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Greenhouses grow more popular

February 29th, 2004:

As requested by Marty Hair of the Detroit Free Press, Backyard Greenhouses was pleased to contribute to a feature article done on greenhouses that was published February 29, 2004. Please find below a copy of Marty Hair's feature story.

Greenhouses grow more popular

Bleak days of late winter often inspire home owners to add one
February 29, 2004


For winter-weary Northerners who long for sun and green leaves, weathering the final weeks of winter is a slow and tedious process -- like slogging through knee-high mud.

The weather makes it easy to envy people with greenhouses, who already are basking in warm, moist air.

"I feel better as soon as I step in," says Don Farrelly, who grows orchids, ferns and other plants in the greenhouse attached to his Grosse Pointe Woods home.

According to the National Gardening Association, about 900,000 households bought greenhouses or sunrooms in 2002, up from 600,000 in 1998. In late winter, greenhouse lust intensifies.

"This is the time of year people start talking about it," says Dean Krauskopf of the MSU Extension and "The Gardening Show" on WJR-AM (760).

Those who plan now could have a light-filled space to enjoy well before next winter. First, though, according to people who know and sell greenhouses, home owners considering a greenhouse should think about how they intend to use the space, its cost and how it would fit their lifestyle.

In a greenhouse, the focus is on growing plants and controlling light, temperature, air circulation and moisture to serve the plants' best interests. There may be a couple of chairs for people to sit in, but working greenhouses are functional spaces where no one goes ballistic if a little potting soil or fertilizer winds up on the floor. Sunrooms and conservatories, by contrast, are finished living spaces that are suitable for growing and displaying plants because of their many windows. They can add substantial value to a home as the living space is expanded.

Aging baby boomers who already are gardeners are fueling a greenhouse popularity boom, says Shelley Awad, vice president of Backyard Greenhouses in Windsor (www.backyardgreenhouses.com; 1-800-665-2124, 9-5 weekdays).

"We also find a lot of people are more health-conscious these days and interested in growing their own food. So it's not just used for starting their flower gardens," she says.

Ready-to-assemble kits

The company's owner, Ecolad Corp., started a greenhouse division in 1999 after Awad began searching for a greenhouse kit and couldn't find a local source. It now carries several brands of greenhouse kits from manufacturers in North America, Denmark and England. The smallest kit -- measuring about 5 feet by 6 feet, with an aluminum frame, polycarbonate panels, a manual roof vent and a sliding door -- is about $700 in U.S. dollars, she says. The most popular kit models, about 9 feet by 9 feet and 12 feet by 14 feet, run $2,600 to $3,900.

Lynda Pelkey of Berrien Springs in southwest Michigan figures she spent $6,000 to buy, erect and equip the 10-by-14-foot hobby greenhouse kit she bought from Backyard Greenhouses. The freestanding structure is covered with clear polycarbonate, an ultraviolet-protected plastic glazing she selected instead of glass because of its insulating value.

She and her husband leveled the site, put down a layer of sand topped with Styrofoam and more sand. Over that is the greenhouse floor, a 4-inch layer of pea gravel "so if you get water on it, it's not a big deal," Pelkey says. The couple ran a water line to the greenhouse as well as electricity for the wall heaters. Heating costs, a concern for home owners and greenhouse owners alike this winter, can be as high as $250 a month.

"In winter, I try to ignore the heating bills," Pelkey says with a rueful laugh.

Greenhouse customers tend to be outdoor or indoor plant enthusiasts who have been "growing under lights for a long time and they want to expand into glass and a larger area than their kitchen or basement," says Larry Reynolds of Glass Structures Ltd. in Framingham, Mass.

The company sells and repairs several brands of greenhouses, including Lord & Burnham, and Reynolds has traveled to Michigan to service greenhouses. He says a small kit starts at about $2,000 and the average is $20,000 to $30,000. There is no upper limit. Some deep-pocketed greenhouse owners spend hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Rather than buy a kit, Don and Jane Farrelly designed their greenhouse, bought the materials and built it a decade ago. The greenhouse cost about $30,000, according to Don Farrelly. Its floor is 3 feet below soil level to conserve heat and to lower the building's exterior profile. In the coldest weather, the gas heat for the greenhouse costs $75-$100 a month.

Not all are glass

Although glass is the traditional covering for greenhouses, customers in cold climates like Michigan's often select a glazing made with two or three layers of polycarbonate to trap air and add insulating value, says Therese Lundvall, a consultant for Charley's Greenhouse & Garden Supply in Washington. The company's 10-by-12- foot SolarGro kit with curved eaves and two-layer polycarbonate glazing is $4,555.

Those with glass greenhouses, like the one from the 1930s attached to Fran and Howard Knorr's garage in Beverly Hills, usually have to add some kind of insulation for the winter. The Knorrs use a bubble insulation they order from Charley's. They use the greenhouse to hold outdoor plants from fall to spring and to start cuttings, grow herbs for cooking and orchids, bougainvilleas and begonias.

"It's fun to be where things grow and in the sun," Fran Knorr says. "The only thing we have trouble with is trying to keep critters out . . . probably voles."

Lots of upkeep

Bev Donaldson of Detroit uses the greenhouse on the side of her garage to carry over outdoor plants from year to year and for orchids, ferns, hibiscus and begonias, although she still starts seeds in the house so she can keep a close watch on them. Donaldson says people considering a greenhouse should be realistic about how much effort it will involve.

"They don't know how much work it is to keep it up. I water every other day. When you go away, you have to make arrangements with other people to do it," Donaldson says. She also monitors the temperature and opens roof vents as needed.

When it comes to resale, a hobby greenhouse is like a swimming pool: It has a limited audience. People who build a greenhouse do it for their own satisfaction.

"It's not something that necessarily would add to value" when a house is sold, says Cathy Champion, associate broker at Bolton-Johnston Associates in Grosse Pointe Farms. "To a lot of people, it's just sort of a giant nightmare if they're not plant aficionados." Greenhouses that could later be converted into permanent living spaces would add more value at resale, she says.

Those who want light-filled living spaces may opt for sunrooms or plant conservatories. Consumer Reports recently put the national cost average of a 200-square-foot insulated sunroom with footings and foundation at $27,100 and estimated the value recovered at resale at 40 percent to 60 percent. According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, sunrooms were the fifth-most-popular home remodeling project in 2003.

"Conservatories are probably your most popular addition right now," says Tom Leininger, owner of Four Seasons Sunrooms in Utica. He estimates the cost for installed conservatories at $30,000 to $150,000.

In Warren, Madelyn and Oscar Zamora hired Four Seasons last summer to build a 12-by-14-foot glass conservatory on the rear of their 113-year-old house. Madelyn Zamora says they chose the structure, which cost about $32,000, because its style and Victorian trim complement their home.

The conservatory, which has glass sides and roof, is off their kitchen. It has a small electric heater that they turn on when the room is in use. They plan to grow and display plants inside and enjoy the room for its views of their yard and garden.

"We put our Christmas tree in there, and it reflected in every panel. It was just gorgeous," Zamora says.
Backyard Greenhouses
A div. of Ecolad Corporation

Written By: Marty Hair
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