Whether you want to grow vegetables year-round or just to extend the growing season, the options often come down to a hoop house or greenhouse. The main difference is the architecture of each structure and its purpose.
Hoop houses are either mobile or semi-permanent structures similar to high tunnels. They are usually made of a tubular system covered with plastic sheeting. Hoop houses provide some protection from elements, but won’t protect your plants against harsh weather.
Typically, greenhouses are permanent structures with either tubular or solid steel frames. Instead of plastic sheeting, they have glass or polycarbonate panels and can be fitted with space heaters and other climate control systems. They are ideal for year-round growing.
The table below shows a quick comparison between hoop houses and greenhouses:
|Primary purpose||Season extension||Year-round growing|
|Structure design||Flexible, tunnel-shaped||Rigid, various shapes|
|Aesthetics||Utilitarian||Utilitarian or decorative|
|Climate control||Basic protection||More precise climate control|
|Light transmission||Medium with even light distribution||High with even or uneven light distribution|
|Cost||Less expensive to build and maintain||More expensive to build and maintain|
|Mobility||Mobile or semi-permanent||Typically permanent|
|Durability||Less durable||More durable|
What Is A Hoop House?
A hoop house is a tunnel-shaped structure made of metal or plastic hoops covered with a single or multiple layers of polyethylene or other plastic sheeting. The ends of the hoop house can be enclosed with plastic or other materials, and the sides can usually be rolled up for ventilation.
This type of mobile or semi-permanent structure is ideal for extending the growing season, but insufficient for preventing frosting during winter.
- Season extension
- Good pest control in all seasons
- Cost-effective structure
- Improved crop quality
- Easy to install
- Limited climate control
- Low durability
- Light transmission can be poor
- No aesthetic value
What Is A Greenhouse?
A greenhouse is a semi-permanent or permanent structure designed to create a controlled environment for growing plants. It is typically made of glass, polycarbonate, or acrylic panels attached to a metal or wooden frame. The panels allow for high light transmission and good insulation.
They also capture and maintain heat from sunlight, boosting growth in all seasons.
- Controlled growth environment
- Improved crop quality
- Year-round growing
- More durable than hoop houses
- High light transmission
- Higher aesthetic value
- More expensive to buy and install
- Harder to install than hoop houses
- Less energy-efficient
- Limited mobility
- Uneven light distribution
8 Key Differences Between A Hoop House And A Greenhouse
Finding the right cold-season growing enclosure starts with evaluating your needs. Do you want to grow veggies all year round or only protect your garden from frost?
The differences between a hoop house and a greenhouse could help you pick the right solution.
1. Primary Purpose
Hoop houses and greenhouses both provide shelter and protection for plants, but their primary purpose is different.
Hoop houses are primarily used for season extension and overwintering plants. They can protect crops from harsh weather, but can’t withstand consistent temperatures below zero.
While hoop houses offer limited control over temperature and humidity, with ventilation achieved by manually opening or rolling up the sides and ends of the plastic covering, the plastic sheet can’t keep the temperature warm enough during winter.
Beyond season extension, hoop houses also allow gardeners to start planting earlier in the spring.
In contrast, greenhouses provide precise control over temperature, humidity, and ventilation, often utilizing automated systems such as heaters, fans, and shades.
They are suitable for growing temperature-sensitive plants and can be used for starting seeds, propagating cuttings, and cultivating a diverse range of crops throughout the year.
2. Structure Design
Another crucial difference between a hoop house and a greenhouse is the structure design.
A hoop house is a simple, tunnel-shaped structure made of tubular metal or plastic hoops covered with plastic sheeting. The arched frame resists harsher weather, but the plastic sheeting is not strong enough to withstand heavy snow and other elements.
A greenhouse is a more rigid structure. The frame is usually made of solid metal or wood (although tubular steel or aluminum is used for portable greenhouses).
Instead of plastic sheeting, the greenhouse features glass, polycarbonate, or acrylic panels that provide higher resistance and more temperature control even in the absence of a climate control system.
While both structures serve functional purposes in gardening and agriculture, their visual appeal differs significantly.
Hoop houses have a more utilitarian appearance. Their basic functionality and design translates into a no-frills structure that isn’t meant to impress. However, you can increase the visual appeal of a hoop house with trellises, vertical gardens, or flowering plants.
Greenhouses, on the other hand, can be designed to be more visually attractive and stylish.
They can feature decorative trims, ornate framing, and even stained glass to add a touch of elegance to the structure. They often have a more traditional, architectural look, with gable, pitched, or domed roofs.
A well-designed greenhouse can become a focal point in a garden, providing not only a functional space for plant cultivation but also an aesthetically pleasing addition to the landscape.
4. Climate Control
Greenhouses and hoop houses alike provide shelter and protection for plants, but they offer varying levels of climate control due to their design, construction, and the systems that can be implemented within them.
Hoop houses offer basic climate control, mainly by providing protection from frost, wind, and precipitation. They help create a warmer environment inside by trapping heat from the sun, but they have limited control over temperature and humidity fluctuations.
Temperature regulation in a hoop house relies on passive solar heat and the ability to vent excess heat manually. This process can be labor-intensive and less precise than automated systems, making it difficult to maintain consistent conditions within the hoop house.
Greenhouses provide more precise control over temperature, humidity, and ventilation, making them suitable for growing a wider range of plants, including those with specific climate requirements.
They can be equipped with automated systems, such as heaters, fans, evaporative coolers, and shade systems, to maintain optimal growing conditions throughout the year. In addition, greenhouses can be outfitted with sensors and controllers to monitor and adjust climate conditions automatically.
5. Light Transmission
Another crucial factor to consider is the light transmission – an area where hoop houses might actually have an edge over greenhouses.
The plastic covering used in hoop houses is translucent, allowing sunlight to pass through while also diffusing it. The diffused light provides a more even light distribution throughout the interior of the hoop house, reducing the occurrence of hotspots and minimizing the risk of scorching plants.
However, the plastic sheeting in a hoop house may have slightly lower overall light transmission compared to the materials used in a greenhouse.
Over time, the plastic can become dirty or cloudy, further reducing light transmission. It is essential to clean the sheet regularly and replace it as needed to maintain optimal light levels for plant growth.
By comparison, the materials in a greenhouse allow for high light transmission, ensuring that the plants inside receive ample sunlight.
However, the clear panels provide more direct light, which can sometimes create hotspots or areas with more intense light that may cause scorching or uneven growth.
To address this issue, you can use shade systems, such as shade cloth or retractable shade screens, to diffuse light and create a more even distribution. The layout of plants within the greenhouse can also be adjusted to ensure that all plants receive adequate light without being exposed to overly intense sunlight.
Cost-wise, hoop houses are generally less expensive to build and maintain due to their simpler design and materials. A single hoop house can cost you around $5 to $10 per square foot. However, if you have an agricultural field and order hoop houses in bulk, you could pay less than $1 per square foot.
Greenhouses are more expensive to build and maintain. Construction costs can go up to $25 per square foot, or more if you need a foundation. Mobile greenhouses are cheaper, but they might not bring all the benefits of a permanent greenhouse.
If mobility is important to you, a hoop house could be your best bet.
The simpler design and lighter materials allow for relatively easy disassembly and reassembly, making it possible to relocate a hoop house with minimal effort.
Smaller hoop houses can even be constructed on skids or wheels and moved in whole sections, allowing for an easy relocation within a garden or growing area. This mobility can be particularly beneficial for crop rotation, pest management, or adjusting the layout of your growing space.
Greenhouses are typically built on a foundation, making them challenging to disassemble and relocate. Even mobile greenhouses are harder to break down and reassemble in another spot. Not only are the materials heavier, but the glass or resin panels are easier to damage compared to plastic sheeting.
Lastly, an important factor to consider is durability.
It isn’t surprising that hoop houses are less durable than greenhouses. The plastic covering is more susceptible to wear and tear, punctures, and damage from UV radiation, which can decrease its lifespan.
Moreover, the frame is also flimsier compared to the frame of a greenhouse. Not only does it need more maintenance, but it might not resist the elements if you live in an area with harsh winters.
Greenhouses are generally more durable than hoop houses due to the higher-quality materials and more robust structural design.
Glass panels are more resistant to UV radiation and weathering compared to the plastic sheeting used in hoop houses. While they can break under certain conditions, they are more durable overall than plastic coverings.
Polycarbonate and acrylic panels offer a good balance between durability and resistance to breakage, providing a long-lasting alternative to glass.
In addition to the materials used, the structural design of a greenhouse often includes stronger supports and bracing, making the structure more resistant to wind, snow, and other environmental conditions.
Greenhouses and hoop houses offer unique benefits and characteristics that may be more suitable depending on your needs, budget, and preferences.
Hoop houses, with their simplicity and cost-effectiveness, are an excellent choice for those looking for a more accessible and mobile solution to extend the growing season. However, their durability and climate control capabilities are limited compared to greenhouses.
Greenhouses provide more precise climate control, better insulation, and higher light transmission, making them ideal for growing a wider range of plants and maintaining optimal growing conditions throughout the year.
While they may require a higher initial investment, their durability and performance can make them a worthwhile long-term choice for serious gardeners and commercial growers.