Its not until July 4th in northwest Washington that you can bank on warm weather. June around here goes by another name…Juneuary, because it is frequently 50’s and rainy. That is a hard pill to swallow when the rest of the country is already comfortably swimming! Of course, its also cold in JANuary when tomatoes are to be started in order for them to mature by summer. So…greenhouse.
Our plan was to construct one inexpensively one by bending a cattle/hog panel into a tunnel and covering it with plastic. I’ve seen videos of it done very well and quite sturdily, but it always seemed claustrophobic. I wanted to build a knee high wall to give it some more height, but that led to structural challenges and more cost.
One fateful day which may have coincided with finally paying off our $7500 first time home buyers credit from 2008, we were feeling particularly strapped. Gwen may have thrown a tiny tantrum and I may have buried my head in the sand just a little when it hit me:
“We are not going to spend hundreds of dollars building a greenhouse.” Gwen had spoken.
Fortunately, there is a stack of old windows at the back of the barn slowly but surely sinking into the muck.
“I know!” I said. “We will just slap together the windows. We have lots of wood, we can build it for almost nothing.”
First we had to lay out all the windows to see whether they were sound, judge their size and shape. Turned out there was a sliding glass door in there with the slider part separated. Miraculously the slider went back in the frame and actually slid. Game on!
After puzzling the windows into rough walls, out came the tape measure to get an idea of the footprint. Then we hemmed and hawed about the location and settled on the least obtrusive/most level/sunniest/closest to a water source spot we had.
Gwen quickly got over her financial fears and brilliantly suggested we use pavers to serve as the floor AND foundation (stacking functions is always a bonus). Done right, pavers go pretty fast when the sub grade is prepped well.
- Dig to solid ground removing anything spongey, soft, or otherwise organic.
- Add 4-8 inches of crushed gravel with fines.
- Level it roughly and water it down.
- Use a plate compactor to settle the various sizes. Repeat.
- Lay down 1/2 – 3/4 inch steel rod ideally for a screed surface.
- Add sand and screed it flat.
- Lay pavers.
Looks good doesn’t it? Well, I went cheap with my stakes making my own instead of buying metal ones. (We do that a lot around here). When compacting, they loosened enough that my level-string sagged. This was my guide for height of paver so when all was said and done, the middle of the floor is about 3/4 inch below the edges. Let me tell you this is NOT OKAY for the jobs I used to do for the rich and famous. Well, famous locally anyway.
Weeks went by and I just could not bring myself to pull up the heavy-ass pavers and redo. So, it sat. And sat. And sat, haunting and taunting me, until one Saturday morning Gwen sat me down, poured me a 2nd cup of coffee, and began to work out a materials list for the framing.
In other words, time to move on!
I was recounting my design stuckness to a coworker recently when she said to “let it flow like water.” “Okay, Bruce Lee,” I thought. But I knew she was right. I had dammed up my water. They were both right. Cross the dang bridge when you come to it.
Besides, its a greenhouse, not the Queen’s jewelry box.
So, after laying the bottom plates and pinning them into the earth with rebar (we have tremendous winds here), I decided a post and beam type construction would be best. All done with cheap 2x4s and 2x6s. I poured quick concrete footings where the load was greatest at the corners after having awoke at 3:30 am solving that little problem. Another bonus, was being able to reuse a couple of rough-sawn rafters I had taken out of our previous house during a remodel ten years ago.
Stay tuned to see how the heck I end up framing in all those odd sized windows and figure out what the roofing material will be. Because, I have no idea…and that is okay.