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Polytunnel Ventilation – Solar Powered Cooling System

Polytunnels, like greenhouses, can get very hot in sunny weather. Controlling temperature and humidity is critical though and I’ve tackled the problem of polytunnel ventilation by installing a solar powered cooling system.

80 watt solar panel fixed to frame

80 watt solar panel fixed to frame.

A Better Way!

I was working in the polytunnel the other day. The weather was overcast with sunny spells and it was quite a cool day. The thermometer was hovering around 15ºC outside and a comfortable 22ºC inside the tunnel. Out came the sun and the temperature quickly climbed towards unbearable in the tunnel so I opened the door to cool things down.

Then the sun went back in and the temperature plummeted in the tunnel until I shut the door. Well this went on most of the time, me opening and closing the door to keep the temperature comfortable. I thought “There has to be a better way!”

Considering the Options

The opening lights in the greenhouse are controlled by automatic openers. Being in the roof, the hot air rushes out and keeps the temperature reasonable. I considered constructing opening lights and fitting them into the polytunnel roof but quickly ruled that out. Putting any sort of vents into the polytunnel roof would compromise the integrity of the skin. Not something I’d like to experiment with here, our high winds are just looking for an excuse to shred the polythene.

First Tunnels, who supplied my lovely tunnel, offer a number of ventilation solutions. On the smaller domestic polytunnels the doors incorporate netting instead of polythene into the top panels. Mine is the smallest of the commercial tunnels and netting is not fitted into the doors as standard. I assume that’s because there’s always someone around to open the doors in commercial operations.

I could easily replace one or more door panels with netting to allow airflow but that may reduce heat retention in cold weather. It will help reduce condensation though, which is a problem in the tunnel.

Polytunnel Side Ventilation Systems

First Tunnels offer side ventilation systems with or without a screen. See their video explaining these at the end. This enables temperature and humidity to be controlled. For a large tunnel, over say 30 feet long, I’d suggest side ventilation is a must and it’s not a bad idea for smaller tunnels either. It’s not an automatic system, though. What if the weather changes and you’re not there?

A Cunning Plan!!

This leads me to a cunning plan! What if I fitted an electric fan in one door panel? This would pull the air through the tunnel and certainly cool it down in sunny weather. I’ve not got mains power handy so it would have to be a 12 volt fan.. like a car radiator fan.

Fitted Polytunnel Cooling Fan

Fitted Polytunnel Cooling Fan – the slack cable allows the door to be opened if needed.

Solar Powered Car Radiator Fan

Checking on ebay, a car radiator fan can be had very cheaply, I saw one at £12.50 but £30.00 is a more reasonable budget. Only thing is they usually draw 80 watts. An 80 watt solar panel to power it costs around £70.00 . Still, it’s a investment that should last for years and four automatic window openers in a greenhouse will set you back around £100.00.

Volume of Air Movement

The car fans are rated to move between 1400 and 2500 cubic metres per hour at full speed and the polytunnel capacity is around 75 cubic metres. At full speed the lower capacity gives 18 air changes per hour. That should mean the single car fan is enough to make a significant difference. Ideally I’d have liked to have 30 changes per hour.

The fan speed will be controlled by the solar panel’s output. More sunshine giving more power and turning the blades faster and so forth. The hotter the weather, the more it will cool.

Help from My Friends

I admit I’m a bit out of my depth with the fan plan, so I discussed it with my neighbour who is a whiz with electrics and has set up solar panel systems and windmills. He reckoned it would work as I hoped. His only proviso was that the fan needed to be a simple one, not the more complex type some cars have that are designed for computer control.

More than that, he appeared with one which they had spare and it will do the job. Then he excelled himself, mentioning they had an 80 watt solar panel I could have. Even better, it was fixed to a frame with a long cable attached! Am I lucky or what?

Installed, Up and Running!

Netting Panel in Polytunnel Door

Netting Panel in Polytunnel Door – High level airflow to the fan

We positioned the panel and connected the fan which immediately came to life, speeding up when the sun came out. All that remained was to install it in the door and put the netting vent in on the door at the other end.

After 24 hours the humidity had fallen noticeably, so one aim achieved. We’ve not had enough sunshine to fully test out cooling effect yet. I think it will still be necessary to open doors on hot days, but we’ll see.

First Tunnels Side Ventilation Systems

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
8 comments on “Polytunnel Ventilation – Solar Powered Cooling System
  1. Stephen Blaze says:

    Did you a solar panel voltage control unit and battery or let it run off the solar panel only

  2. Neill Simpson says:

    This sounds very good. Could you give an update – has it been successful on sunny days?

    • John Harrison says:

      It’s enough to hold the tunnel temperature down but I need a bit more umph so intend to install a Mk 2 version using a 240W panel and two 120W fans.
      It’s worked a treat at keeping humidity levels down and stopped the mould problems I was having,

  3. Sumitra Patel says:

    I have just purchased a 12ft by 20ft poly tunnel.
    Would you recommend that I install two 120W fans and run them both of a 240W solar panel?

  4. benjamin shepherd says:

    Some great info! Thanks
    I was trying to work out if you had the 2 fans on either side of the tunnel. One drawing in air the other drawing out air?

    Did you have shutters on the exterior to seal up the fan holes when not in use?

    Wasn’t so clear in the photos.

    • John Harrison says:

      Hi Benjamin
      I haven’t got around to installing the 2 fan system yet. Currently 1 fan, other side of the tunnel is fine netting. No shutters, which aren’t necessary.

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