How much does it cost to heat YOUR greenhouse?

rht123January 28, 2014

I checked out a couple books from the library, read them (for the most part), and am in the planning stages of my greenhouse. The heating sections of the books weren't too in depth and what I got from it was that it would take a 30,000 BTU heater to maintain 60 degrees during the coldest temperatures in my area. Then I came to this site and read the "Calculate the cost of heating and cooling a greehouse" section which was much more helpful.

There are still some things that are unclear to me though. It is mostly with thermal mass and solar heating. The page I read assumed no heat radiating from the sun. I was wondering how much the sun helps to heat greenhouses in the winter. At least where I live, most of the time in the winter the sky is overcast and there are only a few days with "sunshine" where it feels warmer where the rays hit your skin. I am not knowlegeable enough in this area to really know how much of a difference that would make anyway. What I am really hoping for was someone in or close to zone 6 to have actual numbers for what they paid to heat their greenhouse to give me an idea what a normal cost would be.

A quick search on amazon for a 30,000 btu heater showed a propane one for close to $300. Reading the Q&A it said a 20 gallon propane tank lasts about 30 hours. And there went my hopes of using those. So also what I was curious of is since a bigger tank would be necessary if I were to use propane, and a company already comes to fill the tank up for the house, are there any fun extra fees if I were to ask to fill up some larger tank that I purchased elsewhere. Or would it be dangerous to fill a smaller one up with the big one from the house?

Next topic: heat sinks. From the little I read it seemed like it said the sun heats 'em up during the day then they release their magic when it gets cold at night. What I thought was it seemed like they would consume heat from the heater anyway and if I left the thermostat on the heater at a constant 60 degrees there would be no temperature differential for any thermal mass to release it's energy. Due to the amount of interest in this area I assume there is more to it that someone can fill me in on.

When I first got the idea of building a greenhouse, a year round one was really what I was hoping for. Something I could grow all neat different kinds of tropicals in. My house doesn't really have to many sunny windows not to mention items that the cat won't leave alone. (For an extended period of time I should mention, being that she could walk by a plant every day for months then one day just out of the blue decides she wants to chew some holes in it.) However, realizing the costs of a year round greenhouse, perhaps just a seasonal one would be better for me and I could just keep some of the warm-region hobby plants in the house. Then I could use the greenhouse for propogation/long season crops during the growing season. It would also help if someone who was/is in this boat could chime just to give a an idea as to maintenance costs.

Any relevant information about this subject in general just to help me be more knowledgeable would be appreciated as well. Thanks.

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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

My 1700 sq ft costs about $400 per year to heat to 40F. That's with ave outside of about 30F. Since cost is proportional to the average difference in inside vs outside, it would cost roughly $800 and $1200 to heat to 50 and 60F respectively.

It's your goal of 60F that gets expensive.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 6:40PM
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CanadianLori(6a Oakville)

Our temperatures were bitterly cold
Cost for natural gas heater for the period December 18th to January 18th - approximately $100. - heated to 50F (min heat setting) but got warmer on sunny days.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2014 at 3:20PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Cost without knowing size doesn't help much. All other things equal cost will be at least somewhat proportional to size. Although I suspect that a greenhouse 10% the size of mine would cost more than 10% as much to heat. The reason being the smaller greenhouse will have a larger surface area from which to lose heat.

This post was edited by fruitnut on Wed, Jan 29, 14 at 21:29

    Bookmark   January 29, 2014 at 9:16PM
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CanadianLori(6a Oakville)

My greenhouse is a palram single layer polycarb - 6x8 - approximately 324 cubic feet.
I've read a lot of posts here referring to the gh getting colder than it is outside - mine (presently unheated) was .8F colder than the outside this a.m.- I suspect it was just because it wasn't keeping up with the outside temperature rising.And just that.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 7:44AM
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CanadianLori(6a Oakville)

Forgot to mention that very few sites recommend heaters by the square foot and that is why I used that particular reference.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 2:51PM
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sand_mueller(z 7a, oklahoma)

Last year I heated the twinwall part (400 sq.ft.) for about $100, mostly firewood. This year I added 200 sq.ft. of leaky used window glass glazing and the heating may be over $400.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 10:28AM
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So to answer some of your questions rht123...

If you already have a large propane tank, it would be cheapest to run a line from that to the GH and use that fuel. Of course you will need to refill more frequently, but generally big tank propane runs less than the tiny BBQ tanks pricing. You may want to consider getting a second big tank, so that you can fill it during the summer when prices are cheaper.

In theory, if you have thermal mass, that will give off its heat at night until the GH gets down to the temp you've set your heater thermostat to. Then the heater will come on and keep everything at that temp. So you won't be heating the thermal mass with the heater. But in cold, cloudy stretches, that thermal mass won't be helping much either. And if you ever let the GH and thermal mass get below that thermostat temp, then your heater will be bringing that thermal mass back up to temp too.

It is best to use some of the more sophisticated heating estimators. Ones that ask you for not only the floor area, but the glazed area and type of glazing (or R-value of the glazing). If you know those numbers, and the temp difference between inside and outside, you should be able to get a pretty good estimate of the needed BTU's. Then if you know your heater efficiency and the price you pay for fuel and the fuel's BTUs, you can get an accurate estimate.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 4:40PM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

I love this one. It's what I use for budgeting.

Here is a link that might be useful: My favorite greenhouse heat calculator

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 5:12PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


I like that heat loss calculator. According to it the heating cost is proportional to the surface area of the greenhouse, not square footage.

And of course heating cost is directly proportional to the average difference in inside vs outside temperature.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 8:36PM
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I'd agree, it looks correct. I put in the numbers for my new GH, and it came up with approximately the same number of BTUs that I had calculated manually.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 8:55PM
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Well, that sure does help, especially the calculator. I couldn't really provide a surface area because all that was still up in the air but this thread really gave me some direction. Thanks for all your help.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 9:04AM
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curlygirl(5-6 Massachusetts)

As long as you are not running your heat through your heat sink/thermal mass, you should be fine. Thermal mass keeps things a steady temperature so while it may not "heat" your greenhouse" on cloudy days, it does help maintain temperatures. If you were to run your heat through the heat sink you would be directly heating your thermal mass and cheating the air of heat. As already stated, heating thermal mass is not efficient. However, heating the air of a greenhouse that has lots of thermal mass is a lot more efficient than just heating more open air and air that is adjacent to more outdoor surface area.

I have a berm on my north wall to limit the above grade surface area of the greenhouse. I also have an indoor berm of sorts in the form of terraced raised beds. The thermal mass and excellent thermal envelope has kept the temperatures steady in New England winter weather with no heat other than the sun. I just discovered a door left open a crack by a construction worker (!) and the greenhouse temperature is 50 degrees and the outdoor temp is in the teens! Luckily, I have no plants in there yet. -Still painting and our Subterranean Heat and Cooling System is not running yet. But I am pleased with the performance with just Passive Solar design working for me. So far, it has cost me nothing to heat but I did invest in building a greenhouse with R28 walls, R42 ceiling, triple pane windows, double pane skylights, below grade design w/ berm to take advantage of the earth's steady temperature and a SHCS.

A good resource for building is They don't have anything specific to greenhouses, however, they have all kinds of information about thermal mass, air sealing, insulation, high performance windows, Passive Solar, etc. They have great forums to ask questions too.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 8:40AM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Impressive results Curlygirl! I'm also a big fan of the no heat/cold climate frame of mind. Sounds like you have really done your homework. Congratulations!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 12:38PM
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curlygirl(5-6 Massachusetts)

Thanks so much, Karin_mt! I am still holding my breath a bit since I was hoping to grow some temperature-sensitive fruit trees and I won't know how the heat sink of the SHCS performs for another year+ but I am pleased so far.

I have long held the same view. Having a greenhouse that can maintain temperatures without a lot of technology and fuel is the way to go. I could not imagine the pain of losing all my fruit trees do to an extended power outage in the winter or if fossil fuel prices get so high that I can no longer afford to heat my greenhouse and then have to let fruit trees die. Of course, I could use the greenhouse for season extension only but I'd still have to deal with temperature volatility.

Can't wait to get my fruit trees! Having a lush greenhouse environment in the northeast this time of year would do wonders for my state of mind! :)

Do you have a greenhouse or plan to build one?

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 5:24PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Agreed on all counts CurlyGirl!

For me, the thing that appeals most about the GH is the uber-efficiency of growing our own food right here at home. Everything we do is geared toward maximizing food without a major energy outlay. To me, personally, heating a GH all winter defeats the purpose of being efficient so I've never been interested in that pathway. I can see why folks do it, so I'm not passing judgement, but it's not for us.

Yes, we do have our GH already, a Riga in Zone 4 Montana. We get by with a nicely insulated foundation, stacks of 5 gallon water buckets for thermal mass, and a predominance of sunshine in the winter. I also make a hoophouse within the greenhouse using metal hoops and many layers of fleecy frost blankets. This has allowed us to keep lettuce alive even in this cold winter. (Although I brought most of the lettuce inside during our recent dip to -27, but amazingly, even the lettuce left in the GH survived just fine.)

The next thing I'd like to do efficiency-wise is vent excess GH heat into the house in the winter. So often the roof vents are open and perfectly good 85-degree air is venting to the atmosphere. I would love to have that warmth coming into the house instead. So I'd like to figure out a way to do that before next winter.

What kind of fruit trees are you getting? How exciting!

    Bookmark   February 11, 2014 at 5:08PM
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curlygirl(5-6 Massachusetts)

Venting into your house sounds like a great idea! I have heard there can be problems with it but it sounds like your situation will work very well. I like the idea of harvesting the wasted heat and then sealing the house off from it when it gets cold. -That is really efficient!

We are going to see what we can get away with growing in our greenhouse. At the very least we can grow citrus but I'd like to grow mangos, avocados, miracle fruit, carambola, ice cream bean, cacao, cinnamon, black pepper, etc. We'll also do seed starting for our outdoor vegetable garden. We built a root cellar along with the greenhouse so that we can store some vegetables and fruits for long periods of time -some all the way into the spring. Do you have a root cellar? It is a great way to store some appropriate crops for long periods of time with no energy.

You are lucky to have so much sun out in Montana. In Massachusetts we have a lot of cloud cover and we have a lot of trees that limit the low winter light we do get.

Good luck with your getting your excess heat venting into your house for next winter!

Curly Girl

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 8:05PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Thanks Curly Girl - I am looking forward to following your progress as you settle in to your new setup.

We've tried a couple of different configurations of jury-rigged root cellars and we've settled on putting coolers in the unheated part of the garage. Seems to work just fine. Once it warms up in March we don't have much left so we move it into the fridge at that point.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 11:00AM
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