hand at growing plants not native to your area. If daylight saving time or the long stretch of winter signals a drop in your mood, greenhouses can also provide a healthy lift in spirits by bringing the wonders of nature indoors. If all this sounds like a dream come true, here are a few more tips to keep you on the right track when purchasing a greenhouse:

What size greenhouse or conservatory should I consider?

Greenhouses come in a wide variety of sizes, so consider whether you’ll be using yours seasonally, year-round or simply as a sunny indoor space. Other things to keep in mind are your budget and available space. Many vendors offer kits or frames that come in a predetermined size, but many conservatory owners later discover they need more space than they originally anticipated. Upgrading to a larger size may be costlier than purchasing a larger orangerie or greenhouse to begin with, so thoroughly analyze how you plan to use your space. Don’t forget to consider how much headroom you’ll need, too. Many people forget to consider peak and eave (or sidewall) height, plus it’s worth noting that taller units are easier to ventilate and heat.

What types of materials do greenhouses come in?

Generally, greenhouses come in glass or a variety of plastics. Here are some pros and cons of both to help you decide which is right for you:
• Glass: The more traditional greenhouse option, glass can be aesthetically pleasing. However, you’ll want to choose glass that’s double or triple strength to increase its heating efficiency and protect it from cracks. Glass is also the heaviest of your choices and doesn’t diffuse light very well. A conservatory or orangerie will most likely feature glazed walls and a roof; the difference between the two is that an orangerie typically has heavier joinery and a roof lantern surrounded by a plaster ceiling.
• Plastic: If you decide to go the plastic route, you’ll have the choice of fiberglass, polycarbonate and polyethylene film, all of which are shatterproof and resistant to damage from hail. Fiberglass retains heat more efficiently than glass and will transmit less heat into your building. However, it can be difficult to clean thanks to its corrugated form and the residue from its gel coat. Polycarbonate is durable and resistant and has the clarity of glass, but also requires several layers to reach the best quality. Polyethylene film is great for heat retention and seasonal needs, plus it’s easy to maintain. It does, however, have a relatively short life span, since it’s more prone to rips and tears than the other choices.

What type of ventilation, heating and insulation does my greenhouse need?

Again, your ventilation, heating and insulation all depend on how you plan to use your greenhouse. To begin your spring growing season early, extend your growing season into fall or provide winter protection for your plants, automatic ventilation and heating is the way to go. For colder climates or growing plants during the winter, you’ll also want to add an insulated covering. If you prefer to grow your plants year-round, be sure to tightly seal and insulate with light transmission. You’ll also want to add an active ventilation system and evaporative cooling system to control the heat during the summer.

What type of frames do greenhouses have?

Your choice of frame will again depend on what your greenhouse will be used for. Here are some helpful pros and cons for each type:
• Galvanized steel: Low in cost and high in strength, steel frames are durable and long lasting and require less framework, which decreases shadows. However, their polyethylene film will eventually wear off and likely rust.
• Aluminum: Easy to maintain yet slightly more expensive, aluminum is the longest-lasting frame choice due to the fact that it won’t rust, rot or break down from UV rays. However, it's not as strong as steel.
• Wood: Wood frames are attractive and lose little heat, although they may deteriorate easily in a damp unit. If you go the wood route, consider redwood or cedar since those woods are more resistant to elements and insects, and be sure to apply a sealant or stain for longevity.
• Plastic: Inexpensive and easy to install, plastic frames lose little heat yet tend to be weaker than other options. They can also deteriorate from too much exposure to UV rays.

Where should I build my greenhouse or orangerie?

First things first: Double check to make sure your property’s building codes will allow the construction of a greenhouse or orangerie. Certain zoning ordinances, deed restrictions and building codes may limit what you can build on your property. It’s also possible that you may need a building permit or that there will be restrictions on where you can place your new conservatory.

The location of your greenhouse will depend on how you plan to use it. If you’re planning on raising seedlings and transplants, you’ll want a location that receives partial shade. If partial shade isn’t available, a shade cloth can help control the amount of sunlight that reaches your plants. If you’d like to continue your growing season into the late fall and winter or grow your plants to maturity, you’ll need as much sunlight as possible — at least six hours per day. Try to position your unit so its ends are facing east and west to provide more heat gain in the winter.

As for conservatories or an orangerie, most added to the existing home or in a lean-to design. Still, you’ll want to consider how much shade and sun your new addition will receive. Citrus trees grow best with a warm and sunny southern or western exposure.