Lesson 8 Construction Material


In greenhouses, the choice of structural materials is linked to: (i) their availability and cost; (ii) their technical characteristics depending on the greenhouse to be built (use of wood, steel); (iii) the performance required by the greenhouse depending on the crops to be grown; (iv) the local climate; and (v) the local conditions in terms of experience and creativity. The materials commonly used to build frames for greenhouse are Wood, Bamboo, Steel, Galvanized iron pipe, Aluminum and Reinforced concrete (RCC). The selection of above materials is based on their specific physical properties, requirements of design strength, life expectancy and cost of construction materials.

8.2 WOOD

Wood and bamboo are generally used for low cost poly-houses with straight roof structure (fig 8.1) due to difficulty and high cost associated with its use on curved sections. In low cost poly-houses, the wood is used for making frames consisting of side posts and columns, over which the polythene sheet is fixed. The commonly used woods are pine and casuarina, which are strong and less expensive. In pipe-framed poly-houses, wooden battens can be used as end frames for fixing the covering material. In tropical areas, bamboo is often used to form the gable roof of a greenhouse structure. Wood must be painted with white colour paint to improve light conditions within the greenhouse. Care should be taken to select a paint that will prevent the growth of mold. Wood must be treated for protection against decay. Chromated copper arsenate and ammonical copper arsenate are water based preservatives that are applied to the wood that may come into contact with the soil. Red wood or cypress (natural decay resistance woods) can be used in desert or tropical regions, but they are expensive.

fig 8.1

Fig 8.1Wooden framed greenhouse

(Source: Nicolas Castilla, 2013)


GI pipes, tubular steel and angle iron are generally used for side posts, columns and purlins in greenhouse structure, as wood is becoming scarce and more expensive. In galvanising operation, the surface of iron or steel is coated with a thin layer of zinc to protect it against corrosion. The commonly followed processes to protect against corrosion are:

i.  Hot dip galvanising (hot process) process: The cleaned member is dipped in molten zinc, which produces a skin of zinc alloy to the steel.
ii. Electro-galvanising (cold process) process: The cleaned member is zinc plated similar to other forms of electro-plating. The galvanising process makes the iron rust proof, to eliminate the problem of rusting of structural members.

Aluminum and hot dipped GI are comparatively maintenance free. In tropical areas, double dipping of steel is required, as single dip galvanising process does not give a complete cover of even thickness to the steel. Aluminum and steel must be protected by painting with bitumen tar, to protect these materials from corrosion, while these materials contact with the ground.

Now-a-days, the greenhouse construction is of metal type, which is more permanent. For multi-tunnel greenhouses, metallic structures prevail (a predominance of galvanized steel, due to the high cost of aluminium;) or a mixture of materials (wood–wire, steel–wire, steel–wood, steel–concrete) are used over wooden structures.

Steel structures (Fig 8.2), which are normally more expensive than wooden structures, allow for a reduction in the number of interior pillars (relative to wood), easing the interior manoeuvrability (passage of machinery, implementation of thermal screens) and creating fewer shadows than wood, increasing the available light. In addition, steel structures are easier to assemble than wood, have more accessible roof ventilation mechanisms and are more airtight, although the higher heat conduction of metal weakens these advantages.

Reinforced concrete structures are not common. RCC is generally limited to foundations and low walls. In permanent bigger greenhouses, floors and benches for growing the crops are made of concrete.

Fig 8.2

Fig 8.2 Greenhouse with steel structure

(Source: www.poly-tex.com )


Glass has been traditional glazing material all over the world (Fig 8.3).  Widely used glasses for greenhouse are: (i) Single drawn or float glass and (ii) Hammered and tempered glass. Single drawn or float glass has the uniform thickness of 3 to 4 mm. Hammered and tempered glass has a thickness of 4 mm. Single drawn glass is made in the traditional way by simply pulling the molten glass either by hand or by mechanical equipment. Float glass is made in modern way by allowing the molten glass to float on the molten tin. Coating with metal oxide with a low emissivity is used for saving of energy with adequate light transmittance. Hammered glass is a cast glass with one face (exterior) smooth and the other one (interior) rough. It is designed to enhance light diffusion. This glass is not transparent, but translucent. Tempered glass is the glass, which is quickly cooled after manufacture, adopting a procedure similar to that used for steel. This kind of processing gives higher impact resistance to the glass, which is generally caused by hail. Glass used as a covering material of greenhouses, is expected to be subjected to rather severe wind loading, snow and hail loading conditions.  The strength mainly depends on the length/width ratio of the panel and on the thickness of the panel, but the most widely used thickness is 4 mm.

Fig 8.3

Fig. 8.3 Glass greenhouse

(Source: www.gothicarchgreenhouses.com )


Polyethylene is principally used today for two reasons- (i) Plastic film greenhouses with permanent metal frames (Fig 8.4) cost less than glass greenhouses and (ii) Plastic film greenhouses are popular because the cost of heating them is approximately 40% lower compared to single-layer glass or fiberglass-reinforced plastic greenhouses. The disadvantages are: these covering materials are short lived compared to glass and plastic panels. UV light from the sun causes the plastic to darken, thereby lowering transmission of light, also making it brittle, which leads to its breakage due to wind. A thermal screen is installed inside a glass greenhouse that will lower the heat requirement to approximately that of a double-layer plastic film greenhouse, but this increases the cost of the glass greenhouse. Polyethylene film was developed in the late 1930s in England and spread around the middle of this century. Commonly used plastic for greenhouse coverings are thermoplastics. Basic characteristics of thermoplastics are:  (i) thermoplastics consists of long chain molecules, soften with heating and harden with cooling and this process is reversible and (ii) thermoplastics constitute a group of material that are attractive to the designer for two main reasons: (a) Thermoplastics have the following specific physical properties-stiffness, robustness and resilience to resist loads and deformations imposed during normal use and (b) It can readily be processed using efficient mass production techniques, result in low labour charge.

The main reason to use polyethylene year round for greenhouse covering is due to presence of UV-inhibitor in it. Otherwise it lasts for only one heating season. UV-inhibited plastic cover may last for a period of 4 to 5 years. UV-grade polyethylene is available in widths up to 15.2 m in flat sheets and up to 7.6 m in tubes. Standard lengths include 30.5, 33.5, 45.7, 61 and 67 m. Some companies provide custom lengths up to a max. of 91.5 m. Condensation on polyethylene film is a big problem. Condensation causes disease development, development of water logged condition and oxygen deficiency inside the greenhouse. Condensation reduces light intensity within the greenhouse. To avoid this problem, anti-fog surfactant, which discourages condensation, is built into the film or panel. Warm objects, such as plants, the greenhouse frame and soil radiate IR energy to colder bodies at night, which result in loss of heat in greenhouse. Since polyethylene is a poor barrier to radiant heat, it is formulated with IR-blocking chemicals into it during manufacture, will stop about half of the radiant heat loss. On cold and clear nights, as much as 25% of the total heat loss of a greenhouse can be prevented in this way and on cloudy nights only 15% is prevented. UV-stabilised polyethylene, on an average, transmits about 87% of photo synthetically active radiation (PAR) into the greenhouse. IR absorbing polyethylene, reduces radiant heat loss, transmits about 82% of photo synthetically active radiation (PAR) into the greenhouse. The amount of light passing through two layers of a greenhouse covering is approximately the square of the decimal fraction of the amount passing through one layer.

Fig 8.4

Fig 8.4 Polyethylene Greenhouse

(Source: www.poly-ag.com )

8.6 Polyvinyl chloride film (PVC films)

PVC films (fig 8.5) are UV light resistant vinyl films of 0.2 to 0.3 mm and are guaranteed for 4 to 5 years respectively. The cost of 0.3 mm vinyl film is three times that of 0.15 mm polyethylene. Vinyl film is produced in rolls up to 1.27 m wide. Vinyl films tend to hold a static electrical charge, which attracts and holds dust. This in turn reduces light transmittance unless the dust is washed off. Vinyl films are seldom used in the United States. In Japan, 95% of greenhouses are covered with plastic film, out of which 90% are covered with vinyl film.

fig 8.5

Fig 8.5 PolyVinyl Chloride films

8.6 Tefzel T2 film

The most recent addition of greenhouse film plastic covering is Tefzel T2 film (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene). Earlier, this film was used as covering on solar collectors. Anticipated life expectancy is 20 years. The light transmission is 95% and is greater than that of any other greenhouse covering material. A double layer has a light transmission of 90% (0.95 x 0.95). Tefzel T2 film is more transparent to IR radiation than other film plastics. Hence, less heat is trapped inside the greenhouse during hot weather. As a result, less cooling energy is required. Disadvantage is that, the film is available only in 1.27 m wide rolls. This requires clamping rails on the greenhouse for every 1.2 m.  If reasonable width strips become available, the price is not a problem, because a double layer covering will still cost less than a polycarbonate panel covering with its aluminum extrusions, and will last longer, and will have much higher light intensity inside the greenhouse.

fig 8.6

Fig 8.6 ETFE greenhouse (Eden project, Cornwall, England, 2001)


Initially, PVC rigid panels showed much promise as an inexpensive covering material (almost 40% of cost of long lasting fiberglass reinforced plastics), has the life of 5 years. After commercial application, these panels indicated that the life expectancy was much shorter, less than 2 years. This is undesirable factor, because the cost of PVC panels was 4 to 5 times that of polyethylene film and they required much more time to install. Now-a-days, PVC rigid panels are not in use.


FRP was more popular as a greenhouse covering material in the recent past. Advantage of FRP is that it is more resistant to breakage by factors, such as hail or vandals. Sunlight passing through FRP is scattered by the fibers in the panels, as a result this light intensity is rather uniform throughout the greenhouse in comparison with a glass covering. Disadvantages are the panels subjected to etching and pitting by dust abrasion and chemical pollution. Based on the grade, the usable life period of FRP panel varies. Some grades give 5 to 10 years, while better grades can last up to 20 years. FRP panels are flexible enough to conform to the shape of Quonset greenhouses, which make FRP a very versatile covering material. FRP can be applied to the inexpensive frames of plastic film greenhouses or to the more elaborate frames of glass type greenhouses. The price of FRP greenhouse lies between that of a plastic film greenhouse and that of a glass greenhouse. But the cost is compensated by the elimination of the need for replacement of film plastic in every year or alternate years. Corrugated panels were used because of their greater strength. Flat panels are used occasionally for the end and side walls, where the load is not great. It is available in 1.3 m width, length up to 7.3 m and in a variety of colours. The total quantity of light transmitted through clear FRP is approximately equivalent to that transmitted through glass, but diminishes in relation its colour. For greenhouse crops in general, only clear FRP permits a satisfactory level of light transmission (88 to 90%). Coloured FRP has found a limited use in greenhouses intended for growing houseplants that require low light intensity and in display greenhouses for holding plants during the sales period. FRP has advantage over glass is that, it cools easily. FRP greenhouses require fewer structural members since sash bars are not needed.


These panels have been available for about 15 years for greenhouse use. The panels have been used for glazing the side and end walls of plastic film greenhouses and retrofitting old glass greenhouse. Acrylic panels are highly inflammable, whereas polycarbonate panels are non -flammable. Acrylic panels are popular due to their higher light transmission and longer life. Acrylic panels are available in thickness of 16 and 18 mm, and have 83% of PAR light transmission. Acrylic panels cannot be bent, but the thinner panels can be bent to fit curved roof greenhouses. These panels are also available with a coating to prevent condensation drip. Polycarbonate panels are preferred for commercial greenhouses due to lower price, flame resistance and greater resistance to hail damage. Polycarbonate panels are available in thickness of 4, 6, 8, 10 and 16 mm. These panels are also available with a coating to prevent condensation drip and also with an acrylic coating for extra protection from UV light.

fig 8.7

Fig 8.7 Acrylic and polycarbonate rigid panel greenhouses

(Source: www.gothicarchgreenhouses.com , www.researchgreenhouse.net )


1. Nicolas Castilla , 2013. “ Greenhouse Technology and Management” Ediciones Mundi-Prensa, Madrid (Spain) and Mexico.PP.61-68

2. www.tnau.ac.in

Last modified: Thursday, 6 March 2014, 9:09 AM