Discover the Art of Year-Round Gardening with Our Comprehensive Passive Solar Greenhouse Guide

Welcome to your definitive journey into Passive Solar Greenhouses – a beacon of sustainable living and self-reliance in cold climates and temperate climates. With decades of pioneering experience in this field, we are thrilled to share our wealth of knowledge and expertise with you. Our guide serves as your ultimate resource, crafted to empower you with the skills and insights necessary to achieve food security and ecological harmony, regardless of the weather outside.

Passive Solar Greenhouses are not just structures; they are the heart of a resilient lifestyle, ensuring a continuous supply of fresh, nutritious produce.

In this guide, we delve into every aspect of these remarkable systems – from the foundational principles of passive solar design to the intricate details of construction and maintenance. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener, a homesteader, or someone taking the first steps towards a sustainable future, this guide is tailored to meet your needs.

Our approach is global, with techniques and knowledge applicable to a wide range of temperate and cold climates. By joining us on this journey, you’re not just gaining information; you’re becoming part of a community committed to environmental stewardship and sustainable living.

As you navigate through this comprehensive guide, remember that this is only the beginning. For those who aspire to master the art of Passive Solar Greenhouse design and truly transform their living space, our exclusive online course starting in March 2024 offers an unparalleled opportunity to turn these concepts into reality.

Rob, Michelle and the Verge Permaculture team

Design the greenhouse of your dreams to extend your growing season…

No matter how temperate or cold your climate is!

What is a passive solar greenhouse?

A passive solar greenhouse is a structure designed to harness the energy of the sun to create a warm and stable environment for growing plants year-round, without the need for additional heating sources. It uses strategic orientation, thermal mass, insulation, and glazing materials to collect, store, and distribute solar energy efficiently. 

The key is to maximize solar gain during the colder months, reduce heat loss, and sometimes incorporate natural ventilation to prevent overheating during warmer periods. The goal is to create a sustainable, low-energy-use greenhouse that works in harmony with the local climate and sun’s path.

The PSGH Concept and How it Functions

Passive Solar Greenhouses MUST be the greenhouse of the future – we don’t have a choice. We CAN design and build structures that utilize natural energy flows to meet our nutritional needs. 

In this video Rob discusses the application and design considerations of a passive solar greenhouse in detail, mentioning components like root cellars, commercial kitchens, and the integration of these elements with the greenhouse. It talks about the synergy between the greenhouse and the root cellar regarding temperature regulation and CO2 exchange, as well as the thermal dynamics involved with the earth tubes and seasonal heat storage.

Why Build a Passive Solar Greenhouse? (benefits)

But what’s so good about these PSGHs? What are the main benefits for PSGH?

A passive solar greenhouse gives you the ability to create a sustainable and naturally controlled growing environment. It allows us to draw on many benefits like Energy Efficiency, Extended Growing Season, Resilience to Weather, Sustainability, and Food Security. 

The basic greenhouse is designed to heat and cool itself without additional gadgets or energy. However, you increase its efficiency with every luxury feature you add. 

Save heating bills by making the greenhouse an addition to your home

Cut water bills by harvesting rainwater from the roof to irrigate your plants

Add a wood-fired hot tub: bathe in rainwater, then use it to irrigate your plants

Save on groceries by preserving your harvest throughout the season

And that’s just the beginning of the efficiency-enhancing luxury elements you can benefit from!

For all these reasons plus MORE, we are so glad we built this passive solar greenhouse. Watch the video of our PSGH in Calgary, or check out this post where we go into more detail about the main benefits and use cases for PSGH.

Frosty Climate Gardening: Thriving in Cold Winters with Passive Solar Greenhouses

In our frosty climate, with its long, cold, harsh winters, the challenges of gardening are uniquely demanding. With an average annual temperature hovering around 4.1°C, less than 100 frost-free days, and the constant risk of hail, one might think successful year-round gardening is a distant dream. This climate, often likened to a moderate temperate desert with approximately 500 mm of precipitation, presents a formidable challenge.

Yet, the abundant sunlight that graces our winters is a silver lining, a resource we’ve learned to harness effectively through the innovation of passive solar greenhouses.

These structures are ingeniously designed to capture and maximize direct sunlight and warmth from the south, while simultaneously insulating against heat loss from the north, east, and west sides.

Embracing this challenge, our aim was to revolutionize the concept of the growing season. We applied permaculture principles meticulously to tackle the elements – the chill, hail, and frost – turning them from adversaries to allies. In our design, we utilized a pre-existing concrete pad, measuring 10’ x 20’ with a 10’ ceiling. The shed-style roof not only facilitates rainwater capture but also plays a crucial role in sun moderation, balancing sunlight and shade to create an optimal growing environment.

This approach is more than a solution; it’s a testament to our commitment to sustainable living, where every challenge is an opportunity to innovate and thrive.

Read the rest of our story on how we built our passive solar greenhouse.

The Passive Solar Greenhouse of the future is being built in Kamloops, BC
See for Yourself →

The Verge team is building the Greenhouses of the Future. This greenhouse in Kamloops is the culmination of 10 years of research, design, and experimentation. Our dream of building a greenhouse with a root cellar and commercial kitchen has finally come true. Go check out our story! 

Mastering Passive Solar Greenhouse Design: Key Principles for Year-Round Growth

In regions where cold reigns supreme, the allure of cultivating food throughout the year has led to the rising popularity of passive solar greenhouses. These innovative structures offer a solution to one of the primary challenges our clients face: achieving consistent, year-round food production in temperate and cold climates. While there are myriad ways to design and construct a passive solar greenhouse, adhering to certain fundamental principles is crucial for success.

In our comprehensive video guide, Rob, an expert in the field, delves into the seven essential principles that form the backbone of effective passive solar greenhouse design:
  • Insulation: A critical factor in maintaining a stable internal environment, crucial for guarding against the chill of frosty climates.
  • Aspect Ratio: Understanding the dimensions and spatial layout that optimize sunlight absorption and heat retention.
  • Orientation: Strategically positioning the greenhouse to maximize solar gain, especially during the shorter days of winter.
  • Glazing and Glazing Material: Choosing the right materials for sunlight penetration, which plays a pivotal role in plant growth and temperature regulation.
  • Ventilation: Ensuring proper air circulation to maintain a balanced atmosphere and prevent overheating or humidity issues.
  • Air Movement: Implementing systems for effective air distribution, essential for plant health and growth consistency.
  • Irrigation: Designing a reliable watering system that adapts to the unique conditions within the greenhouse.
  • Access to Real Soil: Providing plants with a natural growing medium, vital for nutrient uptake and root development.

Each of these principles is not just a guideline but a step towards mastering the art of passive solar greenhouse gardening in challenging climates.

By understanding and applying these principles, you empower yourself to create a thriving, sustainable food source right in your backyard, no matter the weather outside.

For an in-depth exploration of these principles, delve into Rob’s insights with our article “7 Passive Solar Greenhouse Design Tips,” and watch the practical applications unfold in our corresponding YouTube video.

How can I get started with a PSGH on my farm/property?

We love teaching and education inspiring homesteaders about permaculture and Passive Solar Greenhouses. And just to be clear, we’re not talking about prefab greenhouse kits or ready-made greenhouse designs…but a custom passive solar greenhouse design that you create based on your unique needs, goals, climate, and property specs, using tested and proven principles and expert knowledge from internationally-recognized engineer and permaculture educator Rob Avis.

…we have what you’ve been looking for:

Escape the grocery supply-chain woes. Forget the high-priced, pale winter tomatoes and tasteless imported fruit. See a healthy, delicious life ahead with proven solutions for designing and building passive solar greenhouses for nutrient-dense food year-round – even if you’re in a temperate or cold climate!

Embarking on Your Passive Solar Greenhouse Journey

Ready to begin? The ideal starting point is our March 2024 Passive Solar Greenhouse Masterclass. This comprehensive 10-week course, led by Rob, guides you meticulously through designing your own passive solar greenhouse. We cover the entire process, from the initial groundwork to the final touches, ensuring you have a thorough understanding and practical skills to create your sustainable oasis.

But, if you want to jumpstart your Passive Solar Greenhouse learning prior to the masterclass, here are some awesome resources to get you started. 

greenhouse design on ipad

Introduction to Passive Solar Greenhouse Design

Join Us Live Online at one of our Intro to Passive Solar Greenhouse Design Free Webinars: Feb 27, 2024, 1PM to 2:30PM ET or Feb 29, 2024, 5PM to 6:30PM ET

greenhouse design on ipad

Design Your Own Passive Solar Greenhouse

We’ve got an awesome 3-part series about Designing Your Own Passive Solar Greenhouse. In this series, Rob walks through all the nuances of designing and installing a PSGH, covering key topics like solar walls, earth tubes, orientation, thermal mass and much more. Start here with Part 1.

Can I really build one myself?

Feeling a bit daunted at the prospect of building a passive solar greenhouse? Worried because you’re not an architect or experienced builder? Don’t worry – that’s exactly what we’re here for! Our courses are tailored to support everyone, from seasoned DIY enthusiasts to complete beginners. We equip you with the necessary tools, knowledge, and step-by-step guidance to create not just a greenhouse, but a beautifully functional piece of your sustainable living journey.

Got questions about the course? We’re here to help. Send us a message, and a member of our dedicated team will provide you with all the information you need to get started.

Ready to Transform Your Green Living Dreams into Reality?

Join Our March 2024 Masterclass Now!

Dive into the world of sustainable, temperate and cold climate gardening with confidence. Our March 2024 Live Masterclass is your gateway to mastering Passive Solar Greenhouse Design. This is not just a course; it’s a transformative experience that will equip you with the skills to create a thriving, year-round garden, no matter the climate.

Seize this chance to learn from seasoned experts, join a community of fellow sustainability seekers, and make a meaningful stride towards achieving your dream of a self-sufficient, environmentally harmonious lifestyle.

Enroll in Our March 2024 Masterclass and start your journey to sustainable success today!

Imagine Adding Months to Your Gardening Season…

New Foods to Your Diet…A Hot Tub…A Canning Kitchen…

Dollars Off Your Heating Bill…Dollars in the Bank?!

Optimizing Your Passive Solar Greenhouse: Effective Management Techniques

Once your passive solar greenhouse is up and running, the next crucial step is managing it efficiently to maximize its potential. With over a decade of hands-on experience in the Canadian North, we’ve gathered a wealth of knowledge on how to do just that.

In the following post, we delve into the intricacies of managing a passive solar greenhouse to ensure optimal performance. This includes advanced watering techniques that cater to the unique microclimate of your greenhouse, strategic mulching methods to conserve moisture and maintain soil health, and the integration of beneficial insects for natural pest control. We also cover essential soil management practices to sustain plant health and productivity.

Our insights are gleaned from years of practical experience, ensuring that the advice we offer is not just theoretical but tested and proven in real-world conditions. Whether you’re new to greenhouse gardening or looking to refine your existing skills, our guide is an indispensable resource.

Learn the art of managing your passive solar greenhouse to its fullest potential – from ensuring ideal growing conditions to adopting sustainable practices that boost productivity and resilience.

Grow Your Own Food

All Year-Round In

4-Season Greenhouses

Closing Thoughts: Your Journey Towards Mastery in Passive Solar Greenhouse Design

As we wrap up this comprehensive guide on Passive Solar Greenhouses, we reflect on the journey that lies ahead. This guide is just the beginning of a larger, more impactful venture into the world of sustainable, resilient greenhouse design and implementation.

We believe that the best person to design your greenhouse is not a pricey consultant, but YOU…based on your needs, your goals, and your property specs.”

– Rob, Co-Owner of Verge Permaculture 

Rob Avis, the leading expert in this field, perfectly captures our ethos. This philosophy is at the heart of our approach – empowering you, the greenhouse owner, with the knowledge and skills to create a space that is truly yours, tailored to your unique circumstances.

Understanding this, our March 2024 Live Masterclass is an indispensable resource for anyone serious about mastering Passive Solar Greenhouse Design. This course is not just about learning; it’s about experiencing, doing, and transforming. You’ll gain hands-on expertise, benefit from personalized guidance, and connect with a community equally passionate about sustainable living.

Join us in this Masterclass to turn your aspirations into reality. Whether you are starting fresh or aiming to enhance your existing knowledge, this course is your pathway to becoming proficient in designing and managing a greenhouse that aligns perfectly with your vision of sustainability and self-sufficiency.

Secure your place in our March 2024 Masterclass and embark on a journey to redefine your relationship with sustainable gardening.

Begin a journey where you become the master architect of your own resilience. Enroll now and take the lead in crafting sustainable living spaces that embody your vision of a regenerative future.

Take the leap to ultimate food security – and so much more – today!

Tools & Resources 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What Does It Cost to Build a Passive Solar Greenhouse?

So you like the ideas and you’re thinking about getting started. Of course, your next question is.. “How much does it cost?” Generally speaking, the cost to build a passive solar greenhouse ranges from $40- $100/sqft depending on features and finishes. 

In this video Rob walks through how much he would have to pay to build a passive solar greenhouse just like ours. Some things to consider include; Do you want to pay someone to do your greenhouse design, blueprints and construction? Or would you rather do it yourself, with expert help and guidance?

Do you offer consulting for greenhouse design?
We offer phone consulting around the world. If you have taken the course we offered a reduced rate of $100/hr to our past students.
What are the disadvantages of passive solar greenhouse?

Some disadvantages of passive solar greenhouses include limited climate control due to reliance on external weather conditions, the risk of overheating without precise management of ventilation and shading, and the significant initial investment required for specialized materials and design features. These challenges necessitate a fine balance: a design that captures and retains sufficient solar heat while preventing excessive temperatures, and a willingness to invest more upfront for the long-term benefits of sustainability and reduced operational costs.

What is the difference between active and passive solar greenhouses?

The distinction between active and passive solar greenhouses hinges on their heating mechanisms: passive greenhouses maximize heat from natural sunlight using design techniques like proper orientation, thermal mass, and specialized insulation, aiming for self-sufficiency without external energy inputs. In contrast, active greenhouses employ mechanical systems like solar thermal collectors and fans to regulate temperature, offering precise control but at the cost of complexity and higher operational energy. He would likely suggest that while active systems provide more consistent conditions, passive designs are typically more sustainable and economical, aligning with permaculture principles.

What is a passive solar greenhouse for temperate climates and cold climates?

Specialized design strategies are essential for passive solar greenhouses in cold climates to maximize efficiency and sustainability. We’re looking for robust insulation, particularly on the non-sun-facing sides, and the use of high-quality glazing materials that allow for maximum light penetration while minimizing heat loss. We should also highlight the necessity of incorporating thermal mass, like water barrels or dense materials, to store heat during the day that can be released at night, maintaining a steady temperature within the greenhouse.

Orientation is also critical, we recommend a south-facing orientation in the Northern Hemisphere to capture the low-angled winter sunlight. We suggest perimeter and foundation insulation to prevent ground-heat loss, and the strategic use of ventilation to manage humidity and temperature. Additionally, we advise the use of energy curtains for retaining heat during the coldest times and creating microclimates inside the greenhouse to protect the most sensitive plants, further extending the growing season in frigid conditions.

What is a passive solar greenhouse?

A passive solar greenhouse is a greenhouse designed to utilize sunlight for heating and lighting as efficiently as possible, reducing or eliminating the need for additional electrical or heating systems. This approach contrasts with other types of greenhouses that often rely on external energy sources for heating, cooling, and lighting.

The ‘passive solar’ aspect refers to several key design principles:

  1. Orientation and Glazing: The greenhouse is typically oriented to maximize southern exposure in the Northern Hemisphere (or northern exposure in the Southern Hemisphere). This orientation, combined with transparent glazing materials (like glass or clear plastic) and proper angling, allows maximum sunlight penetration when it’s needed most.
  2. Thermal Mass: Materials that can absorb, store, and later release heat (such as water containers, concrete, or stone) are incorporated into the design. During the day, these materials absorb heat from the sun and then slowly release it at night, helping to maintain a stable temperature.
  3. Insulation: Adequate insulation, especially on the north side and other areas not receiving direct sunlight, is crucial to prevent heat loss.
  4. Ventilation: Strategic placement of vents and windows facilitates natural air circulation, assisting in temperature regulation and humidity control.

Craving More In-Depth Knowledge on Passive Solar Greenhouse Design?

For those of you who love diving deep into the technicalities and finer points of Passive Solar Greenhouse Design, we’ve got just the thing for you. Below is a curated collection of resources that delve into the specific challenges and advanced aspects of PSGH design. Whether you’re troubleshooting a current issue or simply hungry for more detailed knowledge, these guides and articles are sure to satisfy your technical appetite.

About the Passive Solar Greenhouse team

Rob Avis, P.Eng., co-founder of Verge Permaculture, offers more than a decade of international experience in engineering, project management, ecological design and sustainable technologies. Since building his own passive solar greenhouse in 2012, he has helped numerous clients design and build the perfect passive solar greenhouses for their needs. 

But, he realized, why stop there, when he could empower more people to achieve greater resilience and enhance their lives while saving money? So Rob created this course, giving you access to his experience with passive solar greenhouses for a fraction of his consulting fee.

Interested in designing your very own Passive Solar Greenhouse? Sign up for our waitlist to know when our Passive Solar Greenhouse Design Masterclass is open for registration!

Have Questions?

Want to connect on-on-one with someone from our Team? Send Customer Care an email with any questions you have and/or request a time to connect.

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