Thursday, March 04, 2010

Review: Harbor Freight Greenhouse by One Stop Gardens

This is a review of the "One Stop Gardens 10ft x 12ft Greenhouse With 4 Vents" distributed by Harbor Freight Tools. LINK HERE

Wasn't It Lovely?

I grow bonsai. As such, I need a place to store some of my trees during the Winter. After Katrina ate my Quonset-style greenhouse, I have been looking for a sturdy and nice looking greenhouse.

Do not buy this one.

I bought the greenhouse pictured from Harbor Freight Tools. Regularly $799, the kit was on sale for $599 with a coupon. To beat the coupon end date, I bought the kit on December 1, 2009. It waited until the 28th for me to assemble it over Christmas break.

The assembly instructions are sorely lacking in many details. At some points, the instructions are wrong; at others, there are gaps. The top beam of the doorway consists of 4 pieces of aluminum. Following the guide, I constructed the beam both left/right and front/back incorrectly. Calling the number on the instructions, I was redirected to another number. They sent me a dozen or so JPG files via email which saved the construction process. Even so, I had to do some divination between what the instructions were telling me and what I had available.

In retrospect, I followed the instructions correctly. Everything fits if you already know where it is supposed to go.

I made one significant modification to the instructions. I bolted the base to the ground instead of burying the base in the ground. The base is made of steel. In New Orleans, you do NOT bury steel in the ground. It will rust out in less than a year. Instead, I leveled the ground with gravel and bricks. The base sits on the bricks. On the outside of the base, I assembled a square of treated lumber. That is fastened together using deck hardware. The steel base and boards were then bolted to fence posts which had been driven two-feet into the ground. During the wind and storm, that base did not move. This greenhouse is listed at 158-pounds. Less than an average man. Given that it is 10x12x10 (LxWxH), a strong wind would have torn it's 4-inch base out of the ground and sent the entire structure sailing over my fence into my neighbor's house. Thus, my modification of the base is a better plan than as instructed.

Cold Cold Nights Of Warmth

In January, the New Orleans area suffered a severe cold snap. That's a relative term, of course. We had a week of nights with low temperatures in the mid to upper 20's. Brrrr...

With the use of a propane heater, all of my plants survived. The temperature in the greenhouse never went below 38° even when the temperature outside dropped to 24° (according to my digital Hi/Low thermometer). The tropical plants that I missed storing were all killed by the frost. Thus, the greenhouse did what it was designed to do.

That's the only positive thing I can say about the greenhouse.

A Change Of Weather and Fortune

Come late January, the New Orleans area was hit with a change of weather that brought with it winds in the 45mph+ range. The greenhouse lost both front doors and several panels. I found one in my neighbors yard after scouring the neighborhood. I lost a few of the clips that hold the panels in place, but the kit came with extras, so I was good for now.

Between then and now, the greenhouse had suffered several smaller wind storms. While I did not lose anymore panels, the doors had come off again.

Then came March 1, 2010. Another change of weather and another strong night of winds.

By the time I came home from work at 6pm, one of the doors had already come off along with two of the panels. One was in the neighbor's yard.

The greenhouse was moaning.

The winds were such that moving the fallen door into the greenhouse took a great deal of effort and courage. I was scared to be in the structure.

At 7:30pm, I heard a crash.

I turned on the lights and saw that the structure had collapsed into a tangled mess of panels, metal, and trees. The winds had died down to a moderate 20mph range by 10pm. I checked on the greenhouse to see if I could salvage any of my trees. They were overturned, but no pots or branches had been broken.

Harbor Freight Customer Service Is Not Who To Call

I contacted the number on the assembly book and told my story to the operator. He put me on hold and told me he would get the correct number to which he would transfer my call.

And he hung up on me.

I called again and while I swear he was the same person with an Indian accent, he gave a different name. This time when he put me on apologetic hold, he didn't hang up. He got me the number to the Corporate Office saying that the hours were 8-5 Eastern time.

Nope. That's Western time. I called the number and was told to call back when Customer Service was open. It's in California.

When I called Customer Service, the woman who took my information was quite snippy. Whenever I say my city name, I always offer to spell it. It has a French origin. "I KNOW how to spell your city name, sir," she said with venom in her voice. I was thinking "Well, excuse me. I was being nice. Who crapped in your Cheerios, lady?" It was the first time I've ever had someone take insult to my offer to spell my city's name. AND SHE WORKS FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE!

Unfortunately, she doesn't work for the CORRECT customer service. "Sir. We just cover the Catalog and Web Site sales. You'll need to contact the manager at the store where you bought the greenhouse." Apparently, a greenhouse that cannot stand for more than 2 months without turning into a mass of sharp broken metal isn't of concern to the company which sells it nationwide.

She told me that she did not know the wind rating on the greenhouse. I told her that I did not know it either since it was not in the assembly instructions, on the box, on their web site, or in their paper circular. Whatever it is, it has to be below 45mph winds. That's what bruised it in January and killed it in March.

Anyone know the number to the correct Federal agency I should contact regarding unsafe consumer products?

Back To The Scene Of The Purchase

The people at the local Harbor Freight Tools were much more receptive to my complaint. I told the store manager that the corporate office said he should know what to do with my information. "I'm glad they say that I should know what to do with this," he said with a smile.

He took the photos I printed and made a copy of my original sales receipt. He then took my name address and phone number and said that someone will be contacting me soon.

Concluding Remarks

This is what happened. It's all true. This is my review of the product and the process. Your experience may be different. The aerodynamics of your site may allow this greenhouse to sit pretty for years to come. Mine lasted from December 29 to March 1.

I still enjoy shopping at Harbor Freight Tools. I'm looking forward to buying more tools from their store. Nice people (except for one snippy Californian). I just want the world to know that I give this greenhouse my rating of "Do Not Buy". Unless you can guarantee that it will not be hit with winds greater than 25mph, you'll need to think long and hard about this purchase.

For a point of reference, my pre-Katrina Quonset-style greenhouse was made of wood frames in the front and back with 3/4-inch PVC irrigation pipes making up the spine. I cover it with shade cloth and clear 6-mil visqueen. During strong storms the greenhouse flexes in the strongest gusts and returns to its original shape. I'll be building another one in late September (ahead of the November chill). I'll post the building progress at that time.

In the mean time, I'm going to sit back and wait to hear what the store has to say about my experience.

Post Op

Tuesday, the day after the storm, I got the latest mailer from Harbor Freight Tools. My wife jokes, "See if they have another greenhouse for you." I unfolded the ad and there it was on the front page. $200 off the regular price with the coupon. Same photo. Same product code.

$600 (plus tax) is a hard price to pay for something that works, but does not last.