When it comes to year-round or seasonal growing, there are three types of structures that are commonly used: hoop houses, greenhouses, and high tunnels. While all three can be used for growing crops and extending your growing season, there are some key differences between them that you should take into account when deciding which option is best for you.
|Greenhouse||High Tunnel||Hoop House|
|Best For||Warm weather plants and year round growing||Providing the most growing space||Small spaces; most flexibility|
|Durability||Most durable||Less durable||Less durable|
|Lighting||Let’s more light through||Around 80% light penetration||Around 80% light penetration|
|Ease to Build||Most involved||Second most involved||Easiest|
|Shape||Gothic style, which arched ceilings||Round, but can be gothic style as well||Usually round|
What Are Hoop Houses?
Hoop House Features
- Also called a polytunnel
- Shorter than a high tunnel
- Most flexible
- Easiest to setup
- Cheap to build
- Don’t last as long as greenhouses
- Can’t grow all year long
To start, let’s take a look at hoop houses.
Hoop houses are typically made from metal or PVC pipes that are covered with a polyethylene film. They’re relatively inexpensive to build, and they can be placed directly on the ground or raised up on supports. You can even buy hoop house kits and get everything you need to build one.
Hoop houses offer good ventilation and light transmission, and they can be used for both heat-loving and cold-tolerant crops. However, they don’t offer as much protection from the elements as greenhouses or high tunnels do.
Smaller hoop houses are common for backyard gardeners and small crop farmers. They can even be small enough to look like a more robust shade cloth for keeping out pests and the elements.
What Are High Tunnels?
High Tunnel Features
- Tallest option
- Allows for tractors and tillers to fit inside
- Location flexibility
- Simple to setup but need 2 people
- Cheaper than greenhouses
- Don’t last as long as greenhouses
High tunnels are similar to hoop houses in that they’re made from similar materials and they offer good protection from the elements. However, the high tunnel was constructed to be taller and allow for tractors and other machinery to fit inside.
High tunnels are more expensive than hoop houses, but less expensive than a greenhouse, making them a good choice if you want more space, but don’t want as permanent a structure or to spend as much money.
You can grow crops directly in the ground, or install raised beds.
What is a Greenhouse?
- Most permanent of the three
- Best for year round growing
- Allows the most light in
- Most expensive option to build
- Harder to put together
Greenhouses are made from a variety of materials, including glass or greenhouse plastic, like polycarbonate and fiberglass. They’re typically more expensive than both hoop houses and high tunnels, but they offer better protection from the elements and more control over light transmission.
Greenhouse structures can be used for a wide range of crops, but they’re particularly well-suited for heat-loving plants. You can even grow tropical plants in a greenhouse as they retain heat quite well if built right.
A greenhouse is a more permanent structure so they can be hard to move or add on to. However, they do offer a much more controlled environment.
Hoop House vs Greenhouse vs High Tunnel
Let’s compare the three on features to see which is the right option for your garden or farm.
The main differences between a hoop house, greenhouse, and high tunnel are the size and the amount of time they allow you to extend your growing season by.
A hoop house is the smallest structure, the easiest to setup, and the cheapest to build. You can go even smaller if you want to get a mini greenhouse or something more portable.
A high tunnel offers the most growing space, is easy to setup but is a two-person job, and is much cheaper than a greenhouse to build.
A greenhouse is the most expensive, but also the most durable of the three, and allows for all year round growing conditions.
Light & Permeability
All plants need light to grow, but they don’t all need direct sunlight.
- Greenhouses let in the most direct light, which is great for growing but something to keep in mind as plants do get sunscald with too much direct sunlight.
- Hoop houses and high tunnels let in about 70-80% sunlight as they use translucent plastic, which is often perfect for most vegetables and crops.
If you’re growing plants that need direct sunlight and the more heat, a greenhouse might be the better option for you.
Most crops cannot grow in cold weather, which is the point of having a greenhouse structure in the first place. However, not all of these have the same ability to control temperature or ventilate the air as well.
- Greenhouses can be heated and also absorb the most heat of these tree
- Hoop houses and high tunnels usually cannot be heated, making them more of a 3 season type of structure
Because hoop houses and high tunnels are built using a thin sheet (or two) of polyethylene plastic, they do not keep as much heat in as greenhouse plastic would.
This makes greenhouses a better option for plants that need to be kept warm, such as tropical plants. Additionally, if you’re looking to grow year round then a greenhouse might be your best bet.
Hoop houses are more ventilated than greenhouses, which can be important in hot weather. However, this also means that hoop houses are more prone to temperature fluctuations and aren’t great for cold weather.
Just how much exactly does each of these cost to build? Let’s take a look.
|Greenhouse||High Tunnel||Hoop House|
|Low||$25/sq ft||$1/sq ft||$0.50/sq ft|
|Average||$30/sq ft||$2/sq ft||$1/sq ft|
|High||$35/sq ft||$3/sq ft||$2/sq ft|
Of course, the costs are going to vary based on what materials you decide to use, how large your space is, and if you’re incorporating a door, windows, and a floor.
In addition, if you buy a hoop house kit, or something that comes with all of the parts, you might end up saving a bit of money vs going the DIY route and having a few “oops” moments.
Is a High Tunnel Considered a Greenhouse?
A high tunnel is different than a greenhouse. While they might look similar, the plants in greenhouses are generally grown in pots or containers.
Are Polytunnels Better Than Greenhouses?
Polytunnels aren’t necessarily better than greenhouses, they just have different uses. A polytunnel is more for growing large amounts of food during 3 seasons, while a greenhouse is better for year round growing.
Is a High Tunnel Worth It?
Whether you go with a greenhouse, high tunnel, or hoop house, they are all well suited for growing season extension, allowing you to grow plants starting in very early spring.
The amount of additional crops you can grow by extending your growing seasons is often well worth the setup and maintenance cost of installing one. If you’re only growing for a small family, you’ll have to consider the costs more carefully. But you’re still able to save money on groceries and can feed a larger family more cost effectively by growing your own food.
All 3 are great for protecting crops from the elements and increased crop quality since you have more control over the growing conditions.