Greenhouse Structure Types Pros & Cons

Are you researching greenhouse structure types? What will fit your Backyard Greenhouse Gardening needs? Get the lowdown on the different types of greenhouse structures there pros and cons, follow the links to more detailed greenhouse information.  Here we go:

A Greenhouse Structure Overview

Post and Rafter greenhouses (Conventional)

The Post and Rafter design along with the A-frame are two of the most common greenhouse structures due to the simple construction of embedded post and rafters.  This design is among the strongest with the rafters lending support to the roof. As the design is top-heavy, the frame must be footed, which will increase costs relative to other design options.

Covering material options: Typically glass, however rigid translucent poly-carbonate glazing panels are now being used in many greenhouse kits (lowering the overall cost relative to glass).

Pros: Simple straightforward design. Maximize usage of space along the side walls. More efficient air circulation, particularly alongside walls.

Cons: Requires more material (wood and metal) vs. other designs.

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, south facing.

Buy the Palram Nature Series Mythos Hobby Greenhouse here.


One of the most common greenhouse structures, the key advantages are its simplicity of design and minimization of materials versus other similar structures (Post & Rafter).  Their popularity falls on the simplicity of bringing together the roof and side walls to create a singular triangular A-frame.

Covering material options: Typically glass, however rigid translucent poly-carbonate glazing panels are now being used in many greenhouse kits (lowering the overall cost relative to glass).

Pros: Simple straightforward design. Less material used relative to the Post and Rafter design (its most comparable design alternative).

Cons:  Narrowing side walls limits the functional use of the entire greenhouse footprint.  Air circulation can also be problematic in the corners.

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, south facing.

Gothic Arch

This gothic arch Backyard Greenhouse structures style features walls that have been bent over the frame to create a pointed roof. This method eliminates the need for structural trusses, and decreasing the number of construction materials required.

Covering material options: Plastic Sheeting

Pros: Simple and efficient shape and design allows for easy water and snow runoff. Using plastic sheeting reduces the design cost, also conserves heat.

Cons: Lower sidewall height restricts storage space and headroom.

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, south facing.


A Windowfarm is a vertical, indoor garden. Window farming is by far one of our favourite gardening DIY projects here at Greenhouse Fanatics. A Windowfarm allows plants to use natural window light, your living space climate control and “liquid soil”.  This is vertical hydroponic farming at its finest.

Check out this awesome tutorial on creating your very own Windowfarm.

Pros: This system is simple elegant DIY, allowing anyone the opportunity to grow fresh produce anywhere.

Cons: This is a hydroponic system which requires more components (nutrients, pumps, and tubes) and maintenance than a typical soil-based greenhouse.

Ideal location: Any light receiving window, optimally a south-facing window, is all that’s required.

Hoop House

Also known as a Quonset design, this greenhouse structure is a staple for many commercial growing operations. Built from curved or arched rafters, the hoop houses employ aluminum pipes or PVC pipes to create its form.

Covering material options: Plastic Sheeting

Pros: Relatively easy to build and adapt to small growing spaces.  Inexpensive relative to other designs. The shape allows for easy water and snow runoff

Cons: The frame design is not as sturdy as other frames such as the A-frame or Post and Rafter.

Ideal location: Open field/backyard, south facing.

Lean-to Greenhouse / Attached Greenhouses

Attached greenhouses are exactly what you would expect: greenhouses that share a wall with an existing structure, traditionally constructed on the back of the house, optimally south facing.  In some instances, they are also attached to sheds.  Have a look at this three sub-types which include lean-to greenhouses, window-mounted greenhouses, and attached even-span greenhouses.

Lean-to Greenhouses

Lean-to greenhouses are constructed against an existing building using that structure as support for one or more of its sides.  In typical cases, lean-to greenhouses are attached to a house.

Attached Even-Span Greenhouses

Attached even-span greenhouses are less common than lean-to greenhouses, however, they also share a wall with an existing structure.  The big difference with an attached even-span greenhouse, well it appears very similar to a freestanding greenhouse, is that it is attached at one gable end to an existing structure.  So basically, it doesn’t “lean” at all against the structure, it has its own symmetrical roof.  Size-wise attached even-span greenhouses can be much larger than lean-to greenhouses and there are a number of design options available.  The largest advantage of an attached even-span greenhouse is they are less expensive than a freestanding glass greenhouse and can provide a substantial amount of growing space.  Just like with lean-to greenhouses, water and electricity are more accessible.  Attached even-span greenhouses have an increased cost compared to other attached greenhouses.

Window-Mounted Greenhouses

Window-mounted greenhouses are special structures built into a window frame of a home, usually on a south-facing wall.

Covering material options: Typically glass, however rigid translucent twin-wall poly-carbonate glazing panels are now being used in many greenhouses kits (lowering the overall cost relative to glass).

Pros: Since the greenhouse shares a wall with a structure, typically construction costs are lower compared to a freestanding glass greenhouse (A-frame, post, and rafter). Water, heat, and electricity are also generally close at hand.

Cons: Temperature control is more difficult because the wall that the greenhouse is built on may collect the sun’s heat, while the greenhouse wall windows may lose heat rapidly.

Ideal location: Southern Exposed, attachment to a house or other suitable structure

Richters Herbs

Cold Frame

Extending the growing season is really the goal of Backyard Greenhouse gardening. This is where the cold frame greenhouse structure comes into play. It is the cheapest and simplest greenhouse option. A  cold frame is literally a cover that you place over your garden with glass or plastic. It protects your plants from frost, general low temperatures, rain, snow, and wind.

Covering material options: Whatever you want. As a DIY option glass, plastic sheeting, even poly-carbonate whatever your budget can handle. It just needs to be easily opened for ventilation of heat.

Pros: Simplicity is what the cold frame has going for it. Manageable cost. Can be built from old wood pallets, and old house windows.

Cons: Overheating is a big problem for cold frames, one day of sun with closed windows can cause massive plant damage. Materials quality can be another set back when working with reclaimed materials.

Ideal location: In the garden.

Watch a video about using a Cold Frame here.

Ultimately, the right greenhouse for you is one which you will use for a long period of time – one which meets your demands and fits in with your lifestyle.  Once you’re happy with your choice, read our guide on getting the most out of your new greenhouse.  What works for some growers may not meet your requirements.  More complex plans may be just up your alley, sometimes those plans can stifle success.  Grow smart, not hard!  Gardening advocates advise that you start with a basic,  structure like a pop-up greenhouse so you can get the hang of your new plant responsibilities. The full-size challenges of Backyard Greenhouse gardening await! If you’re looking for more in-depth greenhouse reviews or comparisons, click here to check out the top reviews.