3,000 sf Greenhouse

As the market for healthy fresh produce increases so also does the environmental and geopolitical impact of the food we consume.  Consumers are becoming more aware of these impacts leading to increased demand for locally grown food.  However, during the winter season, locally grown produce is not available in much of the United States.  Rather, it is shipped from southern states and Mexico or even farther away from South America, Australia, and beyond to feed US markets.  The small amount of produce that is grown locally in northern states is grown in heated greenhouses.  Unfortunately, this locally produced food is frequently more expensive than imported food and carries a high environmental cost.

To fully understand the impact of supplying fresh produce to the US in the winter it is important to understand the scope of the problem.  According to a USDA study, 44% of the fresh fruit and 16% of the fresh vegetables consumed in the US in 2006 were imported.  The same study showed that the total cost of imported food nearly doubled from 1990 to 2006 and that the trend towards imported produce is on the rise, increasing our reliance on other countries for basic needs such as food.  Additionally, some food produced outside the US is grown in countries with social and environmental standards not considered acceptable in the US.  Not to mention, that food is then shipped on planes and cargo ships to the US for distribution and consumption.

On the other side of the coin food grown in the northern United States in the winter is grown in greenhouses heated with fossil fuels to maintain minimum temperatures adequate for plant growth.  Frequently these greenhouses have easily avoidable design shortcomings that drastically increase energy use such as poorly designed envelopes, low solar heat gain glazing, and little or no thermal mass.  With little effort, greenhouses can be designed to take full advantage of the sunlight the plants need to grow to also heat the building.

The solution to both problems is greenhouses that store solar heat and therefore don’t use fossil fuels for heating.  If this wintertime performance can be achieved, then food can be grown locally in the northern US without fossil fuels, greatly reducing the environmental impact of produce while decreasing cost.

Hutton Architecture Studio in conjunction with Synergistic Building Technology (SBT) has designed a greenhouse that meets just these criteria, a near zero energy active solar greenhouse.

SBT constructed a research and development greenhouse funded by the Colorado Department of Agriculture in the fall of 2010 inBoulder, Colorado.  Its performance through the winter of 2010-2011 was outstanding.  The R&D greenhouse maintained temperatures above 50 degrees inside even when outside temperatures were 18 below zero with sunlight as the only heat source.

In 2011, Hutton Architecture Studio has been working with SBT to develop the next generation of greenhouses based on the R&D project.  We have developed concepts for a 500 sf attached residential greenhouse up to a 1 acre modular production greenhouse.  We are currently in construction on one greenhouse and will begin construction on a second early in 2012.  As the market for sustainably harvested locally grown food expands green greenhouses are key piece of the puzzle.

By Gardner Clute

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