For renters, every home improvement project comes with its own cost-benefit analysis.
Building or buying an elaborate, expensive greenhouse on a property you don’t own can have a heartbreaking outcome. What happens when you have to leave your rental home or apartment?! You may have to leave your gorgeous greenhouse, too!
Or do you?
There are several solutions for renters who are determined to grow plants with protection from the elements. From portable greenhouses to micro-cold frames, even apartment dwellers can find an enhanced gardening solution that works.
You might even be able to find a greenhouse (or greenhouse-like container, at least) that works for your apartment balcony!
What’s The Difference Between A Cold Frame And A Greenhouse?
You may see cold frames referred to as greenhouses, mostly for sales and marketing purposes—because it’s simple to lump them all together. But in reality, they’re different structures with different uses and attributes.
Greenhouses are typically much larger in size and more elaborate. They employ appliances and technology to grow plants in optimal conditions. You’ll also hear greenhouses referred to as “hot houses.” They use climate control appliances to keep conditions crop-friendly all year.
Cold frames, on the other hand, are typically smaller, less technologically advanced, and simply extend a growing season. They are likely not good for use in the more extreme seasons.
There are other technicalities that distinguish the two, but from a backyard gardener’s perspective, the differences in categorization aren’t as important as how you use your own growing structure.
Still curious? Take a look at our more in-depth comparison of cold frames and greenhouses.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at both greenhouses and cold frames—since most renters just aren’t going to build a huge polycarbonate or glass greenhouses with automated climate control systems and irrigation in a rented back yard or patio. A DIY coldframe, on the other hand, is definitely doable.
Concerns For Renting With A Greenhouse
Leases and Landlords
How long is your lease? How long do you plan to live in your house or apartment? What does your renter’s insurance cover?
Any renter knows that the very first thing to do when considering an improvement project on a rental home is to ask the landlord.
Before building a beautiful greenhouse in the yard of your rental property, consider how it will feel to move out of that house and have to leave the greenhouse. That might change your perspective on how much money and energy you want to invest in a backyard greenhouse.
Whether you rent or own your property, available space is always one of the most influential considerations when thinking about installing a greenhouse. For renters, though, space tends to be even more limited.
If you rent a detached single-family home, you’re likely to at least have a small yard, so your options are broader.
If you live in an apartment building or townhouse, you likely have a lot more restrictions around outdoor space. Perhaps you don’t even have any shared outdoor space at all!
Don’t fret, there are still ways to grow in a greenhouse space! Keep reading to discover some balcony-friendly greenhouse options.
Electrical and Irrigation Needs
One of the main restrictions as a renter is the availability of electrical and irrigation hookups.
As I mentioned above, a “true” greenhouse has carefully built climate control inside like fans, thermostats, heaters, lights, etc. Renters are more likely to experience roadblocks when it comes to finding electrical hookups and negotiating utility usage with landlord and property managers.
Irrigation and water supply are huge factors for any greenhouse builder to consider. If you rent an apartment, it’s likely that you don’t have easy access to an outdoor spigot. So keep in mind that you’ll likely need to lug all your water in from elsewhere, rather than installing a convenient irrigation system.
These are just a few more reasons why we suggest more cold frame-style growing for renters.
Permits and Zoning
Do you need a local building permit to install a greenhouse in your yard?
Before you build, buy, or install a greenhouse on your property (rental or otherwise), be diligent about looking into zoning regulations in your neighborhood and what kind of permits are required for building extra structures on residential properties.
Even if you have already secured permission from your landlord or property manager, you’ll still want to check on local legalities.
Read more about permits and legal requirements of backyard greenhouses here.
Do you rent an apartment, townhome, or other high-density, shared-space living situation?
But, of course, many high-density living communities would be happy to have a garden oasis on the property! You might even be able to rally the support of your apartment complex neighbors and build a community greenhouse where everyone can tend veggies and flowers.
There is one benefit of renting a home and building a greenhouse on the property. You could get a discount on your rent!
Many private landlords are amenable to working out rent discount arrangements for responsible tenants who take on home and property improvements.
Ask your landlord if they are interested in having a greenhouse on the property and if they can reimburse you for materials and time.
Best Ready Ready-to-Install Greenhouses Kits for Renters
For A Small Backyard
If you’re ready to splurge, have permission from your property owner to install a new structure, and have a decently sized backyard, you can find a variety of small walk-in polycarbonate greenhouse/cold frame kits.
Many of the kits priced under $500 are “just fine”—they’ll do the trick and extend your growing season, but don’t assume they’ll work like full-blown greenhouses just because they look like a mini version.
The lower the price point, the more likely you are to need a little elbow grease in the installation and possibly some tools to construct finicky hardware.
As they increase in price, cold frame kits become more sturdy and easy to put together.
This cute, light-weight greenhouse (well, really a cold frame) is a popular style for renters and small-space dwellers.
Sometimes called “portable greenhouses” this style is made with polyethylene (PE) plastic sheeting as the glazing and a lightweight frame. While PE sheeting isn’t a perfect all-season protector from the elements, you can extend your growing season with this little shetler.
Anchors are included in this kit, so you can stabilize this limber greenhouse from wind and weather. You could even use this on a large apartment patio.
Read all about the ins and outs of PE sheeting for greenhouse glazing in our super in-depth look.
Ready for the cutest and most compact of all options? The new trend in home gardening is the micro-greenhouse or mini-greenhouse (which really should also be called a mini-cold frame).
This itty bitty container garden can barely be called a greenhouse…but I’m going for it anyway! There are an increasingly abundant variety of micro-greenhouse type containers that range from 2-3 container plant capacity to multi-level cabinet-style containers. You can also DIY a mini-greenhouse without too much hassle.
The obvious benefit of these mini growing environments is their ability to fit anywhere and everywhere, including balconies, backyards, patios, rooftops, even indoor window sills! They’re excellent for growing microgreens, herbs, and other small crops. If this idea of growing small intrigues you, also consider a terrarium or jarrarium inside your house!
Build It Yourself
With a big enough back yard and enough patience, you can absolutely build a DIY greenhouse in any space. In fact, the benefit of building your own greenhouse is that you can mindfully adjust the size, shape, style, and building materials to suit your needs.
Check out our guide to building your low-cost greenhouse and get ready to grow at home!