Hothouse vs. Greenhouse Comparison

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While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are differences between hot houses and greenhouses that are important to know. While both will allow you to cultivate a wider range of plants and to extend their growing seasons, which one you choose is going to depend on your specific needs.

In this article, we delve into the nuances of creating a warm environment for plant growth, comparing the modern greenhouse with the hothouse—each serving as a plant-keeping structure designed to extend the growing season, even in colder climates or under harsh weather conditions.

If you’re ready, then let’s begin with ‘Hot House vs. Greenhouse: Understanding the differences’ and by the time that we’re done, you’ll have all of the facts that you need to decide which option is the best fit for you!

Bottom Line Up Front

The purpose of both of these structures is to adapt for varying climatic conditions, from cold climates to warmer climates, innovations like heated greenhouses and the utilization of artificial heat have become common. In regions facing colder climates, a heated room or glass house equipped with additional heat sources ensures optimal temperatures for plant growth.

In a nutshell, a hot house is mostly a specialized environment that is designed for growing subtropical or tropical plants, which may utilize artificial cooling, heating, shading, and humidity control options to create an environment where conditions are granularly controlled.

It is a type of greenhouse and the basic construction is similar – a frame, and a transparent covering that allows sunlight inside and helps to trap heat and humidity, but it’s got ‘extras’ to assert a more complete control of the environment inside.

By contrast, a standard greenhouse is essentially a frame with a covering that is typically transparent, which allows sunlight in and helps to trap a little humidity and heat inside, but WITHOUT all that extra artificial climate control.

This helps to expand the types of plants that may be grown inside and lets you extend their growing seasons a little longer than you could without it, but it’s more of a ‘boost’ in comparison to a carefully-controlled hot house environment.

The Role of Climate in Choosing Between a Hot House and Greenhouse

When considering a hot house or greenhouse, understanding your local climate—be it a warm climate, cold weather, or mild winters—is crucial. A warm climate may necessitate a cool greenhouse to protect plants from excessive heat, employing plastic sheeting or shade cloth to moderate high temperatures and direct sunlight. Conversely, in colder climates or during intemperate seasons, a hot house with its artificial heat provides enough heat to mimic warmer temperatures, ensuring the growth of out-of-season plants or specific varieties of tomatoes like early determinate plum varieties.

Hot House vs. Greenhouse: Main Differences

While there aren’t an enormous number of differences between a hot house and a greenhouse, there are certainly some important ones. A hot house is just another type of greenhouse, after all, but here are the chief differences between the two to help clear things up:

A Greenhouse is warmed by sunlight, so the temperature inside will be warmer than outside. A Hot House, by contrast, is often heated or cooled by artificial means, making it more suitable for exotic plants that require much warmer climes. It’s essentially a heated greenhouse in that sense.

Temperature control is much more precise in a hothouse, so you tend to see hot houses used in cooler climates or places where weather is much less predictable. Greenhouses may be found more commonly, just about everywhere, but if they use supplemental heating then they are technically considered a hot house.

Greenhouse construction is more spartan, employing windows, plastic, or polycarbonate around a frame, in such a manner that warm air will be trapped inside and the transparent materials will allow sunlight inside. A Hothouse is more of a specialty construction, which may employ timed shading devices, as well as heating and cooling technology to maintain a specific temperature range at all times.

A Greenhouse is typically considered a structure that provides a protected environment, warmer than the outside, for plants to grow. A Hot house is a type of greenhouse, but it is chiefly used for growing subtropical or tropical plants.

To further clarify the issue at hand, we’ll compare the key features, along with the pros and cons of both to paint as concise a picture as possible. 

Key Features: Hot house

Hothouse in backyard of suburban home
Hothouse in backyard of suburban home

As a hot house is a greenhouse that is designed primarily for cultivating subtropical and tropical plants, it will have a lot of the same features as a greenhouse, but with a few notable extras. Here are the key features that you can expect in a hot house:

The overall construction style is much the same as a greenhouse, in that it will be a large frame, with transparent windows and panels made of polycarbonate, glass, or plastic, along with flooring and ventilation. 

The temperature is highly regulated – sunlight comes through the transparencies, but heating and cooling systems may also be present to ensure a specific temperature range during seasonal or year-round operation.

Other environmental factors are also highly controlled. For instance, shade may be provided artificially using a shade cloth at programmable intervals, and humidity will be carefully maintained at ideal levels for the plant life being hosted inside.

While it will trap some heat inside like a regular Greenhouse, additional insulating measures will often be in place to ensure consistency and to help reduce seasonal or annual costs of maintaining the environment.

Pros

Now that we’ve given a basic run-over of hot house traits, let’s take a look at the perks of having one. They’re certainly nice, just a bit specialized, and here they are:

  • The ability to maintain warmer temperatures and higher humidity levels makes hot houses ideal for cultivating exotic plants like cherry tomatoes and specific early determinate plum varieties. This environment also supports the use of water-based systems and hydroponic systems, facilitating year-round cultivation of high-demand crops by commercial growers.
  • Allows you to grow subtropical and tropical plants in geographical locations where they would normally die.
  • With variables such as artificial shading and climate control, the chances of growing and maintaining more exotic species of plants is maximized.
  • Growing seasons may be extended well beyond what you could achieve with a standard greenhouse (depending on your location)
  • Threats to your plants, such as inclement weather and pests are minimized, as this is a highly-controlled environment.

Cons

There are always caveats to having something nice, so to further develop the ‘big picture’, here are the cons of running a hot house:

  • Depending on the number of climate control elements required, cost is generally more prohibitive than a standard greenhouse.
  • Power costs are another concern. While solar panels might help to mitigate this, in general you will be paying more for electricity to maintain your hot house environment. 
  • Without natural pollinators, you’ll need a manual pollination strategy.
  • Care must be taken to ensure that pests don’t enter the hot house by accident, as they can easily sabotage your entire hot house crop.

Key Features: Greenhouse

Garden Greenhouse
Garden Greenhouse with well manicured lawn and flowers surrounding it.

So, now that we’ve reviewed the features, pros, and cons of hot houses, let’s look at your standard greenhouse and what you can expect from them. 

A standard frame, with transparent windows and panels made from plastic, glass, or polycarbonate, as well as flooring and proper ventilation.

Greenhouses are designed to allow sunlight inside and to trap warmth and humidity so that the temperature is warmer than the outside.

The warmer environment inside means that the growing seasons may be extended and also allows a wider range of plant types to be grown that the environment outside would support. 

Pros

While the greenhouse is basically an enclosure designed to allow sunlight, trap humidity, and provide a basic, controlled environment, there are a lot of advantages to this simple innovation.

Here are the main pros:

  • The variety of plants which may be grown is expanded inside this enclosed environment.
  • Growing seasons are extended, as the greenhouse provides protection from the weather and fairly consistent environmental factors within its confines. 
  • Pests that normally have easy access to your crops will have an additional barrier of defense to negotiate in order to eat or otherwise affect your plants.
  • Costs are typically less than running a hot house – while you might install lighting, the environment is not as controlled inside and so less electricity is consumed in running them. So, you’ll basically just pay for lighting, automated watering (if you choose to use it), and maintenance of the greenhouse itself.

Cons

Now that we’ve talked about the perks, it’s time to give the caveats their turn. Here are the cons of running a greenhouse:

  • While the environment is controlled to a small extent, severe weather can still impact the plants inside, which a hot house is better prepared to resist.
  • While it’s cheaper than a hot house, initial expenses are still high. For instance, glass windows give you optional ventilation and last longer than plastic, but they don’t come cheap! You also need to consider if you will be using automated watering and if so, will it be powered by standard electricity or a solar kit? Solar will save you money, but the panels will definitely add to the initial costs. 
  • Without natural pollination, you will need to do it manually. While some greenhouse owners will use bees, this is risky, as you don’t want them becoming defensive about the interior. You’ll want to factor in pollination strategies and what they will cost you in equipment, materials, and time.
  • While the chances of pests are minimized, the occasional infestation can and WILL happen, and must be dealt with quickly before too many plants can be affected. The same applies for diseases, as well.

Other Alternatives

As far as alternatives to hot houses, the closest parallel that you might have would be dedicating a room in the house for subtropical or tropical plants and preparing it accordingly for the humidity, environmental control, and access to sunlight. This would likely be cost prohibitive, excepting in the case of hardier subtropical or tropical plants. 

As far as greenhouse alternatives, however, there are a few, and here are some examples:

1. Cold frame

Cold frames typically employ a metal or wooden framework, accompanied by sheets of plastic or glass to create a greenhouse-type environment that is often placed against the home. It’s attractive and a cheaper way to have a permanent, albeit smaller greenhouse.

2. Mini Greenhouse

A mini greenhouse is basically a cheaply-made temporary greenhouse that employs a plastic frame and is probably best thought of as a sort of ‘greenhouse tent’. They are inexpensive and will allow you to raise a small crop and you can also put them up and take them down whenever you like.

3. Domestic polytunnel

Polytunnels are used a lot with fruit plants that are sold commercially. Like a Mini greenhouse, they are easy to put up and take down, and you have standing space that you can add in plastic shelving to, but their primary purpose is shielding the soft fruits. 

Technological Innovations and Their Impact

Chatsworth - Great Conservatory in the 19th century - also known as a stovehouse
Chatsworth – Great Conservatory in the 19th century – also known as a giant greenhouse or stovehouse – source

The evolution of greenhouse technology, from the historic stove house to the modern span-type greenhouse, reflects the industry’s response to the need for more sustainable and efficient plant-keeping structures.

Things like hydroponic systems, high tunnels, and hoop houses have revolutionized how we grow plants, offering solutions that maximize space, enhance garden-grown flavor, and extend the availability of fresh produce.

Additionally, these technologies provide an enriched environment for academic research and the development of new growing techniques, bridging the gap between traditional gardening and modern agricultural practices.

FAQs

While we’re on our way out, we wanted to address a few frequently asked questions about hothouses and greenhouses for you. A little extra information never hurts, after all, and we hope that you find these useful! 

What grows best in a hot house?

vegetables that definitely do better in a warmer environment. Some examples include:
– Sweet potatoes
– Eggplants
– Okra
– Peppers
– Summer squash

These are just a few examples and keep your home environment in mind – sometimes the extra heat from a greenhouse alone will be all that you need, but if you want some vegetables in your hothouse then there are plenty of types that will thrive there.

Subtropical and tropical plants are best for a hothouse, of course, but aside from these there are certain

How can I reduce the costs of running a hot house?

You can reduce your utility bills considerably by utilizing solar panels and a drip irrigation system. While these will both impact your initial costs, you can generate your own electricity from the sun and the drip irrigation could save you up to 70% on your water bill (and if you have a programmable control system, it will save you a lot of time, too!).

Do all plants grow better in a greenhouse?

Typically, yes, although there will certainly be exceptions. A greenhouse is going to be consistently warmer than the outside and it also offers protection from inclement weather and pests. This allows you to enjoy extended growing seasons by giving your plants a host of advantages that they simply would not have outside on their own.

How many plants can fit in a greenhouse?

In order to estimate how many plants you can fit in your greenhouse, then you will want to simply multiply the length of the house by its width, and then divide this by 4 or 5.

This will give you a rough estimate of how many plants that you can fit inside, but we recommend aiming for the lower side of the estimate to ensure that you have plenty of space for your plants and for any additions that you might want to make to your greenhouse later. 

Some closing words on Hot houses vs Greenhouses

That wraps it up for our Hot House vs. Greenhouse comparison. In today’s article we’ve explored the differences between hot houses and greenhouses, and as you can see, it’s not overly complicated. Just think of a hot house as a greenhouse with environmental control in the form of artificial heating, cooling, humidity, or shade and you’ve got the right idea!

Your standard greenhouse simply provides a frame with a covering, so that you have a warm, enclosed space where your plants can get plenty of sunlight, whereas a hothouse is able to maintain temperatures that allow for subtropical or tropical plants to thrive.

In most cases a greenhouse will be all that you need, but if you do decide to raise some tropical plants then consider going solar and investing in drip irrigation – hot houses are much more expensive to run, but this can help to take a bite out of those bills.

That’s it for our article today, but before we go, thanks so much for visiting and we hope to see you again soon!

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