P14419: High Tunnel


Project Summary Project Information

For an updated project description, click on the following link for the Project Readiness Package.

The RIT MSD team has been chosen to work with Rochester Roots and the Rochester City School District to upgrade an existing high tunnel greenhouse used by several local schools. The current state of the high tunnel is a 20’ x 48’ steel, square-tubed frame with a semi-circular roof. In foul weather and winter months a plastic tarp is used to cover the frame. This is type of covering only creates conditions to allow gardening in 10 months out of the year. The design also lacks storage efficiency and is susceptible to vandalism. Water is sourced using a hose that connects to the school’s tap and is over 250ft from the high tunnel.

The RIT MSD team is to create a solution that allows for year-round growing by the design and implementation of multi-purpose paneling. These panels will also be used to deter any pests or vandals, and will have one or more additional features that enhance the high tunnel. If additional means beyond the panels is needed to maintain year-round growing, any electrical power consumption will be supplied using renewable energy. In addition to the redesigned paneling, the irrigation system will be upgraded to allow for non-commercial water sourcing. It is hoped that this project will serve as a working example of the possibilities that high tunnels allow for and will inspire other community programs to implement similar programs of their own.

Plants in general have a set of specific needs that are a function of levels of water, light and temperature. This provides a natural framework for the project and as such, the project was divided into subsystems. These subsystems include heat, light, water, and the physical enclosure. Each subsystem was individually designed and this formed the basis of a thermodynamic model. As a result of this model, the subsystems were then tweaked to ensure optimal performance of the system.

While the thermodynamic model provides an accurate model of a real world system, components can often vary from how they are specified on paper to how they actually perform. Additionally, engineering designs often need manufacturing changes to perform optimally, and these changes are best understood and brought to fruition through the building process. To negate these risks, a prototype was built.

The test facility consists of a simple wooden box that has been screwed to a stand pallet for ease of transportation. A metal frame was cut and welded; it fits snugly inside the wooden box. Different prototype poly carbonate panels were attached to the two available spaces on the hard panel side (pictured facing away in Figure 4). This test facility contains soil heating cables in the middle layer of soil; about a 6” depth from the surface. The wire was zip tied to a wire mesh as shown in Picture 2. In order to verify the effectiveness of the soil heating cables, two lengths were installed: the calculated length of 10m and a conservative estimate of 3.5m.

Based on the prototype we learned quite a bit about the prototype design process. We had issues with some of our equipment functioning properly and as a result we had to act quickly as to mitigate any loss of time. This prototype helped us confirm our design would work.

Based on this prototype we verified that heating the soil to ensure proper plant growth was a good method to move forward with. However, we did not have a chance to optimize the amount of heating cable to ensure the lowest cost to our customer. We also learned quite a bit about the panel design process and how best to attach panels to the high tunnel. This helped us decide on a final panel design to be used in the high tunnel.

We believe that Rochester Roots should continue to pursue this opportunity on a full scale. Our thermodynamic model, our prototype and a review of other winter designs has proved that our customer's end result is feasible. We do feel that our design could be further improved but will function as desired for the customer and meet their requirements.

Put Sponsor logo(s) here
Project Name
Rochester Roots Adaptable High Tunnel
Project Number
Start Term
End Term
Faculty Guide
John Kaemmerlen, jxkpdm@rit.edu
Primary Customer
Janet McDonald, jan@rochesterroots.org
Sponsor (financial support)
KGCOE, Chris Fisher

Team Members

The High Tunnel Team

The High Tunnel Team

Member Role Contact
Christopher Caradonna Mechanical Engineer cmc4679@rit.edu
Dillon Jourde Mechanical Engineer drjourde@gmail.com
Kelsey McManus Industrial Engineer ksm7877@rit.edu
Matthew Pellegrini Industrial Engineer mjp4110@rit.edu

Table of Contents


Photo Gallery

Planning & Execution

Problem Definition

Systems Design

Detailed Design

Project Review

Photo Gallery

Planning & Execution

Build, Test, Document

Project Review

Technical Paper