Introduction: Indoor Mini Aquaponics System (IKEA-hack)

Picture of Indoor Mini Aquaponics System (IKEA-hack)

UPDATED:  We have recently updated this guide to make it more efficient and safer to use.  Please see the instructions here:

Aquaponics is becoming more and more popular and many people want to build their own system. Aquaponics integrates fish, plants and microbes into a sustainable and ecologically balanced food production system.

This project from Japan Aquaponics will show you how to build your very own system using commonly available components from IKEA and your local hardware store. Anyone can set up their own system in an afternoon and start experiencing the pleasure of building their own little ecosystem!

Step 1: Setting the Frame Up

Picture of Setting the Frame Up

The main frame that we are going to use will be the Antonius frame combined with one or two wire baskets and two of the plastic containers.  We will use the 50l container for the fish tank at the bottom, and the 25l container for the growbed at the top.  Simply put the Antonius unit together as per the IKEA instructions.

We use the wire basket as support for the 25l plastic container for the growbed.  This is not strictly necessary for the 50l plastic container fish tank at the bottom if you just put the container on the floor.  You may want to trim the plastic lip on the top container to ensure a better fit, and we also cut the handles off the ends of the container - but again, it is not strictly necessary.  To cut the plastic we just used a small saw, but you can also use some standard wire pliers.

Step 2: The Plumbing 1 - the Standpipe

Picture of The Plumbing 1 - the Standpipe

The plumbing for the aquaponics system is not too complicated but we have used a few basic principles to help make the system as efficient as possible.  We use a small 600lph electric submersible pump in one corner of the fish tank which takes the water up to the growbed.  The water then flows through the growbed and exits in the opposite corner to which it entered.  As the water then flows back to the fish tank it pushes any solid waste over towards the pump, ready to pulled up into the growbed.

We also use something called a bypass ball-valve on this system. This diverts some of the water from the pump straight back into the fish tank.  This is so that we can control the amount of water going into the growbed, and the diverted water also creates some water movement in the fish tank as well as additional aeration.

In this system we are using 13mm PVC pipes throughout.  

Initially we will start with the growbed and the siphon that we are using there.  First, we need male and female threaded adapters. (Photo 2).    Drill a hole in the right place in the growbed - you need to make sure that the female adapter will fit between the wire mesh squares.  The hole should be about 6 or 7cms from the edge of the container in each direction.  The hole should be a snug fit with the threaded male adapter.

Place the male adapter through the top of the growbed and then fit a rubber O-ring onto the threads.  Then screw the female adapter onto the male adapter until you have a nice snug (and waterproof) fit.  You can add some silicone to the bottom if you want to, but not strictly necessary.  We then use a reducer on top of the male adapter.  This is a 25mm to 13mm reducer.

This whole piece is called the standpipe and this is how the water will exit the growbed.  We want the overall height to be about 1 inch under the top of your growbed media and so you will need to cut the pipe down so that it is the right height for you.  Now let the silicone dry if you have used it.

Step 3: The Plumbing 2 - the Bell Siphon & Media Guard

Picture of The Plumbing 2 - the Bell Siphon & Media Guard

The Bell Siphon is a very effective method of slowly flooding the growbed and then draining the growbed quickly.  It does this with a non-mechanical action, and with no moving parts to break.

We have the 25mm - 13mm reducer on the far left of the photo below - this is where the water will exit the growbed.

We then have the 60mm bell siphon in the middle.  This is a 60 mm piece of pipe with an airtight cap on the top.  This bell siphon has some pieces cut out of the bottom as well as some holes drilled in the side.  You want these holes to be no higher than about 1 inch from the bottom of the pipe.  The water will drain down to this level and will then stop.

Finally, the 100mm media guard on the far right, is simply to keep the growbed media out of the bell siphon.  This has holes drilled or cut out of it to allow the water to come in - and to keep the roots and the media out!  The cap is optional, but helps to keep things out of the bell siphon.

Bell siphons can be tricky to get working so for more information please refer to our guide:

Step 4: The Plumbing 3 - the Ball-valve Bypass

Picture of The Plumbing 3 - the Ball-valve Bypass

In the picture below you can see the small 600lph (litres per hour) pump with a small pice of 13mm pipe coming from it.  This then has a T connector attached and then the 13mm pipe continues up to the 90 degree elbow at the top which empties the water into the growbed.  Coming off the second part of the T connector is a simple ball valve that controls the flow of water that is diverted back into the fish tank.

This whole setup allows us to control how much water flows into the growbed and so is an important addition.  The ball valve bypass also allows us to divert some water back to the fish tank and this provides additional aeration and water movement into the tank.  This improves the health of the fish.

The Ball valve bypass as well as other aquaponics plumbing principles and practicalities can be seen here:

Step 5: Finishing Up

Picture of Finishing Up
You should have all the framework, the containers, and the plumbing set up now.  Now add water into the fish tank and start the pump up.  We want to test to see if everything works properly, and if the system is watertight!

The next thing to do is to fill the top container (the growbed) with some sort of growing media.  This could be hydroton, lava rock, perlite, river stones or something like this.  Something that allows the water to flow through the growbed, and which can provide a home for the bacteria that make aquaponics work.  High surface area, and porous stones work best.

Once this has been done, then you are ready to add your fish and to start putting plants into your system!  Initially you should add only a couple of small fish just to start producing the ammonia needed to kickstart your system - goldfish are ideal.  For more information on how to actually run your system and how aquaponics works properly, the please feel free to take a look at our website for more details:



dminimalist (author)2014-03-27

This is definitelly the best beginner setup I have seen on the whole internet. Started building my versio of it.

That is very kind of you to say so! We spent a long time trying to find something that anybody could build almost anywhere in the world.... and IKEA-hacking seems to be ideal for such a purpose! If you look at the Japan Aquaponics website you can see that we also built a few systems using PAX wardrobes as the basis... worked like a charm and looked really great!

Gooeyjello (author)2016-02-20

Can anyone give insight as to where i would obtain the containers or if they have a particular name that I might look for?

These are the Antonius containers from IKEA. I think that perhaps they are only available in some locations these days - others have reported that their stores no longer stock these bins. HOWEVER... we will have a new Mini Aquaponics system coming out shortly - easier to make and better (in our opinion!).... watch this space!

Guti7 (author)Aquaponics Guru2016-11-22

In the update still in the works?

I found the rack system, but yes, it seems the containers are no longer included. I'm not very good at DIY, but this has been on my radar consistently for quite some time & i really want to do it and do it well. I'll keep watch!

aminchy (author)2015-08-10

yousef1096 (author)2014-05-26

Modified version of Ikea Hack Aquaponic.

KevinOKane (author)2013-08-28

By implementing such a simple plumbing technique, this siphon can actually help the aquaphonics system to be more efficient, which in turn enables the growth of healthier plants for better harvesting. Sometimes, the expensive tools and mechanism do not necessarily mean the best. Other times, a simple and cheap technique can produce similar results, if not better.

skilber (author)2013-04-23

Do you have an idea as to what kind of vegetables (or fruits) might be suitable for this particular system?

Aquaponics Guru (author)skilber2013-04-23

For these small systems there are not huge amounts of nutrients available and so we would recommend baby leaf lettuce, basil, smaller houseplants (like Lucky Bamboo or a small fern for example) - things like this.

In Japan, herbs are really expensive and so I know that many people grow basil in theirs as it is far too expensive in the shops, and they get better quality from their little systems!

mrsayao (author)2013-04-16

I just finished my setup! You can find my pictures on twitter @leesayao. I'm wondering how long your drain/fill cycle is with your mini setup. How much water should be in the system? I bought a pump that I think is too strong for this small setup, as my drain/fill is about 20s/3min20sec, even with the by pass it fills quickly. Also, I found out the hard way that you need an air stone for the fish, I thought the recirculated water via supply line bypass would be sufficient...poor fish! My containers are 57L (14 gal) and 27L (7 gal). Thanks for the great guide! My family and I love to sit and watch this thing work automatically!

Aquaponics Guru (author)mrsayao2013-04-16

Hi there,

Your system is looking great... a very nice, tidy set up! With regards to drain and fill times... what you have now is not a problem, but if you can slow it down a little more tha might be better - aim to be closer to 8-10 mins for the fill and the drain is just whatever it takes. You will need to balance the siphon when you slow the water flow into the growbed.

Aeration should be enough from the splashing of the water into the tank, unless the temperature of the water is quite high? Check that there isn't another issue as we only ever use additional aeration in the summer. Additional aeration is never a bad thing though and costs next to nothing in terms of electricity so no reason not to add it!

Watching these things in action is very peaceful... I love listening to the siphons going on and off!

mrsayao (author)Aquaponics Guru2013-04-16

Thanks! When I adjust the ball valve bypass lower (1/2"), the siphon doesn't start since the fill is just a trickle. The pump is on minimum, maybe I can make it flow more. I have a 1" to 3/4" reducer, should I change the standpipe piping?

Aquaponics Guru (author)mrsayao2013-04-16

Can I recommend taking a look at our Bell Siphon guide as this has a section for when problems arise... adding a 90 degree elbow to the bottom of the outflow might be all you need to do.... but take a look and see if it helps.

If not... don't worry too much as a quick rate is not going to be much of a problem to be honest. But try and slow it down just a little if you can.

altainta (author)2013-02-17

Updates please....

Aquaponics Guru (author)altainta2013-02-17

What are you looking for specifically?

altainta (author)Aquaponics Guru2013-02-18

How is the system doing.
Are the fish alive and healthy ?
Are the Plants growing well ?
Which fish is in the system now ?
Which plants are you growing now ?
Any problem you faced with the system or any disadvantage of the system ?
Like this i am looking for update on the status on how the system is doing....
Also i want to ask can i use Affnan's Simphon for this setup ?
I am truly interested in doing this !

Aquaponics Guru (author)altainta2013-02-18

No worries,

So, the system has been running for nearly 2 years now with no problems. The fish (goldfish) are growing (we took a couple out as they got bigger - just so that they were not crowded) and the plants are happy. We use our system mainly for some small houseplants (ferns and lucky bamboo) and some herbs (basil and chives) and all are well.

Every 6 months or so we check over the lava rocks and sometimes will have to give the rocks a little bit of a rinse. The fish waste can build up and so we need to clear it out sometimes so that it doesn't become anaerobic. We have also added a small mesh bag to the inflow pipe to catch the biggest parts of the fish waste.

We can also easily add small filters to this system if there is too much solid waste - a simple sponge, aquarium filters, a mesh bag, even a sock! Just something to catch most of the solid waste before it goes into the growbed. All not strictly necessary, but nice to play around with and experiment!

You can certainly add an Affnan siphon to the system - although we have not found it necessary to do so - the bell siphon has always worked very easily for this small system just with a straight piece of pipe.

Hope this helps.

altainta (author)Aquaponics Guru2013-02-18

1)Do u have a water testing kit ?
2) if not do you feel to have one?
3) How long does it took for the system to mature ?
4) Did you still kept it indoor ?
5) Are they in direct sunlight ? or Mirrored Window Sunglight? or no sunlight ?
6) How to you keep the temperature in the desirable range?
7) Did you ever got any bug / pest for fish / plant ?
8) Do you think this system (aquaponics) is good or Deep water culture or Hydroponics or NFT is good for indoor?
9)Do you think this system is good for expansion ?
10)Do you think a BIO Filter is needed (home made with sea shells) in your system to manage toxic / fish wates ?

Sorry to ask so many question but i am really curious

Aquaponics Guru (author)altainta2013-02-18

Hi there,

We do indeed have a water testing kit to test pH and ammonia / nitrates. This system is really only a little system for indoors - just to get people started in aquaponics. If you want to experiment more then I would make a larger system.

May I direct you to our website as this will give you many of the answers to your questions... the Information Section and the DIY Section would be the best places to start: (don't worry... all in English)


farmer mike (author)2013-01-26

I was wondering if you are supposed to have the water run through the growing bed 24/7 or if you just have it run through periodically

You can actually choose whichever you prefer. If you leave the water running 24/7 then that is no problem. If you want to turn it off at night though for example, then that is also ok - but I would make sure that there is an airstone in the fish tank so that the fish have lots of oxygen. If you do want to turn it off regularly - then don't use so many fish - just 2 or 3 would be better at 1.5" - 2.5" fish size.

The decision to turn the water off should go hand-in-hand with thinking about oxygen in the water for the fish.

Hope this helps.

10-4rubberducky (author)2013-01-15

Thank you. One more thing: Can you verify if the containers are constituted from a food grade plastic? Are they made of HDPE, PP, LDPE, or PETE for instance?

Another very good question. The bins are noted as being PP which is commonly used for many things, but used in medical devices and food containers as well. Whilst these particular containers are obviously not certified as food-safe (as this was not their intended purpose) it will be up to you to make that judgement call - but given that this type of plastic is commonly used in food containers, I was personally happy that they were ok to use for this purpose.

cotdagoo (author)2013-01-14

Appreciate the quick & easy info as I'm just getting my feet wet (ba-dump-dump-CHING!) with aquaponics. Have you had any issues with algae by allowing so much light into the fish container through the top and sides? I showed a friend this, and he suggested I use black containers for my build rather than white as it'll help with algae, as well as keep the roots in the dark while growing in the medium too. cheers!

Aquaponics Guru (author)cotdagoo2013-01-14

Good question! Honestly, we did not have much of a problem, but we we did add the PVC decal to the outside of the fish tank to help block out the sun. The growbed doesn't need anything as we have never had an issue with algae there. A black tank has just one small drawback in that it will heat up the water pretty quickly - in a small fish tank that could mean pretty hot water! So be a little careful about using black. If you are still worried about it, then maybe just hang a small piece of reflective material off the frame to cover the fish tank. Hope this helps!

cotdagoo (author)Aquaponics Guru2013-01-15

Ahh, some good points there :)

Glad to know algae isn't much of an issue in the growbed, as it'll get the most direct light with my indoor setup. I'll be starting in a basement during the winter months so hopefully heat wont be an issues with the bins I found on sale today.


10-4rubberducky (author)2013-01-14

Do you get the 50 and 25L containers from IKEA as well, or do they come from the hardware store?

Hi there,

You will be pleased to know that these containers can be bought as part of the Antonius unit - this helps to make sure that everything fits together beautifully!

rbeforee (author)2013-01-13

How cool. I already have most of the ikea Antonius rack; I just need the plastic trays. Then I'll be off to the hardware store for the plumbing supplies and eventually the fishies and plants. Now I'm off to read more on your site. Thanks bunches!!!

Aquaponics Guru (author)rbeforee2013-01-14

That is great news... please do send us a photo when you have completed the system and we will put it up on our site... fantastic to see people trying out aquaponics!

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