Exploring the Differences Between Tunnel Houses and Green Houses in New Zealand

1. Structure and Design

When it comes to sheltering plants from the elements, both tunnel houses and greenhouses offer their own unique architectural appeal.

Tunnel houses, characterized by their curved tunnel-like shape, sport aluminum frames that provide essential structural support.

In contrast, greenhouses exhibit a diverse range of designs, from classic gable structures to modern quonset arcs, boasting frames fashioned from aluminum, galvanized steel, or even wood.

  • Tunnel Houses:

    • Curved or arched shape resembling a tunnel.

    • Aluminum frames for support.

    • Example: Curved tunnel-like structure made of aluminum framing.

  • Greenhouses:

    • Various shapes including gable, quonset, or gothic arch.

    • Frames made from aluminum, galvanized steel, or wood.

    • Example: Classic gable-roof greenhouse with galvanized steel framework.

2. Covering Material

The magic of these shelters lies in their protective coverings.

Tunnel houses sport UV-proof greenhouse film crafted from polyethylene, which provides a cocoon-like environment for plants. This film can be single or double layered, with pockets of air between the layers enhancing insulation.

Greenhouses, however, flaunt materials like glass, polycarbonate, or shade cloth. Glass is revered for its luminous qualities, while polycarbonate adds robust insulation, and shade cloth caters to controlled shading.

  • Tunnel Houses:

    • UV-proof greenhouse film (polyethylene).

    • Single or double layered, with air pockets for insulation.

    • Example: Tunnel house covered with UV-proof polyethylene film.

  • Greenhouses:

    • Glass, polycarbonate, or shade cloth.

    • Glass for excellent light transmission.

    • Polycarbonate for insulation and impact resistance.

    • Example: Glass-covered greenhouse allowing ample sunlight.

3. Climate Control

Temperature and humidity control reign supreme in the world of agriculture.

Tunnel houses, with their film coverings, lend a hand in maintaining the ideal climate. Proper ventilation is key, especially during sun-soaked days, to thwart overheating.

Greenhouses, being versatile shelters, often employ ventilation systems, exhaust fans, and shading mechanisms to keep the internal climate optimal for growth.

  • Tunnel Houses:

    • Film coverings for temperature regulation.

    • Importance of ventilation to prevent overheating.

    • Example: Ventilation system in a tunnel house maintaining optimal temperature.

  • Greenhouses:

    • Ventilation systems, exhaust fans, and shading.

    • Controlled environment to manage temperature and humidity.

    • Example: Automated ventilation system in a greenhouse.

4. Crop Diversity and Space Utilization

Whether you're a home gardener or a commercial cultivator, both tunnel houses and greenhouses have a place for you. Tunnel houses suit smaller-scale endeavors, offering protection to a medley of crops like vegetables and flowers.

Greenhouses, though, excel in accommodating both boutique and large-scale farming, granting space for an array of plants, including those that require meticulous care.

  • Tunnel Houses:

    • Suitable for home gardens and small-scale production.

    • Protection for various crops like vegetables and flowers.

    • Example: Tunnel house cultivating a variety of herbs and flowers.

  • Greenhouses:

    • Flexibility for small and large-scale cultivation.

    • Suitable for delicate plants requiring precise conditions.

    • Example: Greenhouse cultivating exotic orchids alongside tomatoes.

5. Cost and Maintenance

Affordability dances on the side of tunnel houses, thanks to their lightweight design and UV-proof film coverings. Though more budget-friendly, they do demand periodic replacement of the greenhouse film.

Greenhouses, on the other hand, require a more substantial initial investment due to their diverse materials like glass and polycarbonate. Maintenance varies depending on the chosen materials; glass may ask for periodic cleaning, while polycarbonate stands robust against the elements.

  • Tunnel Houses:

    • Affordable due to lightweight frame and film.

    • Periodic film replacement needed.

    • Example: Budget-friendly tunnel house requiring occasional film renewal.

  • Greenhouses:

    • Higher initial investment due to diverse materials.

    • Maintenance varies based on chosen materials.

    • Example: Glass greenhouse requiring occasional cleaning.

6. Aesthetics and Landscape Integration

In the garden of aesthetics, tunnel houses bloom as unassuming beauties. Their curved design blends harmoniously with various landscapes, making them a favorite among home gardeners.

Greenhouses, particularly those adorned in glass, exhibit striking elegance, although they may require a bit more finesse to integrate seamlessly into the surrounding environment.

  • Tunnel Houses:

    • Blends well with home gardens.

    • Simple, curved design.

    • Example: Tunnel house seamlessly integrated into backyard landscape.

  • Greenhouses:

    • Visually striking, elegant appearance.

    • Glass greenhouses enhancing aesthetics.

    • Example: Glass greenhouse adding a touch of sophistication to a farm.

7. Durability and Longevity

Diving into longevity, tunnel houses showcase durability in their aluminum frames, which stand resilient against corrosion. However, the film covering has a limited lifespan and will need renewal over the years.

Greenhouses, especially those crafted from glass, boast lasting power, becoming enduring fixtures on the agricultural stage. The lifespan varies based on materials chosen and maintenance practices.

  • Tunnel Houses:

    • Aluminum frames resistant to corrosion.

    • Limited lifespan of film coverings.

    • Example: Durable aluminum-framed tunnel house with periodic film replacement.

  • Greenhouses:

    • Glass structures and polycarbonate options.

    • Longer lifespan with proper maintenance.

    • Example: Glass greenhouse standing the test of time.

8. Customization and Technology Integration

In the realm of innovation, greenhouses hold sway. Their robust structures are more conducive to integrating advanced technologies like automated climate control and irrigation systems.

Tunnel houses, while humble and efficient, offer fewer customization options due to their lightweight nature.

  • Tunnel Houses:

    • Limited options for advanced technologies.

    • Lightweight design restricts customization.

    • Example: Basic climate control in a tunnel house.

  • Greenhouses:

    • Integration of climate control, irrigation, automation.

    • Diverse options for technology incorporation.

    • Example: Greenhouse equipped with automated irrigation system.

9. Regulatory Considerations

When embarking on agricultural endeavors, it's vital to understand the rules of the land. Tunnel houses, often smaller and more temporary, may sidestep some regulatory hoops.

Greenhouses, especially those of grander scale, may require adherence to specific zoning and building regulations.

  • Tunnel Houses:

    • Fewer regulations due to size and nature.

    • Lesser zoning and building restrictions.

    • Example: Small tunnel house subject to minimal regulations.

  • Greenhouses:

    • Zoning and building requirements for larger structures.

    • Compliance with specific regulations.

    • Example: Large greenhouse meeting local building codes.

10. Energy Efficiency

In the green race for energy efficiency, both tunnel houses and greenhouses make their contributions. Tunnel houses, with their lightweight design, generally require less energy to maintain optimal conditions.

On the flip side, greenhouses' energy consumption depends on their chosen materials, insulation, and climate control systems.

  • Tunnel Houses:

    • Lightweight construction results in lower energy use.

    • Efficient temperature regulation.

    • Example: Energy-efficient tunnel house due to lightweight design.

  • Greenhouses:

    • Energy consumption dependent on materials and systems.

    • Adoption of insulation strategies for efficiency.

    • Example: Greenhouse with energy-saving climate control mechanisms.


In conclusion, the world of tunnel houses and greenhouses in New Zealand is a vibrant mosaic of architectural ingenuity, environmental consciousness, and agricultural prowess.

From the gentle curves of tunnel houses to the majestic presence of glass-clad greenhouses, these structures stand as guardians of growth, nurturing a kaleidoscope of plants amidst New Zealand's breathtaking scenery.

Are you ready to create a thriving oasis for your plants? Whether you're a novice gardener or an experienced cultivator, these structures offer the keys to unlocking your horticultural aspirations.

So, why wait? Take the first step toward a greener, more productive future. Choose the perfect structure for your goals, plant the seeds of your vision, and watch them flourish under the canopy of innovation.

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