How to Build a Live-In Solar Greenhouse

The author shares how he converted a greenhouse to a home, and utilized its solar potential.

| May/June 1976

  • greenhouse 2
    Solar heat keeps tomatoes and other plants thriving.
  • greenhouse 1
    A greenhouse addition on a small home fueled by solar energy.
  • greenhouse4
    The long collector window consists of twin sheets of polyethylene stapled to wood struts.
  • greenhouse3
    A view of the south wall.
  • greenhouse5
    A row of twenty-eight 55-gallon drums filled with water store heat during the day.

  • greenhouse 2
  • greenhouse 1
  • greenhouse4
  • greenhouse3
  • greenhouse5

Click on Image Gallery for referenced photos. 

Don't believe anyone who tells you differently: Solar energy can be used-right now, today-in place of other fuels. I know, because for more than a year and a half my family has been living in an owner-built, 1,000-square-foot solar greenhouse/home.

That's right, we live in a greenhouse . . . of sorts. Under one roof we have [1] a 170-square-foot vegetable garden, [2] 660 square feet of comfortable living space, and [3] a row of water-filled drums which store the heat generated by our huge solar collector-window (and which take up the remaining 170 square feet of our residence).

An unusual setup? We like to think so! Of course, the greenhouse isn't 100% energy self-sufficient—and it doesn't provide us with all the vegetables we eat—but it is nice inside, and we've managed to cut our home's heating bill by one-third to one-half of what it ordinarily would be.

Let me say that this is not the first such abode that we've lived in. Our first experiment in cohabitating with plants began three years ago when John Baldus and I built a greenhouse addition to a little 16' X 20' cottage. As you can see in Photo 1, this structure amounted to nothing more than a wooden frame covered on all sides with 4-mil (.004") polyethylene. We spent a total of $200 to complete the project.

Our initial tiny, add-on greenhouse came with a couple of features not usually designed into such units. For instance, we insulated the plot of earth where plants would be grown with four inches of styrofoam on all sides, and two inches on the bottom. Also, we rigged portable panels of insulation so that they could be used to cover the greenhouse at night and thereby reduce radiant cooling.

12/27/2017 7:56:35 AM

This is an excellent article based on fourty one year old technology. To still push these articles with no up to dat articles is wrong. The amazing advances since this article was written should blow away the gains mentioned here. Why do you have limited "new" articles and many that are over 30 years old. You could update this article by adding up to date savings costs or add what is available for glazing and insulation today, but you do not. Are there no new writers or experimenters????

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