How to Build a Small & Cheap Greenhouse

Written by j.e. myers
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How to Build a Small & Cheap Greenhouse
Make your own small greenhouse out of PVC pipes. (greenhouse image by ann triling from

With the rising cost of potted plants from nurseries, setting out your own seedlings in the spring is an economical idea. A small greenhouse in a handy location is the perfect way to house seedlings while they are sprouting in the early spring, and to shelter other delicate plants during cold snaps. Here is how to build a lightweight greenhouse from PVC piping with few specialised tools.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Measuring tape
  • 2-inch diameter PVC pipes
  • 90-degree angle, 3-way, 2-inch diameter PVC pipe joints
  • Reciprocal saw, hand saw or circular saw
  • PVC glue (optional)
  • Mallet
  • Small board, 3 to 4 inches wide
  • Ladders (optional)
  • Assistants (optional)
  • Heavy clear plastic tarps
  • Nylon roping
  • Tall centre roof prop pole or stick
  • Concrete blocks
  • Sand bags (optional)
  • Heavy-gauge but bendable wire (optional)

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  1. 1

    Determine the size of your greenhouse and how tall you want it to be. Sketch a "stick frame" house with the proper dimensions. Instead of building this frame with lumber, you will create it with 2-inch diameter PCV piping and PVC pipe joints. You'll build a rectangular or square base frame, a rectangular or square ceiling frame and interior wall "studs" for extra support.

  2. 2

    Calculate the 2-inch diameter PVC piping needed for your project. If your greenhouse is rectangular in shape, you will need four sections of pipe for the shorter sides, and four sections of pipe for the longer sides. If your greenhouse is square in shape, all eight of the frame pipes will be the same length. You also will need approximately 16 to 20 sections of pipe to form the "wall studs" inside the frame along the sides of the greenhouse.

  3. 3

    Plan to space two of these interior wall studs farther apart to form a comfortable door way, at least 30 inches in width. Make two such wider openings if you want to create two doors.

  4. 4

    Calculate the number of 2-inch diameter PVC T joints required for the project. You will need eight 3-way right angles. Use these 3-way fittings to join the main base and ceiling frame pipes, and the main corner "stud" pipes, together. You will need two 3-way right angles for every interior wall stud in your plan as well; one joint per stud to connect the stud to the base frame pipe and one joint per stud to connect the stud to the ceiling frame pipe.

  5. 5

    Draw "cut" lines at every intersection of PVC pipe on your design sketch to help visualise this next step. Every place you have drawn a "cut" line on your plan represents the location for the cutting of the 2-inch PVC pipe and the installation of one of the 90-degree T sections. The assembly of these parts is like a Tinker Toy with the T sections serving as connectors between lengths of pipe.

  6. 6

    Cut and assemble the pipes to form the base frame of the greenhouse. You should have a square or rectangle of PVC pipes laying on the ground with the top open holes of all the T sections pointing skyward. Make sure these connections are all very tight. Tap them together with a mallet and a short piece of board laid over the end of the pipe, if necessary. If any of the connections are loose and prone to fall apart, use a little PVC glue to secure them.

  7. 7

    Build an identical ceiling frame and turn this rectangle upside down so the open holes of the T sections rest on the ground.

  8. 8

    Insert the four corner post pipes into the base frame open T sections. Insert all the interior wall stud pipes into their respective T section holes in the base frame. You should have a base frame with four corner posts and a number of interior wall studs poking up into the air. Two of the studs should be spaced wider to form the door opening.

  9. 9

    Recruit assistants to help you "raise the roof." Place assistants on ladders at the four corners of the base frame. Hand up the ceiling frame to these assistants. Insert the corner posts into the ceiling frame joints. Tap the ceiling frame down securely.

    If you're forced to work alone, you can also "cap" your frame assembly by turning everything on its side.

  10. 10

    Thread 12-inch lengths of nylon rope through all the eyelets on large, clear plastic tarps. Lash these tarps to the PVC pipes---top, bottom and sides-- and tie them off on the inside of the greenhouse. Leave the tarp over the door untied on one side and along the bottom to form a door flap. You can piece several smaller tarps together but the fewer pieces the more watertight your greenhouse will be. Overlap any pieces. The ceiling tarp, however, should not be pieced.

    Prop a tall stick or pole up under the centre of the ceiling tarp to prevent water puddling on the roof.

  11. 11

    Move your greenhouse to the best location in your yard, with plenty of southern exposure and sheltered from wind if possible. Anchor the greenhouse to the ground with concrete blocks or sand bags positioned across the PVC pipes around the base. Another option is to shape heavy-gauge wire into numerous long U-shaped "wickets" and stake the greenhouse into the ground.

Tips and warnings

  • If you can't find clear tarps ready-made with brass eyelets, you can make them yourself using an eyelet kit and tool, and sheets of heavy plastic sheeting. This PVC green house can be disassembled and stored between seasons. It helps to mark the parts with a permanent marker before disassembling it to serve as a guide next spring.
  • If you live in a part of the country where tornadoes are a threat, take extra measures to further anchor your greenhouse so it cannot blow away in high winds.

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