It’s not every day you see someone laying out a bunch of windows on their lawn – so anyone passing by Kirk Lewellen’s house must have wondered what on Earth he was doing. But if they’d walked past again a few days later, they’d have seen exactly what he was up to. And the results of his project are astonishing.
For many people, gardening is an excellent way to de-stress. After all, it gets you out in the fresh air, away from the screens and constant emails that may otherwise monopolize your thoughts and time. And not only does it give you something to do with your hands, but it can also have practical benefits if you grow your own fruits and vegetables.
However, if you’re not completely happy with the current state of your garden, there are plenty of cheap ways to improve it. Something as simple as cutting your grass into a particular shape, such as a circle or rectangle, can instantly transform it. Meanwhile, year-round Christmas lights can add a touch of glamor for relatively little cost.
If you’re particularly skilled with your hands, you could even look into upcycling. Generally, it’s the process whereby something that would otherwise be considered useless is made useful again, by making something practical out of it. For instance, old tires can be repurposed into wall planters, while spoons make for great wind chimes.
Upcycling, then, is exactly the route that Kirk Lewellen took in 2013. Indeed, the boat salesman had collected a whole stack of reclaimed windows and doors, which he decided to put to use in his own garden in Tennessee. And in doing so, he fashioned himself something truly awesome for his outdoor space.
Lewellen sketched out his design using a 3D modeling computer program called Tremble Sketchup. “A plan is critical when trying to use reclaimed windows,” he wrote on Instructables. “Determining a plan, a layout and the utilization of the materials was the most difficult part of the construction process.”
By now, it’s pretty clear to see where he was going with it. Yes, he was planning to build a greenhouse in his garden, entirely from the reclaimed windows. After measuring up the windows, he settled on its final dimensions – a footprint of 12 square feet, reaching to the same height at its tallest point.
Once he’d determined the greenhouse’s dimensions, he needed to figure out the angle at which the primary window wall would sit in order to maximize its solar collection during both the summer and winter. According to Lewellen, there’s a useful guide to help complete this stage of the planning process.
“There is a basic rule of thumb in greenhouse construction that the proper southern-facing wall angle should be 10 degrees greater than the latitude of your location,” he wrote. “My latitude in Tennessee is 35 degrees, so the angle of my primary southern facing window is 45 degrees.” And with the planning completed, he could finally begin assembling the greenhouse.
First, the frame had to be constructed, in which the windows would then fit snugly. Lewellen also aimed to cover the smaller, northern-facing side of the roof with a translucent, corrugated material that would stop any wind from entering. The interior of the northern-facing roof section, meanwhile, would be insulated with see-through plastic, in order to keep the warmth inside.
Next, he set to work making sure the windows were ready for installation, along with the greenhouse’s doors and trim pieces. This involved careful measuring, with the trim pieces taking on some intricate shapes. Then, he painted the window frames white, which would eventually match the rest of the greenhouse’s frame.
Once this stage was complete, the installation of the reclaimed windows could begin. Alongside the stack of shorter rectangular windows, Lewellen also managed to get his hands on six taller panel windows for the greenhouse’s east and west walls, from Craigslist.
It wasn’t immediately clear how he’d be able to use the larger windows, but eventually he settled on a design that involved using the smaller windows in a row along the bottom of the sidewalls. The taller windows would then sit above these, allowing plenty of light into the greenhouse.
With those in place, he then installed the shorter rectangular windows that would comprise the tall, southern-facing wall. After screwing them into place, he sealed them with silicone caulk. All in all, Lewellen used around 15 tubes of the stuff for this part of the project.
At last, he began adding the finishing touches, including filling in the corners and walls around the windows. And with that done, he could paint the rest of the greenhouse’s frame white, in order to match the window frames he’d painted earlier.
He installed a flagstone floor inside the greenhouse, with a soil area marked out around the interior edge for plants. The stone floor would act as a means of keeping heat in the structure, allowing the plant life that would eventually reside within to flourish and grow.
Finally, he installed tables above the soil layer, on which he could place trays for even more room to grow things. And he completed his superb greenhouse project with the addition of an exterior porch, rounding off an extension of the interior’s flagstone floor.
All that was left, then, was to start growing things – and that’s exactly what he did. The greenhouse’s irrigation system prevents the plants from drying out, while a fan and electric heater combat the alternating climate to keep conditions at their best year-round.
Not surprisingly, reactions to Lewellen’s awesome project have been widely enthusiastic. “Absolutely gorgeous – love the addition of the Victorian fretwork!” one Instructables user wrote. And the avid upcycler even offered his own advice in response, writing, “Habitat store and Craigslist are great places for this type of project.”
Yes, it’s astonishing to see what can become of a simple stack of old windows. If anything, Lewellen’s project is evidence that nothing is ever completely useless. So, if you’re in the market for a cheap, resourceful way to improve your own garden, his project should hopefully prove inspirational.