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  • Gothic vs. Round Hoop House Which One is Right for You?

    May 28, 2024 11 min read 0 Comments

    Aerial view of a farm with four high tunnels and rows of market garden crops. The closest hoop frame has a scissor lift next to it and is in the process of being covered with greenhouse plastic.

    Unveiling the Contenders: Gothic vs. Round Hoop House

    There are round and gothic-style hoop houses. So which one is better? The answer is the one that’s right for your farm. We’ll discuss the ins and outs of each and the pros and cons of building and maintaining each style to help you decide which is best for you. Both allow season extension in the spring and fall, protect warm-season crops from frost and inclement weather, keep perennials safe and crops marketable, and increase germination rates and yields. Each shape offers unique benefits to growers. 

    In addition to benefiting the plants and soil, the shelter of a hoop house also makes sowing seeds, transplanting, weeding, and harvesting more enjoyable for farmers and workers during rain, sleet, extreme cold, and sun. 

    A gothic greenhouse with roll up sides and insect netting. The top of the structure is covered in white shade cloth.

    Overview of Gothic Hoop House

    Gothic-style hoop houses feature a peaked roof and are most often used in northern regions because they can withstand heavy snow and shed it. They’re also popular among hydroponic growers because they can control the microclimate inside more efficiently.  

    The front door end of a 20 foot wide hoop house with roll up sides.

    Understanding Round Hoop House

    Round hoop houses are sometimes called Quonsets, which refer to their half-circle shape. They are most often used in warmer regions where snow is uncommon. 

    Key Differences That Set Them Apart

    The differences in shape and design give each of them a unique edge. Growers can build the structure as simply or as advanced as they want. Let’s talk about how the design affects their performance. 

    A gothic style hoop house covered in black shade cloth seen from the side with yellow cone flowers and and apple tree in the foreground.

    Structural Design & Aesthetics

    A round hoop house is the original greenhouse style, shaped like a half circle. The name comes from the way a hoop house is built. Hoops or bows are bent, connected to posts in the ground, and covered with greenhouse plastic. The rounded structure is simple, erecting one is straightforward, and they’re effective. 

    Gothic-style hoop houses feature a tall, pointed peak and steeper sloped roof, similar to the shape of a home's gable end. They were designed with northern growers in mind, who prefer this style for its added air mass, vertical growing capabilities, and ability to shed snow.

    Each style is available in various lengths and widths to suit your farm’s needs. A high-quality kit from a reputable company should yield great results. 

    A gothic hoop house standing in a snowy field seen from the side. There is snow building up on the roof and beginning to slide off.

    Weather Resistance and Durability

    Gothic-style hoop houses are best for northern growers when snow load potential is heavy. Their ability to shed snow is a game-changer. 

    Advantages of Each High Tunnel Type

    Benefits of a Gothic Hoop House

    Northern growers gravitate toward gothic-style hoop houses because they can handle large snow loads and heavy winds. The added air mass of a gothic-style hoop house better maintains temperature; if you’re unfamiliar with how volume and air mass affect heating and cooling in a hoop house, check out this video

    Vertical trellising has more space in gothic-style hoop houses, and you can add trellis kits for crops like tomatoes, pole beans, and cucumbers. Annual crops that grow tall and need support, like tomatoes, can be hooked to support wires. Each plant can be clipped and trained to lines from roller hooks as they grow, keeping spacing ample, fruit off the ground, and allowing growers to prune and harvest easily. 

    Speak with your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) agent to find out what type of hoop house funding is available in your area through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Some northern region chapters require a gothic-style hoop house. For more information, see their high tunnel fact sheet

    For more in-depth information on growing trellised crops, check out our series on Growing Tomatoes in hoop houses. 

    Female farmer walking through round hoop house with fenced trellis of beans and other vegetables growing around the tunnel

    Pros of Choosing a Round Hoop House

    Horizontal trellising with the Florida weave or fencing works best in round hoop houses. Think determinate tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Growers with crops that don’t need trellising, like strawberries, cucumbers, green beans, and lettuce, may consider round hoop houses. If winds are an issue in your growing zone, but snow is not, select a hoop house that sits closer to the ground for best results. 

    If you decide to go a bit larger, take advantage of the added height by trellising. Bootstrap Farmer’s 30’ round all-metal hoop house kit features wider hoops and is approximately 15.5’ tall at the center. 

    A round hoop house is an excellent choice for growers in regions that don’t receive snow but do experience strong winds. Growers in areas with height restrictions should consider a round hoop house that adheres to these restrictions. 

    Related: Hoop House Orientation and Location

    Red zinnias and grass growing in front of a round hoop house.

    Performance in Your Garden: Comparing Efficiency

    Ensuring light is properly penetrating your hoop house is crucial to plant growth. 

    Light Penetration and Plant Growth

    The higher peak of gothic-style hoop houses allows more sun penetration when the sun is low in the sky. In early spring, when the sun is low and shadows are long, harnessing that energy is crucial to warm the soil. This is key in northern regions to get early-season crops to grow. 

    Proper tunnel orientation is pivotal in getting the desired results in your growing area. We recommend tracking the sun for 12 months and flagging potential sites before deciding on a tunnel plot to ensure you’ll get the sun you need. NOAA offers a free solar calculator based on latitude and longitude. 

    The inside of a gothic greenhouse with a row of lettuces growing on each side and a row of pepper plants growing down the center aisle. The paths in between are covered with wood chips.

    Heating, Cooling, and Ventilation Dynamics

    Consider the orientation of your tunnel for optimal sunlight and ventilation throughout the entire year. A north-south-oriented tunnel allows sunlight to penetrate rows for heat-loving crops like peppers and tomatoes and allows air currents from the west to flow freely through the sidewalls. Alternatively, an east-west-oriented tunnel receives maximum southern sun for northern early-season greens growers.

    • Heating your hoop house is optional, and the decision depends on your goals, what you’re growing, your region, and the ultimate trade-off. The money to heat the tunnel to get greens a few weeks earlier may not be worth it. If you wait longer to transplant, plants will be healthier, and the process will be less stressful for them and you.
      • Double poly-plastic with an inflator fan will help with the snow shed and add some R-value. Some growers turn this feature off during summer, which is a personal decision. If you decide to leave it on all year, you’ll have to run power for this feature 24-7. The double poly-plastic may reduce light penetration. 
      • Fully insulating the end walls to increase the average R-value of the entire structure is the only way to justify a complete heating system, particularly in combination with double-layer inflation.
    • Cooling down your hoop house is vital, regardless of your zone. Growers can easily install horizontal airflow (HAF) fans in gothic-style hoop houses on the support bars or center purlin. Adding fans to a round hoop house will require added truss kit support bars to do hang fans.
      Adding shade cloth that fits snugly over your entire hoop house will effectively block some of the sun’s rays during peak summer, lower the internal temperature of the air and soil, and help hold in moisture, resulting in healthier, more productive plants. You’ll spend less energy to cool the hoop house with added shade cloth. 
    • Ventilation is one of the most essential features of healthy hoop house growing. Proper ventilation assists in regulating temperature, humidity, and healthy CO2 levels. Air exchange forces stale, hot air up and out of the house. Regulating humidity can help reduce disease. Note that no matter how long a tunnel is, the more narrow it is, the easier it is to ventilate properly.
      The additional height and airspace of a gothic-style tunnel make passively venting with ridge or gable vents more efficient. Hot air naturally rises above plant height, escaping out. If you have installed the corresponding intake shutters or roll-up sides, exhaust fans will help circulate fresh air.  

    Sensors can monitor and track internal temperatures to help gauge when to roll up sides and turn on exhaust fans. Growers can add automation to help with these tasks, give you peace of mind when you’re away from the farm, and help keep your crops safe and healthy. At the minimum, you will want a greenhouse fan thermostat to turn on your exhaust fan when the temperature becomes dangerous to your plants.  

    Related: Managing a Greenhouse - Regulating Humidity & Temperatures

    Rows of vegetable crops and trays of seedlings inside a round hoop house being tended to by a male farmer in a red shirt.

    Setting Up Shop: Ease of Assembly and Upkeep

    Scout your land for multiple sites and weigh the pros and cons of each. The site should not be atop a hilltop but rather a protected area. Consider the ease with which you can get to the tunnel area with loads of compost, straw, and amendments and how you’ll access water and electricity if desired. 

    Neither of these structures has a foundation or is considered permanent. Prepare for installation by clearing the ground of grass, weeds, sticks, and garden debris. Consider nearby utility lines, buildings, trees, soil compaction, run-off, easements, etc. The land should be graded and leveled. 

    Installation Challenges and Timeframe

    Tunnel installation may seem very technical if you’ve never seen it done before. We recommend you prepare for things to go wrong and plan more time than estimated on your first one. Finding willing and able help is essential. Watch our HOOP HOUSE videos in advance to estimate the timeframe for completing the project.

    Three men kneeling in front of a gothic style hoop house in the middle of being constructed. There are ladders, tools and a large blue scissor lift in the frame.

     

    Long-Term Maintenance Considerations

    Mother Nature always throws curve balls at us, so it’s best to be prepared. 

    • An extendable roof rake with added foam padding for safe snow removal.
    • A ventilation hand crank will allow for easy roll-up and roll-down of the sides, keep the plastic in proper working order, and keep air flowing in your tunnel. 
    • Growers should perform annual maintenance to identify loose screws, tears in plastic, doors or cranks that need repair, sink holes, and gaps in plastic that allow draft in, and to confirm parts are in working order. Do this before going into the winter to ensure you can close it up for the season properly. If you grow all year, it’s still good to have regular maintenance scheduled. 

    Cost Analysis: Which High Tunnel Offers More Bang for Your Buck?

    Growing in any style tunnel will extend your season, increase yields, decrease plant stress, and increase your profits. Many customizable options are available to build your hoop house exactly how you want and need. Your decision will come down to budget, specific farm needs, and goals. 

    Initial Investment and Material Costs

    The price per square foot will vary depending on the style, size, and special features. For example, the type and thickness of greenhouse plastic, the metal used, the type of doors, and the manufacturing location will affect the price. While you can bootstrap a DIY hoop house from scratch using a hoop bender and locally sourced materials, NRCS grants require purchasing a hoop house kit from a reputable company. 

    Check out this video - DIY vs. Hoop House Kit - How to Choose the Right Kit and Options.

    When shopping around for a hoop house and comparing prices, be sure to compare apples to apples because not all kits are created equal. When you look online at hoop house kits, the different levels of what is included can be extreme. Our All-Metal Kits include everything you’ll need, with optional add-ons to customize your hoop house. Choose a kit with additional bracing for the end walls, doors, and trusses if needed for your climate. 

    Related: What You Need to Build a DIY Hoop House | Bootstrap Farmer DIY High Tunnel Kit 

    Long-Term Savings and Return on Investment

    If you’re growing food for profit, you’ll have a record of how much food you can produce off your land. To accurately measure the return on investment after purchasing a hoop house, you’ll want to record year-over-year records. Here are some line items to compare: 

    • Sowing and transplant dates. Hoop houses should extend your season, adding early and late season revenue. 
    • Date of first harvest. 
    • Weight of crops coming from each bed of crops.
    • Quality of crops grown inside hoop houses versus outside.
      • Did higher-quality crops allow you to charge more?
    • Date of last sowing or transplant. 
    • Rate of disease and pests. 

    Our experience has been that growing in protected environments increases produce quality, allowing farmers to charge top dollar for crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants that can get damaged by sun, weather, and pests more outside than inside.

    Growing inside forces you to observe your crops more closely when you go in each day to open doors, crank up side walls, and monitor temperature and humidity. Any observation you make, like pest issues or early signs of disease, can be dealt with swiftly. Many farms find that the initial investment is a distant thought after the first growing season. 

    Greens planted in raised bed in a gothic backyard greenhouse

    Real Gardeners Weigh In: User Experiences and Reviews

    Now that you have read about some critical differences between gothic and round hoop houses let’s hear from actual users about their experiences and recommendations.

    Success Stories from Gothic Hoop House Users

    One of our customers says they were pleasantly surprised by how the “climate is remarkably different (better) compared” to their other tunnels. The 16-foot peak keeps heat away from plants and workers so everyone inside is safe and comfortable. 

    Another says Bootstrap Farmer’s customer service impresses them the most! While building their 14 x 40-foot tunnel on the weekends, they always got a helpful team member on the phone to answer their questions. 

    Michelle farms in the mountains of Arizona and receives lots of snow. She credits her Bootstrap Farmer hoop house for extending her season, allowing her to farm during summer monsoons and hailstorms, and developing her winter gardening skills. She “couldn’t love it more!"

    Testimonials from Adherents of Round Hoop Houses

    After a devastating storm in the fall of 2023, Vanessa and Ben of Bouldin Food Forest suffered severe damage to their farm structures and property. Describing it as their worst nightmare, they were shocked by the wreckage and didn’t know where to begin. They had constructed their caterpillar tunnels throughout the years, reinforcing them based on recommendations online. They were proud of them and saddened by the wreckage. 

    Bouldin Farm Forest received help from their community, employees, and the Bootstrap Farmer family to rebuild. They credit the survival of a singular tunnel to its durability and the trustworthy manufacturing of Bootstrap Farmer products. 

    Listen to the full podcast episode here. 

    The Final Verdict: Which High Tunnel Reigns Supreme?

    For northern growers, gothic-style hoop houses are highly recommended over rounded ones because they can shed snow, circulate refreshed air, and withstand strong weather. With their additional height, durability, and NRCS grant compliance, they’ll always be my top choice between the two options growing in New Hampshire.

    We started our farm with the original round hoop house style as it was the only one on the market at a decent price point. While it has played an essential role in our business, we have transitioned to only gothic-style tunnels. Gothic-style and round hoop houses belong on small and large farms and homesteads, each offering unique benefits. 

    Summing Up the Pros and Cons

    When deciding between the two types, consider your budget, growing zone, and the structure’s main purpose so you choose the right one for your farm. 


    GOTHIC-STYLE HOOP HOUSE

    ROUND HOOP HOUSE

    PROS

    • More structurally sound
    • Greater snow load capacity
    • Can handle strong winds and precipitation 
    • It offers more advanced ventilation
    • Can grow taller crops and trellis  
    • Smaller up-front investment
    • Straight-forward and easy assembly 
    • Shade cloth is easy to install 
    • Wind-bracing kits are available to increase strength and durability

    CONS

    • Larger up-front investment
    • More involved assembly, which may require more extensive equipment and advanced tools
    • Less air mass 
    • More snow maintenance

    Helping hands are required to install both. 

    Expert Recommendations for Different Gardening Needs

    • Buy high-quality materials from trusted companies, no matter how small or large your garden or farming enterprise is. Research them to ensure your missions align. 
    • While we appreciate someone who builds their structures, if you grow food for a living, leave the building to the experts and purchase a ready-to-install kit. Bootstrap Farmer has detailed videos on its YouTube channel if you need help. 
    • Think three to five years from now and buy what you’ll need, including bracing. It might seem extravagant now, but each year will bring new challenges and weather patterns, so growers should be prepared. No one wishes they had a flimsier tunnel when a big storm rolls through. 

    FAQs About Hoop Houses

    What Factors Should I Consider Before Choosing a Hoop House Style?

    Consider how you’ll use your hoop house.

    1. Crops you grow. 
    2. Growing zone and inclement weather in your region.
    3. Will you incur heavy snow loads, sleet, strong winds, flooding, etc.?
    4. Time to build and investment.
    5. Upkeep and long-term maintenance 
    6. What’s the goal? Do you grow all year?
    7. Can you properly ventilate? 
    8. Does the structure comply with the grants' specifications?  

    How Do Climate Conditions Affect High Tunnel Selection?

    Consider climate conditions, as they significantly affect the type of tunnel you select. As briefly discussed, northern growers gravitate toward gothic-style buildings for the added snowshed and strong wind capabilities. Each manufacturer has varying recommendations on how to treat your hoop house during extreme wind events. Some will advise you to roll down all the sides so winds can flow over the house, while others advise you to roll them up so the wind can blow straight through. 

    Options to make rounded hoop houses stronger: 

    • The added ‘v’ trusses and horizontal bars will help disperse the weight of potential snow and wind load over multiple connection points, adding rigidity and durability. 
    • Purlin kits give additional bracing between the hip board and the central center ridge pole. 
    • Diagonal wind braces that connect end walls to the second hoop.

    Written by Jenna Rich of Partners’ Gardens LLC