Greenhouses Are Not Created Equal

Your greenhouse protects your most important commodity — your crop.  Make sure you choose one that lasts.

Tall greenhouses, such as Stuppy’s Aeromax® model shown here, allow heat to rise efficiently on sunny days, reducing stress on the crop.

Strength and durability are at the top of the list when choosing a greenhouse. A new structure or upgrade is a significant investment, and it protects the even more important crops inside. A greenhouse needs to transmit light and air, but also survive challenging environmental conditions that might range from heavy snow load, high winds and even earthquakes. Behind every solid greenhouse design is a strong engineering team. Stuppy Greenhouses is known for the strength of its structures, and Todd Beeler, Engineering Manager at Stuppy, has 27 years of experience at the company.  He estimates that he has been involved with several thousand greenhouse projects during that time.

“Greenhouses are much stronger than they were when I started in the industry,” Beeler says. “When I was building greenhouses back in the late 80’s, we weren’t even using rectangular or square tubing yet — it was all round. We had 16-gauge round pipes that we pipe strapped clips on in order to attach a rigid roof. Now we have 2″ x 2″ and 3″ x 2″ steel tubes and it’s much easier to attach to and stronger, as well.”

Taller greenhouses are a significant improvement over the older 8′ – 10′ structures, because they allow heat to rise. New greenhouses are often 12′ to 14′ tall at gutter height. Covering materials have also improved. Beeler says polycarbonate glazing materials have been a game changer.

“They are stronger, more durable and provide much better light transmission,” he says. “Fiberglass deteriorates and turns yellow due to ultraviolet light exposure after a few years. Double-walled polycarbonate and corrugated polycarbonate can typically last about 15 years, and allows good light transmission onto the plants.”

Strong Design for Adverse Conditions

Stuppy engineers can design customized structures or modify the company’s standard greenhouses if necessary. All structures are designed to meet building standards for the specific site they will occupy. Beeler and his team work with local building departments and structural engineers to obtain building code specifications, and they also meet with the client to determine their space and functional requirements for the greenhouse. All of that is put into the final design, which is then tested before the parts are even built.

After making sure the wall was strong enough to support the greenhouse, the structure was attached.

“We have an architectural modeling program called Risa, where the greenhouse model is created, and we can stress it with a number of factors — especially any site-specific ones, like snow load,” Beeler says. “The program provides feedback on what’s working and what is not. We may see that we need to provide additional bracing or increase the thickness of the steel so we can meet that requirement.”

The rigorous testing and experience of Stuppy’s design team are what make Stuppy structures known for their durability. “If you’re in a high wind area, where storms and hurricanes are more common, we will probably double the thickness of the steel to reduce deflection and provide additional bracing,” Beeler says. It is a similar consideration in an area with snow or high seismic activity such as California. Another factor is making sure equipment inside stays attached and is safe for workers, he says. “If things start shaking, you can’t have a heater swinging around by a cord, or fans dropping from the roof. So we really have to take all of that into account.”

In some areas, building codes can be quite specific; a site on one side of the street might have a different code than one on the other side, because one site might be closer to a mountain or have less protection from wind, for example.

Once the design meets the codes and gets the client’s approval, it is approved by the engineer for that state and the local building department reviews it and issues a building permit. Stuppy engineers provide a bill of materials with drawings and specifications for all the greenhouse parts, which then go into production.

Proper ventilation and making sure the point of attachment to the wall was sealed from the weather was also a key consideration.

Customization Requires Creativity and Capability

Beeler says Stuppy customizes greenhouses for a variety of situations. It could be just a slight modification of an existing design, or it can be completely created from scratch. All modifications are based on the client’s needs, the site, and the structural requirements for that area. Beeler cites an example where the new greenhouse needed to be attached to the top of an existing building. “We had to make sure the building we were attaching to was strong enough to support one side of the Stuppy structure (a modified CS3 greenhouse). It was 6′ – 8′ from that structure to the center line of the greenhouse, then 36′ long on the other side of the center line. It was a really unique shape. Plus we partitioned off different rooms within the greenhouse. So, we can do very custom work.”

Beeler holds weekly meetings with his team of two other engineers and three project coordinators/drafters to discuss current and future builds. He says the key is to get everything right before construction begins. “We want to design our structures to last,” he says. We have Stuppy Rainbow® Plus greenhouses still in use that were built in the 1980s. If you take care of them properly, they can last a very long time.”

To learn how Stuppy engineers can create a long-lasting greenhouse for you, contact your regional Sales Manager.