Build a Homemade Solar Greenhouse From a Recycled Tin Shed

How to make an attractive, efficient solar greenhouse for producing food year-round by building a homemade solar greenhouse from a recycled tin shed.


| November/December 1985



Solar greenhouse from tin shed

The windowbox planter that started it all. This greenhouse produces flowers and vegetables right through the long winter. In warmer months, the skylight opens to provide ventilation.


PHOTO: DAVID B. ERICKSON

To make an attractive, efficient solar greenhouse for producing food year-round, simply create a homemade solar greenhouse from a recycled tin shed. 

My wife, Terri, and I—enthusiastic gardeners both—had long dreamed of building a solar greenhouse that would enable us to garden right through Illinois's long winter months. Unfortunately, our limited budget kept that dream just a dream . . . until we stumbled on a low-cost way to overcome our budget crunch and grow fresh vegetables, herbs, and flowers year-round: We converted one of those ubiquitous prefabricated metal storage sheds into a compact but highly productive solar greenhouse.

Inspiration for the Recycled Solar Greenhouse

The seed of inspiration that would eventually grow to become our greenhouse took root the day I constructed a window-box planter from 2 by 2 redwood strips and 1/4 inch-thick polycarbonate sheeting. Mounted on the outside of a south-facing, double-hung window, this mini-greenhouse added heat to the interior of our home on sunny winter days, while the plants growing in the box were in turn warmed by the house at night.

It was a grand arrangement. But we eventually moved to a house in which none of the windows were the right size to accept the box. Consequently, the window planter became a decoration (Terri had a different word for it) in our new backyard. Then one day a friend gave us a 10 foot by 9 foot metal storage shed—spanking new, unassembled, and still in its crate. As we were trying to decide where in the backyard to erect the shed, I noticed the old window box lying fallow nearby, put one and one together, and conceived the idea of converting the storage shed into a solar greenhouse.

Getting the Solar Greenhouse Project off the Ground

As soon as we had a set of plans committed to paper, we began construction by excavating a 2 foot-deep foundation trench a little larger than the exterior dimensions of the storage shed. After pounding four preservative—treated 4 by 4 posts into the ground-one at each corner of the trench—we connected their leveled tops with treated 2 by 6 planks to form a foundation for the shed's metal base and then added a special ledge to support the window box, which would project from the south-facing wall. (We went with 2 by 6 rather than 2 by 4 foundation sills to provide enough wood, after the shed's base was bolted in place, on which to rest the interior walls.)

We enclosed the foundation's sides by gluing rigid sheets of 2 inch-thick expanded styrene insulation vertically to the outsides of the foundation frame. And to help keep out insects and rodents, we covered the insulation panels with aluminum screening. That accomplished, we bolted the base of the unassembled shed to the frame, then filled in the excavation around the foundation.





Crowd at Seven Springs MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Sept. 15-17, 2017
Seven Springs, PA.

With more than 150 workshops, there is no shortage of informative demonstrations and lectures to educate and entertain you over the weekend.

LEARN MORE