Many of our customers are confused as to the relative merits of timber and aluminium framed greenhouses, here Nathan James Dodd answers some of your frequently asked questions.
Buying a new greenhouse should be the start of a new journey of adventure with the promise of reward for all your previous labours, but sadly this is not always the case.
Buying a new house is very stressful we are constantly reminded, as is buying a new car but over the years we do gain some experience with these major life purchases. We put this experience, along with experiences shared with others to build our own knowledge bank.
This is not always the case with buying a greenhouse as many of us do not buy one, or only buy one in a lifetime, therefore the purchase experience is not so quickly developed.
Buying a greenhouse can be a fairly major purchase financially but also a major purchase in time. Greenhouses need a keeper, what you put in is directly proportional to what you take it, but you have to commit first, and try second. Getting it wrong can hurt.
Wood was the traditional choice, in fact the only real choice, in the middle of the last century. We all know the properties of wood which can be cut, shaped, constructed and built to virtually any shape providing the design is sound. Red Cedar was probably the most often used wood as it was hard enough to be long lasting, but not close grained enough to be used for carpentry furniture. More expensive than softwood of course, but not mahogany prices either.
Wood also has good insulation properties so keeps the greenhouse warmer in the winter and cooler in summer. Often they would feature a low wooden wall that may have kept out some light but kept in the heat to protect those seedlings. And of course wood is very tactile. The look, the feel, and even the smell is alluring, well certainly to me.
So what's not to like? The cost initially, of course, and latterly the upkeep. Treating, painting, putty in the windows, cracking, rotting, mould and fungus spores everywhere... and it moves! North, east or west are all possibilities, but ultimately it's only going one way, and that is south!
Metal may not be the best description for the obvious alternative as it is basically extruded aluminium. I will not pretend to understand the properties of this alloy for fear of getting it extremely wrong but I do know why it suits greenhouse construction. When designed correctly the bulk of the load bearing goes down the length of the aluminium bars where its strength lies, yet it is very lightweight. These are great properties to pack in a box which can then be relatively easily transported in part form. Aluminium gave birth to the modern greenhouse kit, or hobby greenhouse as our American cousins like to term it.
Aluminium does not rust either, which is rather useful as it will stand out in the rain for many days, and when it doesn't rain we will make sure it gets wet on the inside with our hose pipe or watering can. Aluminium does eventually get a powdery exterior coating and dulls off when it oxidises with the air. A solution to this problem is to paint the aluminium, or more precisely to powder coat the aluminium in a colour. Green is most popular, though black, white, brown and grey all have their supporters. Aluminium greenhouses can be taken down and moved relatively easily should the need occur. The biggest factor however is still probably price as aluminium greenhouses are cheaper to buy than wooden greenhouses. They also tend to have more available accessories.
Once you have made your material choice you need to consider size.
For many of us this decision is already partly made as space in most British gardens is fairly limited, particularly for us city dwellers. And the cost is also a major factor. For these two reasons the 8ft x 6ft greenhouse, and its smaller clones account for nearly 50% of all greenhouses sold by one major manufacturer. A small greenhouse is so much better than no greenhouse at all seems to be the message, and I would not argue with that. It's always a great place to start a hobby as your investment in time, space and money is proportionately modest. Growing tomatoes, salad crops and flowers can be achieved quite easily providing your expectations are realistic and you are not planning on supplying your local supermarket! ( I will say that for years we had a keen local retired old gardener who would march into our garden centre everySaturday with a barrow load of large faced pansies and other perennials with their roots wrapped in wet newspapers. He would pop back at lunch time and top up the barrow and come back in the evening to make the final count. He was bronzed from working in the greenhouse, sinewy and muscular with a broad smile and not a care in the world. He 'supplimented his income' in today's terminology, or 'made a few quid' in his. He eventually stopped coming some 25 years ago, but nobody else has ever stepped in to replace him. I can't understand why not?)
Not withstanding what I have just said the golden rule always has to be to buy the biggest greenhouse your space and budget allows, within reason. Greenhouses, like patios, are often a nightmare to extend, you quickly fill the available space, and the extended form if you get it, never looks right. Be bold and see the full picture if you are lucky enough to be able to draw it.
Eight foot wide greenhouses allow you room to develop, and allow you room to turn if you are 6ft+ tallas I am. Ten foot wide greenhouses give even more space allowing you to even share your space if you are that generous. Twelve foot wide greenhouses will allow the family, the school, the college and everyone else to share the space with you. This is also a semi-professional width. Above this and you need to be growing commercially or have a team of gardeners. The more length the more you can grow, it's that simple. Space is a luxury and you will pay for it. If you can afford it, enjoy it.
Now you have some idea of material and size for your greenhouses you need to choose a manufacturer, or brand.
You may already have a brand in mind, maybe a friend has suggested one, maybe your parents had one? Basing your choice on brand loyalty is not a bad place to start but if you have no brand loyalty or you want to review the options now is the time to take a look.
Halls Greenhouses are possibly the most well known brand in the UK. They have been available in garden centres, DIY stores and multiple outlets in various guises for many years. When they joined forces with AGL (Aluminium Greenhouses Ltd.) they consolidated their position in the market, particularly in the 6ft wide greenhouse sector. The 8ft x 6ft aluminium model became the optimum size for the burgeoning UK market. They named it the Popular Greenhouse for good reason, as well as a cursary nod to Henry Ford and his production techniques from many years ago. The Halls Popular range expanded to accommodate the 6ft x 6ft version and the 4ft x 6ft version. This baby of the range would prove to be a massive seller, and is still so today. The 10ft x 6ft version was the last to be introduced, representing the best value for money in my opinion. I have no hesitation in recommending any of this range.
And likewise I have no hesitation recommending the Supreme range. This is based on the Popular sizes but features a curved acrylic window at the eaves. There is no gutter on this model, it is all about style. Halls also sell the 8ft wide range marketed under the Magnum banner. Featuring double doors, extra height, strengthened joints as well as the extra width these offer massive potential at real value for money prices. Halls greenhouses offer lean to models, mini greenhouses, cold frames and a wide range of spares and accessories. Delivery to UK and Ireland is available as well as a national dealer network to offer the type of service and back up you would expect from such a well know name. Installation is also available from Halls on new purchases in mainland UK.
Elite Greenhouses are a family run British manufacturer of many years standing. This is enough to get them a seal of approval from many prospective clients but when you dial in the flexibility and innovation that they bring to the greenhouse market you can understand their success. The Hannant family play a large and active role in running the company with Phil directing and his father Richard overseeing. Richard is also a great designer and is responsible for the comapny's innovative range of Diamond staging and shelving that allow easy access underneath. This is particularly suitable for wheelchairs. The range is large and features the ever popular Belmont range of 8ft wide greenhouses. With standard lengths of up to 20ft available, and longer if you want, the Belmont offers extra headroom, doors at either end, a low threshold base, the option to extend plus a full range of accessories. The 10ft wide Supreme and the 12ft wide Classique offer the same options in impressively sized units.
But it's not just big that is beautiful at Elite Greenhouses, take a look at the Elite Streamline range. Solid, compact and functional these 5ft wide greenhouses also feature double doors as standard.
Away from the freestanding range Elite also offer a very extensive range of Lean To greenhouses.Crowned as the Windsor range they are available in 4ft, 6ft and 8ft wide models. One of the great advantages of this range is you can position the doors virtually anywhere, and you can have as many as you need. Choose from an extensive range of powder coated colours or simply choose your own!
If I were looking to chose a timber greenhouses I would go straight to Howard and his team at Swallow GB Greenhouses. They have not been manufacturing for very many years but have already made quite an impact on the UK greenhouse market. Swallow is a no-nonsense Yorkshire company that builds its greenhouses with strength and style. They manage to combine the aesthetic beauty of wood with modern plastics that add all the practicality you need. Wooden frames, painted if required, toughened glass combined with modern guttering and an ingenious greenhouse base. Imagine a low profile tyre cut down to a few inches high attached to the base of the greenhouse frame. This base relaxes down onto the floor and the greenhouse automatically levels itself on the cushion of air. The base grips uneven and gravelled surfaces really well creating a seamless draught free bond.
Available as freestanding 6ft wide, 8ft wide and even larger models plus lean to greenhouses and T shape and Orangery shape units. Throughout most of England and Wales, and part of Scotland Swallow GB will install as well as deliver the greenhouses at no extra cost! Now that's quality and service.
This review is not exhaustive or detailed, I am aware of that, but it's designed to be an introduction to help you make the decision that is right for you. Whichever type of greenhouse you choose, whichever retailer you buy from and whichever manufacturer gets your endorsement, if YOU are not happy, then nobody in the chain can be satisfied. This really should be a purchase where the customer is king!
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