May 14, 2023 11 min read 0 Comments
At Bootstrap Farmer we field a lot of calls from people looking to build their first hoop house. We get questions from every possible type of person. Often this is the biggest construction project that folks have taken on, so there are naturally many questions. People are terrified to make a mistake. Given the job hoop houses have in protecting valuable crops as well as a significant up front investment, we certainly understand how important it is to build it right the first time.
Even though we have kits with specific instructions, we want to tell you that every hoop house we have ever seen constructed has been different from last. Farmers add on, adjust, and customize to fit their many different needs, especially once they gain experience and modify the structure to their particular needs.
Over time, farmers view hoop house construction as a framework instead of an exact step-by-step to follow. Our intent with the following guide is to help get you there right from the start.
Hoop houses are simple structures. In its simplest form, they are hoops with plastic on top to protect plants from excessive wind and rain. They provide solar gains at the start and end of the growing seasons to allow farmers to begin growing earlier in the Spring and harvesting later into the Fall. With proper crop selections and succession planting, many climates can also support four season farming.
A hoop house can be built from many materials. Different gauges of metal, wood and PVC(not recommended) are the most popular choices. Each farmer is able to decide if they want to save capital investments up front or invest into a stronger structure from the beginning that will last for many seasons to come. Local weather and environmental conditions ultimately should be the deciding factor to hoop house construction. In our Building a Greenhouse blogs you will find the answers to many of the questions we routinely receive at Bootstrap Farmer regarding hoop house construction.
Now that you have ordered your kit, we are here to guide you through some important reminders and things to consider while you are waiting for your kit to arrive. From ensuring you understand the instruction manual ahead of time to ensuring you have the tools you need to build it right from day one.
Planning to have the help you need on hand when you need it and taking care of the people who are there to help you, will be instrumental in a successful build. This is definitely one of those situations in life where being prepared can and will save you piles of extra work and the aches of not being able to plant when you are ready to.
Another important thing to consider is what you will be using for your greenhouse floor covering. There are a number of different coverings that can be used to augment your hoop house and reduce your overall labor hours. If you want to learn more about How to Use Ground Covers on the Farm read this article as well.
Over on the tech line here at Bootstrap we find that 90% of the questions we get from people who are in the middle of building one of our kits are answered just a few pages beyond where they are right now. When building a hoop house the order of steps may seem counterintuitive but as you read on in the instructions you will understand why each step occurs in the order that it does.
This is why we provide all of our manuals online in PDF format as well as sending you a printed copy with your order. If you want to check out any of our Instruction Manuals, even if you haven’t ordered yet, you can find them here in our Resources.
We want you to be able to read through the entire set of instructions before your kit arrives. We also want you to be able to send the PDF copy to people who will be helping you with your build. As you read through, make a list of any questions you have. If they aren’t answered by the time you finish reading, call in and get your questions answered before you start building. Our service line is available 7 days a week to answer your questions.
When preparing to build a hoop house, videos can come in handy. Some people just learn better by watching something done. Particularly if you have questions after you read the manual, watch videos of hoop house builds. You can find videos of our build processes on our Bootstrap Farmer Playlists. No matter which company's kit you choose to go with you should be able to find videos to help you understand the process.
You will need to plan ahead to have tools that are necessary on hand and to have the knowledge to use them safely. Under this list we go over the most important reasons for each and how many we recommend you have.
It is essential to protect yourself and your helpers when building a hoop house. Have plenty of pairs of safety glasses on hand to protect eyes from the metal shavings. Extra pairs of leather work gloves will help protect hands from sharp edges and be welcome when someone misplaces theirs.
Drills and impact drivers can both be used. We suggest you have one of each if possible. Impact drivers by themselves are not enough as the force can snap the heads off of self-tapping screws. Keep your chargers plugged in and extra batteries charging at all times. You will go through a number of full batteries in a day of hoop house building.
Have a number of extension cords on hand, the longer the better. You will need them to keep your chargers close at hand as well as running any power tools that are not battery powered. Don’t forget you will need power to run the all important tunes for your building soundtrack!
A drill bit set for each powered drill you have is nice to have so you aren’t running back and forth to change bits or waiting for someone else to finish their task. Socket sets for power drill as well as hand wrenches with sockets will both come in handy for tightening nuts and bolts.
Hack saws or reciprocating saws will be required for this build to trim ridge poles, cut hat channel braces, and to properly size lock channel and spring wire segments. If you do not own one, this can be an item that you rent or borrow. Although it is a handy piece of equipment to have on the farm. Make sure that you have extra blades, a long enough extension cord and safety equipment for when it is in use.
Tape measures are vital to the building process. Having one that is long enough for the job is invaluable. Some prefer the roller-style tape measures when pacing out the initial measurement. It is a matter of preference, but regardless have extra tape measures on hand as they commonly go missing when you need them the most.
Having a level for the job will help the entire process. It is good to have one line level, one magnetic level and one extra level. You can never have too many levels! No one wants to look at a crooked structure, knowing that they could have done the job better. Believe us when we say, it is better to check for plumb throughout the process than to try to make corrections after all of the layers have been put into place. You will use one or more types of level for essentially every part of this build.
Our kits come with one ground post driver. This tool is a must in order to protect the integrity of the ground posts. It helps to spread out the impact and protect the ground posts from damage that would likely occur if direct impact was made by the sledgehammer to the post.
Single jack hammers are useful when fine tuning placement of the ground posts as you level and adjust. It is a good idea to have them for driving smaller components of the hoop house. It is especially useful for those who may find it difficult to use a heavier hammer or those jobs where the use of a heavier hammer would be overkill. A regular sized sledge hammer is great for driving the ground posts into heavy soils.
Clamps will prove their usefulness time and time again throughout the building process. Whether it is when you are installing the hoops or when the purlins are installed, clamps act as another hand for the job. Even if you have extra hands around to hold the materials for you, it will save fatigue and frustration to clamp. We recommend you have a minimum of four clamps on hand for this. Bar clamps and larger spring style clamps will both work here and you may find that having both on hand is helpful for different steps in the greenhouse build process. You will want to have several clamps- honestly the more the merrier when it comes to clamps in your toolbox.
At the beginning of the build, you will need to square your structure. The process goes a lot better with the use of a brightly colored mason line. Using a mason line in conjunction with a line level, you will be able to efficiently mark where your ground posts will be placed and the depth at which you will install them.
Including a center punch in your list of tools as it helps mark the spot and guide your drill. Drills have the tendency to wander. Making an indent with a center punch will give your drill something to grip and ensure that you will stay centered as you drill your starting holes. Center punches can also be found with spring-loaded mechanics for more ease of use.
We recommend having a magnetic sweeper or telescoping magnet for the clean-up stage of the building process. Leaving stray bolts or anything else that could puncture plastic around may cause future damage. This is another great job for those helpers without a lot of building experience or any kiddos that want to help “build”. Have them circle the structure with this tool and collect any dropped hardware.
We have put together this additional list of tools for the ones listed above you may not already have with links on where to purchase. If you have ordered a kit from us some of the bits and drivers you will need are included. When there are multiple people helping you with multiple drills, it is always nice to have additional of these specialized bits available. This way you can work through certain steps faster without having only one person able to complete a particular task.
On a build this big things will get misplaced, bits will get worn or break. We recommend always having extras to avoid a hold up in your build.
The people you have to help you build can be the most important factor in how fast and well your kit goes together. Regardless if you are relying on friends and neighbors or hiring professionals the following suggestions should hold true.
There are a few traits many would agree would be great. Not all of these are requirements by any means as there are many tasks that even the highly unskilled can help with. That said, what makes a great helper?
We like to say, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Setting goals for each set of steps will help smooth out the process and ensure you have taken a moment to check that the step was done properly. Stop for breaks as needed from the heavy physical activity of building and review the work you’ve already done.
A large part of the labor involved in building one of these kits is walking back and forth to lay out materials ahead of each step. Understanding that this is a different kind of physical activity than most people are used to doing will keep you from getting frustrated if you find yourself needing to knock off a few hours earlier than expected. Or leave a particular step half finished at the end of the day.
Make a plan for each day of your build and decide which steps you need to complete and which you would complete in an ideal world. Many steps, like attaching the lock channel to your hip and base braces, can be done in stages. This means you can easily stop in the middle of the task to break for lunch or be done for the day. Other tasks, like putting on the plastic, must be completed in a single work session or you risk damaging all of your hard work thus far.
This is where even someone with no building experience can come in very handy. A support person who will take care of simple things like keeping you all hydrated, fed and supplied with the equipment needed is invaluable. As the builder, you will want to provide your help with snacks, lunch and all beverages. Having a shaded area with a place to sit for breaks will help prevent any issues with heat or too much sun exposure. You will also want to have safety equipment available for all helpers.
In an ideal world, weather would line up with the time you’ve set aside to build your greenhouse. This will not always be the case. You will want to watch the weather and make a contingency plan if the forecast predicts high winds or stormy weather. Working against extreme weather will set you back more than if you make arrangements to build on a different day.
The short answer is at least a month before you plan to need it. We field a lot of calls from people who are frantic to get their hoop house kit delivered because they want to start using it next week. To be honest this is an unreasonable expectation to put on yourself and anyone who is helping you. If at all possible take weather into consideration when scheduling your build. Building an outdoor structure in the hottest month of the year or during a rainstorm is far less than ideal.
As we mentioned in our previous articles on shipping and shopping; lead times for delivery of greenhouse kits can be significantly extended in the middle of the busy season (January-April). Planning ahead for ordering, shipping, building, and possible delays will make your build smoother and better.
Depending on where you live you may need permits in order to build a greenhouse. However in many places no permits are required for high tunnels or hoop houses. The difference being that building codes for some municipalities define a greenhouse as a structure with a foundation and a floor while hoop houses are non permanent structures. Also greenhouses are usually considered to have some utilities like electrical outlets and water as well as heating and cooling, while high tunnels have few amenities and plants are grown directly in the existing soil. When speaking with your zoning department the words you use to describe your build will matter.
Reading the manual should definitely be your first step in preparing to build. It will help you make sure you have everything you need available before you begin that first work day in terms of proper tools, supplies, and helping hands. Watching videos, both from the company you have ordered your kit from and other types, will give you the foresight to know when you might run into issues. Taking good care of anyone who comes to help you will prevent injuries, early fatigue, and help make sure they want to come back and help again the next day.
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