On the surface, a greenhouse can be considered an environmentally-friendly architectural structure as it stands due to the protective environment it provides for various types of plants.Â They serve to optimize plant growth by trapping heat and providing light in winter months, stabilizing unreliable water supplies, preventing withering with controlled cooling in summer months, and minimizing exposure to pests and harmful bacteria. However, depending on the location of the greenhouse and the types of plants being grown within, maintaining a suitable environment can consume a lot of energy. Electricity-fueled ventilation fans, grow lights, heaters, and pumps run up energy bills significantly and rather unnecessarily.
There are many different ways a greenhouse can be constructed and maintained efficiently. Listed below are just a few options greenhouse growers should consider to lower utility bills and reduce the infrastructureâ€™s overall carbon footprint:
- Ventilation – Natural ventilation systems – like those used by West Virginia Universityâ€™s Department of Agricultural Engineering – consist of multiple vents placed strategically around the greenhouse, such as the roof and perimeter of the building. Be sure to invest in larger exhaust fans if needed, as they tend to be more energy-efficient than smaller ones.
- Heating â€“ Solar panels, although an expensive investment, work to convert sunlight into natural heating for your greenhouse, which can save a lot on your energy bill in the long run. Cheaper options include placing hay bales around the building, installing a thermal curtain to trap heat, and running hot water or steam pipes under the floor, all of which use less energy than heaters.
- Lighting â€“ High-output lights, such as straight-tube fluorescents and cool white LEDs, produce more light, and use less electricity than low-output lights. Â LEDs also have a longer lifetime than other types of lighting, which helps to reduce material waste.
- Irrigation â€“ Drip irrigation systems send water directly to roots at set times preventing overwatering of plants and excessive water waste. Install a rainwater collection tank and water plants early in the morning, so your plants have a chance to take in the water before it evaporates.
- Insulation â€“ Adding additional layers of insulated covering, like polyethylene over glass, improves insulation by reducing fuel use as much as 30%. When installing insulation boards in walls choose reflective boards over foam boards and thoroughly cover the north wall to reduce heat loss.
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