Introduction: Live in a Greenhouse

Picture of Live in a Greenhouse

Need a temporary, affordable, all-season, and comfortable dwelling?
Try building a greenhouse with a tent inside.

The idea stemmed from my love of modern backpacking tents. They use a 'floor-to-ceiling' rainfly that covers the tent. The tents themselves are made primarily of screen to keep insects out and stay well ventilated. My rainflys are a greenhouse cover in the winter season, and an opaque, heavy-duty tarp (used billboard) in the summer months.

Like most inventions, this was born out of necessity. I needed a dwelling that was temporary, but solid enough to withstand the harsh climate of northern Minnesota. I was saving to purchase my own peice of land, so the idea was to build something that could be dissassembled and moved easily(being that I was squatting on family property). The project started as a canvas tent on a wooden platform, but quickly transformed into something completely unforeseen. I took inspiration from seeing hoop houses used as storage sheds, and the availability of a used billboard supplier in Minneapolis (cedar ave & E. 28th st), not to mention the crazy, backwoods ideas of some good friends.

The Nitty-Gritty:
-The Frame: of the greenhouse is 18 gauge chain link fence top-rail, available at any hardware store. I bent the hoops myself with the help of a jig I bought ( and purchased the connecting hardware from  Hoops are doubled towards the middle in 2 places: the stove pipe exit, and the peak of the canvas tent. Each end of the hoops are secured directly to the sides of the floor.
-The Spine: is a 1/2" steel cable (dumpster score) that is anchored fore and aft, runs through the maple logs on either end, and is anchored on both sides. The idea was to stop a tree from crushing me in my sleep during our epic november storms (think edmond fitzgerald).
-The Floor: is built like a house. Green-treated 4x4's, and a platform of 2x6's and 3/4" plywood. This rests on concrete discs I made by pouring quick-crete into 1 gallon ice cream pails. I wanted this to be semi-permanent, so pouring pilings was out of the question.
-The Rain-Flys: consist of 6 mil translucent greenhouse fabric in winter and covered by a 15 mil cross-stitched tarp ( in summer. I used grommets to create folded pockets on all side of both materials in which I inserted toprail through the length and rope at either end that is cinched and tied off to the platform. Both of these have withstood gale-force winds without a budge.
-The Tent: is a GP Army canvas tent. It was a purchase of convenience. Some friends of mine had lived in it for a number of seasons, and were getting rid of it. This tent is a hexagon shape, however a square shape may be more space efficient, but not as heat efficient. I attached it to the platform by using 8' 2x2's along the bottom of each wall and screwed them down. The center pole is replaced by a threaded dowel attached to the Frame and bolted from the inside until taught. All of the guy lines were then attached to the frame in appropriate places to alleviate the need for internal poles. 
-The Lonely Window: was the greatest thing I did to this thing. After a long winter without one, it made a huge difference. These tents are made to be blacked out (no light in or out) so depending on electric lights in the middle of the day sucked and made it feel very cave-like. I framed one of the south facing walls and added a single pane window (garage sale score, $1). I also wired an outlet and light switch, and hung a fire extinguisher while I was at it.
-The Gable Ends: are a simple 2x4 frame using lots of 45 degree bracing. The aft looks similar. I think my design is pretty, but there are all sorts of ways to do it. Browse greenhouse photos for awhile and they all start to look alike. The main entrance door is on 2-way hinges (dumpster score) so it feels very saloon-like. The big door is hinged from the top to create an awning when extended.
-The Stove: is run through an existing high-temperature rubber pipe hole in the tent and through a thimble attached to the frame (where the hoops are doubled 1 foot apart). I used a tar-tape from growers supply to adhear the greenhouse fabric to the thimble that's made for just that purpose.
-The Rain Collection: is a vinyl gutter mounted on and under an 'angle iron' shaped 2x4 and 2x2 that run the length of the tent (it's better just to look at the picture). It pours into a 40 gallon water barrel and overflows into a 55 gallon former-bbq-sauce barrel. Allows me to wash clothes and dishes without hauling water (just the potable stuff needs to be hauled).

The Performance:
I will preface by saying that this is a tent. It wouldn't be fair to compare it to a permanent structure.
Wind:The structure of the tent has withstood 70 mph winds without a budge, which leads me to believe it could take even more.
Snow: loads were a large concern, however, the warmth of the greenhouse keeps the snow from sticking to the peak and it slides right off.
Humidity: was another concern, but running a wood stove (even within the canvas tent) is enough to alleviate most of the dripping from inside the greenhouse plastic.
Fire: has always been on the top of my safety concerns, and the stove pipe/stove setup is safer than alot I've seen in wooden structures. Aside from the floor itself, there are not many combustables in the surrounding area. The tent, greenhouse plastic, and carpeting (dumpster score) are all fire retardant and the stove rests on a tile patch work. Plus a fire extinguisher on hand.
Insulation: value is probably 1/2 (maybe 1/4?). The outer shell is quite wind proof which reduces alot of drafts, but does little for heat retention. The canvas tent has an inner cotton liner that I also suspend comforters from for added insulation, but it's definately not an insulated house. An oversized woodstove it necassary to keep warm on cold February nights.
Solar Gain: from the greenhouse can be quite powerful. On a clear day at 10 degrees, it can be upwards of 45 degrees within the canvas tent. 

I'll be happy to field any questions, and thanks for reading.


RangerJ (author)2012-09-26

Shades of The Mother Earth News! Love your project, even if i'll probably never do it.

Alena73 (author)2016-05-20

This sounds and looks great and I am definitely going to show and talk about that with my bf... sounds great... :) thanks a lot for sharing... I bet I will come back with my pics to you.. :) take care!

Alain C.L (author)2016-05-20

I always find interesting to imagine new and smart ways to build a home. Using different cheap,light weighted and efficient materials is a good idea and no need to think about real durability when you have to build a shelter for you or people in need. CongratulationsBravo

Dwargh (author)2016-05-20

Great idea! I'm sure it'll be very inspirating for the ideas of other outdoor people!

dianadfonseca (author)2016-05-19

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing!

gkern (author)2016-05-19

homeless has a new look.

enriquewjimenez (author)2015-04-29

Nice project, Thanks for sharing!!!

PaulX (author)2014-12-03

I had a friend in Wyoming with one of the large agricultural hoop houses (probably 20 feet tall in the middle). I was amazed at how that single-layer fabric structure mediated the outside temperatures and wind. It struck me that a large one could be built as a shop (all homes are surrounded by ancillary functions and "works in progress") that needs shelter from wind, rain and snow but not quite the temperatures humans prefer. Then inside the shop you could build a simple "tiny house", just a box really, that is well insulated and needs no fancy roof at all (just a flat roof, 2x4s and plywood with rigid insulation simply laying on top) because there is no rain or snow load to deal with. You also could dispense with most of the house foundation because there would be no frost heave and so forth; just a platform of 2x4s directly on the ground or on bricks. Or just lay some of that rubber sheeting down and call it done! Could stack straw bales around the house too. The end wall of the shop should be a solar collector of sorts. It is separating the usual house functions into two zones that make sense.

Henge (author)PaulX2014-12-04

What great insight! Update: in the past 12 months I have built a small cabin (4 solid walls and a roof!) and reappropriated my hoophouse as a shop. I didn't use an internal rigid frame (however, that thought was definitely on the forefront of my mind in the 36 months I spent living in it), I instead lifted the floor joists 18" and used the crawlspace as lumber storage. With a wood stove, I can maintain a reasonable temperature inside, although building an insulated space would be quite nice. I suppose it came down to investment of resources. The amount of lumber, plywood, and insulation needed to supply such a shelter would probably be better spent on a permanent structure (a roofing system isn't that much more in the end). This hoophouse has been good to me so far, and I won't give up on the concept; I guess I'll just see what the next form it takes will be. Thanks for the comment.

Henge (author)Henge2014-12-04

I'll try to update with some photos

Wepwopper (author)2014-11-11

Update: The wood frame I have double-sided stretched with plastic (that I've used for insulation every winter) got loose at the top and releases heat into the room through the slit at the top when the sun hits it. Amazing. :) So any frame double-sided with plastic and a slit at the top might work. Like every side of your structure. :)

bricobart (author)2014-04-03

This is it, I'm moving to North America! Great project mate, I just love it!

M.Hawse (author)2014-03-19

Looks nice and cozy--I want to make one of those someday. The photos are especially nice. After seeing those images, I miss the woods back East in the Fall. Well done!

jrjohnwood (author)2013-12-12

I saw your project a year or so in either MEN or a homesteading magazine and really liked it. I found you here from a rocket stove build., "where do you put the mag in at" .Are you still living in your greenhouse?

hi, everybody, my first post. Try glueing crisp packets shiny side in on the North racking side ( shiny side in). try putting your hand inside - good emergency winter gloves. you can also find loads of free bubblewrap in skips (dumpsters if your in USA). look behind mattress stores. pound land sell a great space blanket tunnel with ridge cord as seen on eBay for twice the price. consider the nylon? strapping off pallets. good for reinforcing in the IKEA blue bag sack. if you soften it you can tie knots in it that don't loosen. Makes great dog leads. bout time did a project. happy camping folks! you can get fireproof card behind laser cutting workshops ( insulation for wood stoves etc) not asbestosy.

jamob (author)2013-07-23

Just wanted to mention something that you might be able to work with. If you open up one of the older rear projection tvs they have 3 parts that make up the screen. Somewhat of a polarizer that only allows light from one angle, plexi glass which would function as a nice window, and a fresnel lens which at the right focal point in the sun can heat things up to 2,000 degrees F. I don't know if you could work with those, but its something to look into

jamob (author)2013-07-23

Just wanted to mention something that you might be able to work with. If you open up one of the older rear projection tvs they have 3 parts that make up the screen. Somewhat of a polarizer that only allows light from one angle, plexi glass which would function as a nice window, and a fresnel lens which at the right focal point in the sun can heat things up to 2,000 degrees F. I don't know if you could work with those, but its something to look into

sustainable (author)2013-05-25

You are hare core, I love it! Looking forward to your evolution!

sustainable (author)sustainable2013-05-25


~7~CyanFOX~7~ (author)2012-09-16

I'd love to see more detailed construction photos and materials lists and specifications especially for the spine I cannot quite visualize that system of construction

My email is

Thank you

This reminds me of a P.A.D. or a "TINYHOUSE" re Portland Alternative Dwelling

Henge (author)~7~CyanFOX~7~2012-09-16

I'll do what I can, but leave you with this for now:

Imagine a suspension bridge, but instead of holding up a road surface below, its holding a horizontal pipe 20 feet long and 11 feet high. The 2 ends of this 'bridge' are 15' maple logs (minus 3 feet buried) with 1/2" holes drilled staight through the center at 11 feet off the ground. The 1/2" steel cable is run through the logs and the horizontal pipe inbetween. From there it's directed at a 45 degree angle to the ground at which it is anchored.

I'll upload pictures of as much as can be reasonable shown with photos.

~7~CyanFOX~7~ (author)Henge2012-11-22

thanks so much for the elaboration! I think I have a better Idea now, but would be most helpful to see exactly what you mean (I have trouble picturing things sometimes): even if it was a simple MSPaint drawing or a CAD sketch would be very helpful :3

Henge (author)~7~CyanFOX~7~2012-11-22

Ok, I uploaded a new drawing, please excuse the crudeness.

Billy Maxwell (author)2012-10-07

I have long been a fan of attaching greenhouses to houses and every outbuilding. Have you considered doing a second long hoop house inside on the north side to
more efficiently use the space inside? Your structure has stood the test of time in America.

RangerJ (author)2012-09-26

Shades of The Mother Earth News! Love your project, even if i'll probably never do it.

loum (author)2012-09-16

WIND RESISTANCE- Can also be wind "manipulation"- like CONE dome shape-the wind move around it-cant get good grip on tent if theres no resistant wall-underground woodstove with pipes sunk in sand- are still best heat from wood- hoops-have u tried saplings of flexible trees- flexibility cd survive storms-and be much less weight to move- saplings are even replaceable where u go- im worried about having a heavy ridge pole in storm country- window can be of rice paper or light canvas- safer, lighter to move- door- put frame high to keep in heat-and bugs,critters out in summer- your house sounds like a teepee with natives inside fur lining- and outside waterproof oiled leather- but yours is without the CONE shape (designed to make the prairies high wind, just slide off)- longhouses had insulation on INside of the poles- so if drips from outside shingles-it had air between to dry up-so shingles and insulation not rot-aircan be made to circulate by opening shingles and or square of insulation when dry weather

jd38011 (author)loum2012-09-24

Actually I read your comment before I read his post, a consequence of downloading for later, I suppose. Anyway, I think that you made good points.

If there is sufficient money; I would offer Tyvek and radiant foil/radiant foil and bubblewrap or plain bubblewrap insulation inside the supports with the Tyvek or plastic on the outside. is one source. They are both pretty pricey for my (non-existent) budget. I will have to leave the experimentation to others.

jd38011 (author)jd380112012-09-24

Just a thought or two: circular footprint with bent hoops instead of straight poles (more igloo and less teepee) ? rectangle of bent hoops like he has in the picture with separate but "attached" ends of bent hoops facing perpendicular to the main structure to help winds over the flat ends? Use them as uninsulated, unheated storage areas? Insulated but unheated or semi-heated pet home? Semi-heated greenhouse for winter-grown greens?

As an aside, there is a non-adhesive "tape" available from greenhouse/hoophouse suppliers designed specifically to protect the plastic from rubbing through and and pulling through. (Would using adhesive tape and/or strips of the covering plastic to attach braided cord or the ubiquitous paracord along both sides of the support hoops/poles and sewing something like fishing line (Spyderwire anyone?) before taping the seams be an effective way to prevent the plastic from ripping loose?)

Wepwopper (author)loum2012-09-17

For windows I've used a wood frame with plastic stretched and stapled or taped over both sides to stop the cold. It's much lighter than metal or plastic. I've also used up to 1-inch thick white stryofoam to let the light in if I just need light but don't have to see out.

Henge (author)Wepwopper2012-09-17

I guess I didn't realize 1 inch strofoam was that translucent. I'm gonna give it a shot!

Wepwopper (author)Henge2012-09-21

I've never done experiments to see how much foam is needed to stop the cold but we have a large picture window in our living room that freezes us every winter we got a 3/8 inch panel seems to work pretty well. :)

lostbord999 (author)2012-09-18

First off beautiful Idea here!

Something to look into for the cold season. Rocket Mass Heater. I am sure you could add in a small home made and simple one.

A little something to help you out on your adventure!

kjemielity (author)2012-09-17

my compliments on a great idea and a well done instructable! makes me want to go back to the woods.(with my dogs,of course. 2 dog night here,every night)

farna (author)2012-09-17

Maybe, but Alaska Shelter Systems shelters are darned expensive, even the lighter duty ones.
I bet you can buy a cheap greenhouse (or better yet a used frame!) and cover it with a tarp a lot cheaper than the cost of one of those commercial shelters. You still get kudos for a "DIY" and/or "on the cheap" method!

Henge (author)farna2012-09-17

Thank you, sir.

dmarsh55 (author)2012-09-16

Here in NC hoophouses are commonly used, hold up to even hurricane strength winds, and if built with spines (of pvc) at two foot intervals, won't collapse in snow. More inland, they are insulated with only a second skin. Anchor/staple to one side's footer, and throw it over top of the first skin, but allow the second skin to be significantly looser, then tack it down. Here in zone 7, a two-inch all-round gap is sufficient to keep it just above freezing on our coldest nights without supplemetal heat. I have seen one HH that small blocks of styrofoam were inserted at the bottom, I imagine for spacing. In your growing zone, I'd STRONGLY suggest you do this, plus go back to the catalog and get the fan for this use, and keep it running day and night. It's also very common to see HH's with wood heaters. I've seen them set up directly on the ground, and even over a concrete pad (what luxury!). For larger HH's, yours being on the smaller side of 'large', the metal rails you used are necessary. One more suggestion - you will need some form of venting - between you, the dog, and the woodstove, a whole lotta oxygen can be used up overnight. This, from experience. Here's a link to a plan for a small HH using pvc:

Good luck over the winter!

kwazai (author)dmarsh552012-09-17

Thanks for the pdf link.
My understanding is that each inch of air gap is functionally equivalent R=1 insulation. The 'envelope' type construction has been around for years (Mears Greenhouse design didn't even need the wood stove with solar greenhouse heat from its thermal mass). Thermal mass could be rocks/bricks,compost or water in barrels...
I do know that hoop houses are known for humidty problems- I ran across a recent water conservation design and am adding my own twist- having the plastic at the HH base in an 'S' configuration to collect the night time condensate on the inside and the rain/dew on the outside. Haven't tried it yet- am still in process on my own 'envelope' design(s)(one man's spare time in Wake County) .Last year was a mild winter here and My doublewide heat only ran at night-I've since added some 'mass'(still need more...)
Summertime interior shade cloth could power the ventilation.
Composting toilets aren't built to remediate waste usually (more like portable latrines-sawdust buckets(slop pots?) come to mind.) Better versions would probably use small amounts of water(grey?) and a rotating drum with a squeegee/brush and would need to be emptied from time to time- minimalist water usage if hooked to septic or city sewage. Toilets were around 40%, showers20%,clothes and dishes 20% of water usage.

Henge (author)dmarsh552012-09-16

This discussion board is really making feel I need a second layer.
I like this idea of letting the second layer hang loose, but would it still need to be securely cinched at both gable ends like the first layer?
Where exactly were the stryofoam spacers and how were the secured?
I framed venting windows at the top of each gable end, so venting should not be an issue once better insulated, however I wonder the amount of electricity it would take to power both blowers. If it insulates as well as you say, I suppose it'd be worth it (at least for the sake of science!).

Thank you for your input.

farna (author)2012-09-17

What's funny is the greenhouse with the tarp over it is surprisingly like the modern "Alaska" tents the USAF is now using -- an aluminum arch frame system with fabric ends and pulled over the top. They have a liner that ties up inside the frame for extra insulation. We were just getting those in a few years before I retired (retired in 2007, the tents were getting to the training schools in 2003). See . We were training students on the Alaska Small Shelter System and we also had a large shelter.

Henge (author)farna2012-09-17

Makes my idea seem less original, oh well. I suppose it's not uncommon for people with similar problems to end with similar solutions.

loum (author)2012-09-16

thanks- lets start to save trees & avoid fires-do u know of the super 1 foot insulation the mohawks used in their longhouses with only a small fire(built on stones to absorb & retain heat)- one foot thick- not 3 inches,not 6 inches) of dried sea hay or fir branches-plus fire retardant if u wish-when packed tight-its cant burn b/c no air gets in the insulation-also-the "astiyookamak-if u dont want to dig & sink the project 1/2 under for warmth- (and to avoid wind)- then could u pile grass sod squares or earth &straw/dry grass up to 1/2 the height-kept compact by a "fence" of wood all around it on outside- like pioneers did?
cool in summer/warm in winter-i put cheesecloth at water barrel-glassbarrel =light=no algae-also bugs eggs out if u put cook oil on surface of water-peat moss toilet kept under a dry cover-it does not smell like leaves compost does-keep on-(edmonds fitzgerald -lol)

Henge (author)loum2012-09-17

That's alot of info. I think I see what you are getting at.

snoopindaweb (author)2012-09-16

Where theres a will there's a way, looks like You found Your way "Thru the Fog" just fine..Way to Go..YUP.!

Henge (author)snoopindaweb2012-09-17

thank you

loum (author)2012-09-16

SNOW- cd u just hang from trees, some type of covering (woven branches,black plastic ,etc-,slanting down on one side -hanging pastthe outside of yr house -and shake it after a snow storm-

loum (author)2012-09-16

oh- and saplings frame are NOT put in ground-so as to preserve them better by keeping them dry-instead use 1 foot long piece(cayenne pepper oiled) sapling -they are sharpened and stuck in ground all around in shape of your house foundation--then sapling long poles (cayenne oiled-this will save u time in the end-wont rot/split) are tied to these short ones as an extension- so moving is easy -just untie long poles -but if u use nails, can rip out of wood in storm -also nail holes rots the poles-and holes widen and nails loosen out in wet or damp-rusty nails danger if left behind in nature-animals or human blood poisoning if step or fall on

niki31b (author)2012-09-16

I love your tent house! Would you be willing to share your budget for this project? I am very curious.

Henge (author)niki31b2012-09-16

It's hard to say, this is a work in progress.
Platform: $500 in lumber and hardware.
Frame: $400 in top-rail and another $100+ in hardware.
Billboard: $60
Greenhouse Plastic: $150
Canvas Tent: $500
Most of the rest was recycled from garage sales, dumpsters, burn piles, junk yards, ect.
It's an investment, when I'm done living in it, I'll have a workshop, garage, and/or garden.

melbay49 (author)Henge2012-09-16

I built a super cheap garage floor a few years back by taking standard pallets 40x48 inches and sheathing them with OSB. Because it's a 4x8 sheet the pieces hang over the 40 inch dimension 4 inches on a side. Just rake out some gravel for a base, put some PT shoes (optional leveling and rot resistance) on the pallets. space them 8 inches apart, flop out your sheets, screw down through the edges into a 2x4 to support the flying edges, next sheet etc. All I bought was the sheathing at $6 a pop, no problem parking on it.

Henge (author)melbay492012-09-16

That's amazing it holds the weight of a car. I had originally wanted a platform directly on the ground made from culled lumber, but I worried about moisture issue primarily.

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