hoop house build part one: laying out and driving corner posts

thirteen years ago that i built my first hoop house.  it was a deeply transformative event.  at that point in my life i’d never really built anything bigger than some sculptures i did in undergrad.

i remember looking at all the parts and the field where the hoop house would go and wondering how i would be able to put it up.

i had plenty of help, jay was there to give day to day instruction and chris my co-worker plenty of encouragement.  it wasn’t the sort of encouragement i was used to.  chris was about twice as big as me and extremely strong, and he held me to the same standards as he did myself, making me work as hard as he could.  i often thought of neitzche’s  thus spoke zarathustra, and contemplating  the will to power.  i’ve now built many houses for other folks, dreaming of the day when i might be able to build one for myself.  now that we have property of our own, building our own house has been high on the list of priorities.

this last week the weather has finally broken after the snowiest winter in detroit since 1880 and we started working on installing our hoop house.

what follows is a multi part how to guide to install a hoop house.  i hope you find it helpful or interesting.  if you find it neither, it will be over soon enough.

this section is on laying out the house, driving the corner post and leveling everything.

for those that are scratching their heads wondering just what a hoop house is – it’s basically a low cost greenhouse for extending the growing season.

for this section of building the hoop house you will need the following.

1. scrap lumber for making batter boards 2. wood screws 3. an impact driver or drill, with phillips bit and 3/8’s inch driver bit.  4. a post level 5. a properly sized pounder  6. fence post driver  7. self taping screws 8. builders string 9. a line level  10. a shovel 11. ear protection

step one

identify where you are going to situate your house.  most folks run the house east-west as this allows you to catch the most sun, but a poorly situated hoop house is better than no hoop house.  with a shovel test to see if there are any major rocks or foundation in line with where you plan to put the house.  i dig at least 1 foot down to test, but that doesn’t always mean that you are going discover everything lurking below.   once you have tested everything and feel as though it is free of impediments, you can start marking where it will go.

i start by driving corner takes where i think the house will be located.  it’s helpful to have some fixed points in this situation.  measure off sidewalks, or fences or building that are likely to be square if you have that convenience.  look it over and make sure it will be convenient to get to, have plenty of sun and all that.  i laid our house out about 10 feet from our fence so it’s shadow wouldn’t interfere with growing, and we would have good ventilation.  spend a day or two looking at the where the house will sit before you get down to the business of driving corner posts .  you don’t want to realize that you should have placed that house two feet to the left after you have driven all the posts.

step two

once you have the approximation of the corners of your house, set up your batter boards.

these are boards that are set up around the corner of where you plan to actually drive your corner posts. the batter boards give you the ability to adjust the layout of your ground post before you drive them.  getting ground posts out is not fun.  moving string is easy, though not really all that fun either.

drive three vertical posts and then attach the horizontals to make a little wooden corner .  do this on each of the corners.   drive a screw into the top of each of the horizontals approximately where you think the outside edge of the corner post should be.  then run a string between the screws to form an approximation of the outside of the house.


this is where it gets tough; math gets involved.  if it’s been awhile since you have cracked a geometry book you might want to get a drink and come back.

ok?  good.

you remember pythagorus right?  not really?  well the guy is rumored to be brilliant and may have come up with the theorem attached to his name; the pythagorean  theorem.  everything is a bit murky considering that most that is know about his life was recorded years after his death.  we all learned about his theorem in geometry class and it’s one of the few useful bits of mathematics i routinely use.  when trying to find the length of a hypotenuse on a right triangle, it says that the square of the length and width added together with equal the square of the hypotenuse.

why am i bringing this up?  because it’s the simplest way to make sure your angles are all square.  first check that the length  and  width are right.  in the case of our house it’s 14 feet by 36. then check the distance between the two corner posts which based on the pythagorean theorem should equal  38 feet 6 inches or so.  if all these are the same you are in great shape, but most of the time you have to move yr strings and screws around until you have everything in the right place.  it takes a while but it’s well worth getting the ground posts square.  everything goes so much smoother if they are square.

step three driving the corner posts

make a mark on your ground posts for 2 feet.  if you are using 4 foot ground posts this is the center, if using 6 foot this mark will be two feet from the bottom of the post you are going to drive.  all posts need to pounded at lease two feet into the ground to hold secure.

slip the post level over the post, slip the pounder in the end of the ground post, slide the post driver over top and put on yr ear protection.  take yr time and get the post as close to the corner strings without pushing them out and then make sure that it is square in all directions.  then pound it a few times.  check and resquare, continue pounding and checking until you have two feet of the post into the ground.  you want to have at least 2 feet of ground post into the ground, no less.

repeat with each of the ground posts

that is if you can.  in my case we hit massive foundation when we went to drive the two post on the west side and had to start laying out the batter boards and start again.  this is not what you want to happen, but you should be prepare. if you have to remove corner posts, easiest way is to use a pipe wrench and twist and pull up at the same time.  it is not fast but it does work.


lets assume everything goes well.

step 4 leveling the ground posts

drive a self taping screw into the side of each of the post at a level that works well for you.  i chose the two feet below the top of the post because it was well below where it would get in the way of the stake driver, but also gave me plenty of room to adjust stakes.  wrap a line around each of the screws making sure to maintain the same orientation on each of them, so the string comes out either on the top or the bottom, but not both.  pull the string taunt, put a line level on the lines,  and check them for level, if they are all level wonderful, if not slowly drive the posts down that are too high until they are all level. try to drive as little as possible to make them level so you have as much ground post above ground.

stringlevelwith all four corner post square and level you have a major accomplishment on your hands, and your house is well on it’s way.  this is the most crucial step as all the other ground posts, and the rest of the house will be based on these four posts.

don’t be in any hurry, make sure everything square and level, take yr time do it right and you will be much, much happier as you build the rest of the house.

in the next post we will drive the rest of the ground posts.


2 responses to “hoop house build part one: laying out and driving corner posts

  1. Pingback: hoop house build part 2: driving the ground posts | little house on the urban prairie

  2. Calling Miss Dig (811) or knowing where your underground utilities are is important to know prior to driving your posts.` Take the time while contemplating the location to have your utilities marked. I think they require a 48 hour lead time to get out to your location. You wouldn’t want to put a post through a gas line.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s