Build Your Own Hydroponic System: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated on November 30, 2019
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Britney has her B.A. in Environmental Management and Sustainability, and Cassie has her certification in plant-based nutrition.

Benefits of a Hydroponic System

A hydroponic system is an extremely efficient way to grow plants without the use of soil. With only water, nutrients, and a growing medium—such as perlite, rockwool, and peat moss—you are able to grow just about anything inside your own home.

Hydroponics is one of the most efficient methods of gardening, because it removes the barriers between the nutrients and the roots of the plant. Without soil, the roots are able to "suck up" all of its nutrients almost effortlessly. Not only is it proven that plants are able to grow faster, but it is also much cleaner to have inside your house!

Our DIY hydroponic system.
Our DIY hydroponic system. | Source

Items Needed to Build a Hydroponic System

There are multiple ways to set up your own hydroponic system, and this is what we used to built ours. Feel free to adjust and customize your own!

Purchased from hardware store:

  • (1) 27 gal storage tub (or really whatever size type you want your system to be)
  • (2) 10 ft 1/2" PVC pipe
  • (7) 1/2" PVC tee
  • (4) 1/2" PVC elbow
  • (1) 1/2" PVC slip to thread adapter

Purchased from Amazon:

Tools you will need:

  • Drill
  • Tape measure
  • PVC cutter (or a utility knife)
  • 10–24 taps
  • 1" drill bit
  • 3" hole saw

Overall, this is an inexpensive setup compared to the prices of hydroponic growing systems sold in store and at online retailers, which can cost up to around $300 and are also much smaller. Please keep in mind that you will need some sort of light source for your plants, whether it be natural light from a window or light from a grow light that you may already have.

Here is our hydroponic system frame build.
Here is our hydroponic system frame build. | Source

Hydroponic System Frame Build Instructions

  1. Measure and cut PVC pipes; start with the frame of the system and then work your way to the middle. Use the elbows to connect all of the piping at the corners, and the tees to connect the piping on the bottoms. The middle will be your downspout for the water pump. Make sure that the PVC pipes sit about 2 inches below the top of the tub, this way there is plenty of room for the net cups. Your measurements will depend on the size tub you purchase.
  2. Use your drill and10-24 tap in order to install the sprinklers. The 180° sprinklers will go around your outside pipes, while the 360° sprinklers will go in the middle. Mark where you want them beforehand, that way you can make sure they are evenly spaced. You can use as many sprinklers as you wish; better to have too many than too little. We used 12 180° sprinklers on the outside pipes and 4 360° sprinklers on the inside pipes, which worked perfect.
  3. Sit your completed frame into the tub along with your water pump in the middle. Measure from your down spout to your water pump. Use your coupling and adaptor to attach the PVC to the pump.
  4. Use your 1" drill bit to drill a hole for the power cord of your water pump towards the top of the tub. The inside of your hydroponic system is complete!

There are many ways you can improve this system, such as adding a drainage line so that you can easily empty the system when doing water changes, or even add in a float valve and extra water hole with a water reservoir so that gravity will re-fill the tub for you. When your plants get large enough, you will definitely have to fill your tub daily with more water, so adding a reservoir would allow for less maintenance.

We installed 3' net cups into the hydroponic system.
We installed 3' net cups into the hydroponic system. | Source

Hydroponic System Net Cup Install Instructions

After the inside of your hydroponic system is finished, you will then need to install the net cups into the lid of your tub.

  1. Lay out your net cups upside-down on the lid where you would like each plant to be.
  2. Trace each net cup so that you know exactly where you are going to cut the holes. (Note: Double check to make sure that you are not cutting a whole directly on top of where a PVC pipe would be. There will not be enough room for the cup to sit flat if you do this. We made this mistake and had to modify our net cups.)
  3. Use a 3" hole saw to cut your holes. Your net cups are ready to be placed into your lid!

Our hydroponic system uses clay pebbles as the growing medium.
Our hydroponic system uses clay pebbles as the growing medium. | Source

What's the Best Hydroponic Growing Medium?

Once your hydroponic system is built, you are ready to put your plants into the system with the growing medium of your choice. Using clay pebbles was the easiest growing medium to deal with in our opinion. We thought it worked really well because seedlings are very delicate, so you could place each individual pebble right where you wanted to in order to help the seedling stand up right. We also liked this medium because it semi porous, so it tends to hold on to a little bit of water, but not too much.

Roots from plants in our hydroponic system.
Roots from plants in our hydroponic system. | Source

Our Hydroponic System: A Progression

Click thumbnail to view full-size
1 week after build2 weeks after build3 weeks after build
1 week after build
1 week after build | Source
2 weeks after build
2 weeks after build | Source
3 weeks after build
3 weeks after build | Source

Hydroponic System Care and Maintenance

Since our system has been running for a while now, we have some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your system.

  1. Use a timer for your pump! This is the ultimate tip when it comes to making sure the water in your tub is getting circulated enough. We set our timer so that the pump would go off for 5 minutes every hour. We found that this worked awesome, and the roots were well watered at all times.
  2. Make sure that no light can get into the tub at all. If this happens, you will have some serious algae issues!
  3. Pick the right hydroponic nutrient solution. Do your research and do not just pick the first one that you find online. Think of what you're growing and if that plant needs any specific nutrients.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Britney Bernard and Cassie Midura


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