HOOP HOUSE FAQ
Q: What is a hoop house?
A. A hoop house is a simple structure that is typically made from a series of “hoop-shaped” PVC or metal piping covered with thick plastic sheeting that is stretched snugly over the hoop frame and fastened snugly to the base. The purpose of a hoop house is to extend the growing season so that vegetables and herbs can be grown during the colder months.
Q. Why does one need a hoop house?
A. The Chicago area has a short growing season. Hoop houses are one of a few types of devices that backyard gardeners can use to extend the growing season by warming the soil and protecting plants such as vegetables and herbs from excessive exposure to cold and frost. The Chicago Botanic Garden’s website has other information on hoop houses as well as other types of growing season extension devices here.
Q. How did this all get started?
A. See the timeline.
Q: Before the City forced the Virgil family to take their hoop house down in February 2017 per mobile home and permanent building code ordinances, how big was it and how long was it up each year?
A. It was 360 square feet (putting it at 27% lot coverage, below the 30% maximum.) In 2015-16 it was up for about 180 days. In 2016-17 it was up for 135 days (until taken down as required by the City.)
Q. What problems did the hoop house cause for the neighbors?
A. One immediate neighbor has asserted that the hoop house was loud and caused much distress for their family. The Virgils polled the other neighbors within two blocks of their house in all directions and found that this one distressed neighbor stood alone. Dozens of neighbors have testiﬁed their support for the hoop house in writing and in person at public meetings that they did not find the hoop house or the Virgil's gardening activities to be a noise disturbance or other kind of nuisance.
Q. Aren’t permanent greenhouses already permissible in Elmhurst? Why not just have a greenhouse?
A. Greenhouses are permissible in Elmhurst, but do not serve the same function as hoop houses or other temporary growing season extension devices. Greenhouses become very hot in the summertime and are not conducive to gardening, even when vented (think of a car in August with the windows rolled down). Additionally, greenhouses are very expensive to install and require a concrete slab foundation. Considering Elmhurst’s stormwater concerns, a hoop house is much more beneﬁcial for the community since it does not require an impermeable footprint.
Q. Isn’t there something smaller that can do the job?
A. Hoop houses exist to serve a specific function. They extend the growing season for fall crops which can be 4’-5’ or taller come November. They also provide space for the gardener to tend the soil in February/March due to the increased temperature inside the hoop. The gardener needs room to stand up in order to work. Additionally, there needs to be enough volume of air heated by the sun to keep the soil and plants sufficiently warm. Currently, the City of Chicago provides for up to 575 sq. foot hoop house on individual residential lots - far larger than the Virgil’s hoop house (which was 360 square feet.)
Q. I heard the hoop house was part of a commercial operation in a residential zone.
A. The Virgil's hoop house was in use between the late October/early November through March (give or take) depending on the warmth of the season. Their two children have run a City-approved garden stand for 3 hours on Saturday mornings between June & September, (notably, when the hoop house is not in use). City Planner, Than Werner, was consulted twice when the endeavor was started, and stated that, “The City does not regulate children’s businesses. This is a gloriﬁed lemonade stand.”