Reusing Windows in the Garden


This article was provided by guest blogger Jakob Barry of Networx.com.

MOST PEOPLE DON’T HAVE GREENHOUSES or cold frames in their back yard, but believe it or not you can construct one for not much money.

The key is finding the right materials that offer shelter for your plants. For example, many people bring their seedlings outside or even put them in the ground in early spring, but some regions may still have frost or even snow. Alternatively heavy rains, wind, and even animals can affect growing patterns throughout the summer.

That’s why, for the novice or experienced gardener/craftsman, reusing windows can be the perfect fit for assembling makeshift havens or small greenhouses that will give plants the extra protection they need.

Energy efficiency means windows are easier to find

Many homeowners are replacing wood windows or doing repairs in order to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.  Old wood windows are fairly easy to find lying around sidewalks on trash day or at home renovation sites. Good leads on old wood windows can also be acquired by calling local construction companies and asking where they may be doing window work. I know from firsthand experience that this achieves results. In many cases, contractors would be more than happy for you to take their “debris.”

That said, before you go running around lugging windows home in the trunk, consider the details of the project. How big will the greenhouse be and will you use it in winter. This will dictate the quality and number of same-sized windows necessary.

But if you’re not sure yet which direction to pursue here are a few project ideas to help get you started:

The novice approach:

This is an idea for an easy-to-build, less complicated structure.

  • On the simplest level, one window may be all you need to make a cold frame. For example, one window can easily be suspended over plants by resting the corners on various types of bases like cinder blocks, wood, bricks, or even plastic bottles filled with sand to give them weight. Just make sure whatever you use is sturdy enough so the frame doesn’t fall over in a strong gust. These ‘temporary’ shelters are easy to erect and disassemble and can be set up in the garden itself or other space like the patio.

The intermediate:

The aim of this more intensive approach is to build a greenhouse-box or miniature greenhouse. It can be a little complicated but not too difficult.

  • Find at least five windows of the same size standing two on their side and placing a third over the top. Secure the top to the sides with nails or screws and add a brace of some kind at the corners where both meet. (An optional step is to take a narrow strip of wood or other strong material the length of one open side and make a brace-like railing for better sturdiness.) Lastly, lean the two remaining windows against the respective openings so they can be pushed aside freely and plants can be inserted and removed with ease from your new greenhouse-box.  

For the more ambitious:

If you have taller plants that need protection or just want more protective space you could go a step further.

  • Here you will need at least eight windows, but it all depends on how big you want to make the greenhouse. To start, stand three windows on their sides making three walls of a house with no roof. After securing them with screws and braces add another three on top of the lower ones like the skeletal exterior of a second floor and secure them to each other and the ones below. To finish, make a roof either covering the top with a window horizontally or using two windows to make a peaked roof. If you choose the latter, seal the open sides with other material, different sized windows, or leave it wide open.  

One final note: Because the condition of some windows may be questionable and create an eyesore in some neighborhoods, be creative and paint the frames different colors. Match the garden or be outrageous; either way it can be a fun project that adds lots of character to your home.

If you have used old windows to create a season extending shelter for your garden, let us know by commenting below.

Jakob Barry writes for Networx.com, a growing community of homeowners and contractors sharing and monitoring home improvement projects together. He covers various home improvement topics including eco friendly and small space gardening.

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3. Book Review: Eliot Coleman’s Handbook
4. Better Tomatoes with Walls-O-Water

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2 Responses to “Reusing Windows in the Garden”

  1. May 8, 2011 at 6:56 am #

    Bill its like you read my mind sometimes…I have wanted to build a simple cold frame but my bigger question is the where is the best place to locate it…sun, part sun, shade; protected from wind or not???

    • May 8, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

      Donna — Great question. Typically you want a cold frame to capture as much sun (and heat from the sun) as possible. The goal of a cold frame is to extend the season by sheltering the plants from the cold and wind. Some people will angle the cold frame so that it captures as much of the sun as possible when the sun is low in the sky in late fall or very early spring.

      Since cold frames are low to the ground and frequently made from glass, it probably doesn’t matter if it is in a windy location. However, Eliot Coleman suggests that you may want to protect it from the wind to make it as efficient as possible. Wind will lower the temperature even inside a glass coldframe. Coleman’s book, Four-season harvest, provides excellent information on the optimum design for cold frames and hoop houses.

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