Planning a Cannabis Cultivation Facility

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Planning a Cannabis Cultivation Facility

How to Plan and Design your Cannabis Greenhouse or Indoor Grow

When you’re planning your cannabis greenhouse, hybrid space, or indoor grow facility, you’ll quickly discover that there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Every cannabis cultivation facility design will need to be customized to some degree depending on a range of factors.  

In fact, there are so many variables that will affect the design and construction of your facility that it’s critical to take the time to research and plan in detail before you put any money down. These critical factors include local building mandates, permits and state regulations, geographic location, any existing structures, expected yields, and the growing environment needed for your specific crop—just to name a few!  

You’ll also need a comprehensive understanding of how to control your macro- and microclimates to consistently produce high quality cannabis or hemp end-products and reduce operating costs to ensure a profitable business.  

The success and longevity of your cannabis growing business lies in designing and building a grow facility that fits your specific needs. The following factors are critical considerations for your cannabis cultivation facility:  

Table of Contents:

1. Outdoor Greenhouse, Indoor Grow, or Hybrid?

2. Cultivation Business Strategy

3. Laws, Regulations, and Taxes

4. Site Evaluation

5. Utilities

6. Building Mandates, Compliance, and Permits

7. Growing Equipment – Checklist

8. Operation and Maintenance – Checklist




Outdoor Greenhouse, Indoor Grow, or Hybrid? 

Indoor grow cultivation of cannabis is very popular right now and is practiced by most serious growers. Cultivating cannabis in a greenhouse or indoor grow is a serious endeavor and by equipping your indoor grow or hybrid greenhouse with a customized array of automized internal equipment and external coverings such as light control curtains, growing operations can produce higher-quality crops, increase crop yields, and reduce or eliminate the use of chemical fungicides and pesticides to better manage costs, and significantly improve overall efficiency.   

However, if you’re choosing the 100% indoor grow option, you’ll need to future-proof your facility. With the overall indoor cannabis industry consuming 1 to 2% of national energy resources, utility companies are enacting policy changes to penalize high-volume energy users. As more states legalize both recreational and medical cannabis in the years ahead, surcharges for high energy consumption will significantly increase.   

Therefore, while indoor grows are very popular, keep in mind that greenhouse or hybrid greenhouse/indoor growing provides the opportunity to reduce energy bills by lowering consumption patterns and moving into lower rate tiers while providing an environment conducive to growing high-quality and profitable crops.  

Cultivation Business Strategy

Before you put any money down on a space or equipment, just like any other business, you’ll need to craft a Business Plan for your cannabis business. Your cannabis growing business plan will help you to lower financial risk and avoid any catastrophes caused by poor planning, and most importantly, address any major challenges before spending any of your hard-earned money. Some critical business-related questions include:  

  • Does your city/county/state favor cannabis grow operations?  
  • How much cannabis do you want to grow? What is your expected yield?  
  • Who will you sell your cannabis or hemp to? Or will you process it yourself? 
  • What other revenue generation opportunities are viable? Have you considered growing CBG-rich hemp? 
  • How can you reduce major costs such as electricity?  
  • Do you plan to scale your operations in the near or distant future?  
  • What end-products do you want to produce?  
  • Do you have access to a trusted industry partner who has designed and built a cannabis grow facility before?  

Answering these questions can help you determine the size of your budget and ultimately your growing facility.  

To learn more about building a cannabis business plan, see our chapter on building out your Cannabis Business Plan.

Laws, Regulations, and Taxes

State Licenses and Permits

Are you familiar with the requirements for cannabis growers in your state or county? One of your very first steps will be to obtain permits for growing cannabis. You’ll need a state license that permits you to legally grow cannabis. You’ll also need a Conditional Use or other Municipal Permit to comply with zoning ordinances.  

You’ll need to research any other state laws or regulations that will impact how you design your grow facility. These may include regulations and laws around irrigation, odor control, waste discharge, security fences, amongst others.  

You’ll also need to get familiar with local building codes, ordinances for any special equipment (if you want to also include a fully verticalized soil-to-oil processing facility), and lastly any environmental laws. 

Taxes

An excise tax is tax that the local government is going to charge you to grow in their area. This tax can directly impact the profitability of your business and needs to be considered when planning your business financials. Taxes can vary greatly from state to state. Examples of excise taxes can be (depending on your state) $15 per square foot per year. The tax may even be charged on a per pound basis of something like 15 percent. Excise taxes can vary greatly depending on your state, so it pays to do your research as you’re planning your cannabis cultivation facility.  

Site Evaluation

As mentioned previously, but worth  repeating, find out if your local government or local municipality has a pro-cannabis mindset. If they do, this factor alone will save so much pain down the track. So do your research and determine the legality and philosophy of the city/county government towards cannabis cultivation. Some critical questions to ask your county or city’s cannabis advisor:  

  • Does the city or county permit legal growing? 
  • Is the grow facility approval process streamlined?   

If not, consider any other cities or towns that welcome cannabis growers to stimulate the local economy.  

Another major consideration when it comes to site evaluation are geographic or location-based factors:  

  • Proximity to highways and major distribution pathways can make or break your business; cannabis cultivation is labor intensive so it’s important that your workers can easily get to your site.  
  • Climate factors such rainfall, wind strengths, snow loads, and the amount of sunlight are critical. Always choose an area that gets lots of sunlight; select a sunnier site over a shaded site. 
  • Land cost: You may also want to choose a site that is far away from the general population, but you’ll need consider that while land price might be cheaper, your operational costs will be higher. Remote land often costs less but utilities and transportation costs can be high.  

Depending on the condition of your land, you may require civil work to ensure the construction of your grow facility can proceed smoothly. Also, if you’re renovating an existing warehouse you may need to retrofit or renovate, a process which calls for a different set of considerations such as how to maximize existing space, planning for impact on existing operations, future-proofing your business, and other factors.

Utilities

Your growing facility will need easy access to energy, water, sewer, and drainage infrastructures required to operate your facility. 

  • Electricity: the source of electricity will be critical. Most growers need a 3-phase 277/480 panel and a generator as well as a backup. Natural gas is preferred but you can also use propane which is sometimes more costly. There are similar rules of thumb for electricity. Based on a 10,000 square foot module, it is estimated that you’ll need about 300 kV a transformer.  
  • Water: Your water usage will depend on your climate. Places like Arizona may need cooling 24 hours a day, so you’ll require water for cooling, and you’ll also have a higher irrigation demand. In these hotter locations water is very important for not only growing but also for cleaning.

Building Mandates, Compliance, and Permits

Depending upon the geographical conditions the local government will require a variety of building mandates. These are things the government’s going to require of your build based upon where your building is located.  

Building Permits

Your cannabis facility will be looked at with a very strict criteria—more so than any other commercial structure. You’ll need to have your plans reviewed and approved as a Commercially Inspected Structure which means you’ll require certain standards to be met in your plans to meet the building department’s requirements. For this process, you’ll need to engage an architect, civil, and geotechnical and mechanical engineer. Your plans will have to pass a final inspection as well. There’s quite a process to go through before you can begin to lay your foundation.  

In summary, in urban or sub-urban areas, a specific building process is required by local government. Your Commercially Inspected Structure needs to be compliant with local building codes and regulations. This includes submission of stamped, engineered drawings and Building Department Approval. 

Odor Mitigation

When planning your cultivation facility one of the most critical factors is odor mitigation. First, in many regions there are still mixed feelings about having a cannabis growing facility in the neighborhood. Therefore, to reduce risk and foster positive relations with your county or city, having an odor mitigation plan in place is important.   

If your site is located in a remote area, the odor of cannabis cultivation may not be an issue. If you’re in a semi-rural or urban area, odor mitigation will not only help you to stay friendly with your neighbors but also to increase your operation’s security. Allowing strong cannabis odors to be released into the surrounding area is not ideal if  trying to keep a low profile.  

Security

Yet another critical factor of your planning needs to be protection of your structure with regards to the level of security that you feel comfortable with or that is required by your local city or county. Oftentimes a chain-link fence and barbed wire surrounding the facility is enough. Or you may consider including in your plan the use of metal sidewalls which are very common and raise your security level significantly.  

Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of your grow facility is also something that needs to be taken into consideration in the planning and design process. Waste and chemical disposal is a critical aspect of your operation and mandated by your local building department.  

Municipalities may have utility usage requirements, for example, like a mandate that only allows for 25 watts per square foot or allow a specific monthly energy usage cap for your lights.  

It pays to do your research on these critical environmental impact factors otherwise you could be fined or worse still, have your operation shut down by the local authorities.  

Growing Equipment – Checklist

Once you’ve worked your way through all the various planning steps mentioned above, you’ll need a list of all the different types of growing equipment if you want to maximize your yield by growing crops all-year round.  

Supplemental lights, irrigation and fertigation systems, heating and cooling equipment, ventilation systems, and dehumidifiers will need to be planned for heating and cooling equipment, ventilation systems, and commercial greenhouse humidifiers will need to be planned for in your design to create an ideal growing environment and maximize growth. 

Automated Environmental Controls

Automation of your growing systems will not only maximize yields but also ensure profitability of your indoor grow or greenhouse facility. Your grow equipment and systems should be integrated seamlessly with each other. Sensors installed throughout the facility and linked to an environmental controller will ensure equipment can operate at optimum levels based on data like temperature and humidity. Automated controls also reduce the risk of human error and labor costs.

Heating and Cooling Systems

The surrounding natural environment of your facility, with its unique light levels and climate, can affect temperature and humidity levels within your indoor grow or hybrid greenhouse. Maintaining optimal temperature and humidity for your cannabis plants, no matter what’s going on outside, can be achieved with automation. Your heating and cooling systems will require significant planning, especially when future expansion is in mind. 

Ventilation

Bringing fresh air into your cultivation area will replenish carbon dioxide levels, regulate temperature, and help prevent the growth of mold and mildew. Alongside passive ventilation like vents or shutters, exhaust fans and circulatory fans can help provide active ventilation. 

Lighting

Proper light is critical in the lifecycle of cannabis plants; without correct levels of light, cannabis plants may flower too early or not at all. To grow leaves and stems, seedlings require about 18 hours of light daily—also known as a long day. Plants must then be switched to a short day to flower, receiving about 12 hours of light daily. Automated supplemental lighting creates a balanced and efficient lighting plan to grow healthy plants with consistent yields, mimicking the long and short periods required for vegetative or reproductive growth no matter what season it is.

Irrigation & Fertigation

Caring for the plants requires considerable effort daily. Automating irrigation cycles enables growers to more efficiently achieve the correct levels of root saturation and provide properly balanced nutrients for the cannabis plants’ continuous growth, all while reducing water and labor costs. 

Running a successful cannabis cultivation business requires expansive knowledge of growing environments and an in-depth understanding of the plants. By engaging a soil-to-oil vendor like Prospiant, you’ll be able to leverage our team’s expertise as they routinely design custom solutions for heating and cooling, ventilation, dehumidification, lighting, and irrigation and fertigation for any growing environment.  

Operation and Maintenance – Checklist

To keep your indoor growing facility or greenhouse profitable year round, it needs to be maintained consistently. Structures can degrade over time and equipment may malfunction, which could impact the growing environment for the cannabis plants. Creating a clear operations and maintenance guide from day one will help extend the lifespan of your structure and equipment—and ultimately keep your crops growing healthily at an optimal level.

Pest Control

Warm and humid conditions are the perfect recipe for pests and pathogens to flourish. Without pest control measurements in place, pest problems can develop and spread rapidly, damaging your crops before you notice. Growers can deploy pest control systems or integrated pest management (IPM) plans to make sure your greenhouse is safe for your cannabis plants. 

Equipment Upgrades

Over time, with general use, cooling systems may wear out, shades may start to look tattered, and exhaust fans will break down. Ensure that your budget includes the cost of upgrading your equipment to achieve the productivity, control, and reliability you need to create an optimal environment for your crops. Putting a maintenance program in place is crucial to the longevity of your equipment. 

Reglazing

One of the most important parts of your greenhouse or hybrid indoor grow structure is your glazing or greenhouse coverings. Due to the weather and other factors, glazing doesn’t last forever, and in most cases, it starts to degrade shortly after installation. Daily maintenance for your glazing may include checking for small holes or tears or cleaning. As a rule of thumb, you’ll need to replace your glazing every 4-5 years. 

Repair & Maintenance

Including a maintenance program in your plan can help you to budget for general ‘wear and tear’ of your facility. Make sure that you inspect your indoor grow or greenhouse facility regularly and repair any damage to prevent any further issues. Sometimes, you may need to renovate or even rebuild to ensure safe operation so adding this to your plan now will help you plan financially for repairs.  

SOPs and Safety

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) for your cannabis cultivation facility should cover more than just simply controlling your growing environment and integrating pest management control.  

To ensure that your facility can function efficiently and safely, you should also establish a Quality Management System that includes production, sanitization, business operations, and quality assurance. These SOPs can make or break your cannabis business and ensure it follows any laws and regulations.

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